This is a hard time of year for parents. Not only are we in charge of balanced meals, finished homework, wardrobe, flu shots, healthy bedtimes, reasonable screen time and manners toward visiting family, but we are also Santa's ambassador. And now, for us, custodian of the "Elf on the Shelf."
And these are enchanted times for little children. There is wonder in the decorations, the menorah candles, the big meals, the music playing in every store. My children are either particularly imaginative or they will really believe anything.
They are concerned about "Chippey's," our elf's, happiness. They ring the doorbell before we enter the apartment at the end of the day -- while I wait, balancing three backpacks, three water bottles, two helmets, groceries and 15 catalogues -- so that Chippey will know we're coming back. And that he has ample time to stop flying around.
"How will Santa get into our apartment if we don't have a chimney?" I was asked recently. I explained that Santa leaves presents outside our apartment door. (My kids really don't like the idea of anyone coming into our apartment when they sleep. I get that.) Then in the morning, mommy gathers the presents from the hallway and puts them under the tree.
"How do you know Santa has left them?" Easy. I wait until it's light out.
"What if you see him?" I can't. He never lets people see him.
"How does he visit all the children?" Time travel. (Thank you, recent cartoon Santa movie plot.)
There were some harder questions when I told the kids we would be buying presents for a few foster children through a holiday program at their school, partnering with a foster care family services organization. I am looking forward to shopping for and wrapping these gifts with my own kids to remind them of our good fortune.
"These children may not be getting presents this year, so we're helping to make sure they have a good Christmas," I said.
"Why don't they get presents?" They don't have parents to buy them.
"Doesn't Santa bring them presents? He brings all the children presents." And this is the problem with the many holiday movies and television shows we have been watching. The problem with the holiday books we've been reading, where belief and goodness are rewarded without fail, with glowing fireplaces and shiny toys. They love these stories. But my wounded adult heart knows the truth is far from that for most of the world. Children will be disappointed on Christmas, as they are on many days -- despite the magical man, who delights and fixes and cheers all the children of the world, in whom they believe; despite all the people trying hard to make things different.
Instead, I tell them that Santa needs help sometimes from other parents and kids. Santa can't do everything by himself.
"So," one of the kids starts, "Those kids will be getting some presents from Santa, but not a lot. So we're going to get them more."
"We always get a lot of presents from Santa," another one says.
This is as far as my explanation and their understanding will go. This is a season of faith, of course. Of accepting that a little magic and a lot of good will can alter the hard circumstances of our friends and neighbors. Their understanding should be this -- the extraordinary in the world, whatever its source, asks for not only our belief, but for our efforts. Even I will buy that.
This post appeared originally on the Appleseeds blog.