The Summer of the Woman

July 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar

By: Holly Vanderhaar

In honor of its 100th anniversary, Girl Scouts of America has declared 2012 “the Year of the Girl.” I realized tonight that this summer is also, at least in our little corner of the world, “the Summer of the Woman.”

I have no idea if something’s going on in the stars, but there’s a lot of powerful female energy happening in our family lately. We’ve been treated to two movies—The Hunger Games and Brave—that feature strong and courageous female leads. We have had visits from four wonderful women in the last month. First was a friend, C., who’s faced some devastating setbacks in the past year, from going through a nightmare of a break-up to being diagnosed with cancer. She recently took a mini-tour through the Midwest to reconnect with old friends and celebrate coming through her radiation treatment with flying colors. We took Grace and Isabelle on a road trip to some Laura Ingalls Wilder landmarks here in Minnesota, including Walnut Grove, and listened to the audio book of On the Banks of Plum Creek as we drove. It felt great to reconnect with that pioneer spirit, especially since I’m related to Laura on my mother’s side.

After C. left, A. paid us a visit from California. She was only here for four days, but during her visit I laughed more than I have in ages. I needed to reconnect with my silly side, in the middle of a fairly stressful, over-committed summer, and I gave myself permission to take the weekend off, to obsess about movies and celebrities and good books in a way that I haven’t had much time for since I had the kids.

And then, a few days after A. went home, my mom and my sister came to town. My sister drove my mom up from Phoenix, and stayed a week. My mom is staying until the end of July. For the first part of their visit I was buried in work, the after-effects of giving myself the weekend off to act like a teenager with A., but if you want to dance, as they say, you have to pay the band.

But last weekend we set off, three generations of women, to spend a couple of days on the shores of Lake Superior. It was glorious. I have a passion for the North Shore; it feeds my soul and recharges my batteries and a whole host of other metaphors that don’t really capture how sacred it is, a place that transcends any language that I could attempt to use to describe it. I hope all of you have a place that does that for you. It was a gift to be able to spend those days together with my family at a place that means so much to me.

And soon I’ll be setting off with my daughters and my dearest friend to uncover the life story of another woman, Susanna Martin, the Salem witch who’s the subject of my upcoming research trip to Massachusetts. I hope my research and eventual writing do her justice. But with all this great goddess energy in the air, how can I miss? I’m so blessed to be able to raise my daughters in the middle of such a powerful tribe of warrior women and teachers and healers and poets.


The Lazy Days of Summer?

June 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

Summer is well and truly upon us, and while I’m tempted to dwell on all the petty and not-so-petty annoyances that seem to be hovering around us like a cloud of mosquitoes lately, I’m making a conscious effort to set that aside tonight, and focus on the season. It was a sultry 94 degrees today, a humid remnant of spectacular overnight storms (sidebar: nothing brings the kids and the cats to one’s bed like a 4 a.m. lightning and thunder extravaganza). June’s more than half over. The girls have been out of school for almost two weeks (and they’re already getting on each other’s nerves). So—annoyances aside—the only thing on my mind tonight is summer.

I have a complicated relationship with summer. I grew up in the Phoenix area, and summer in the desert Southwest is closer to winter in the upper Midwest than you might think. It’s that five-month period during the year when you don’t go outside unless you have to, and you grouse about it the whole time. I haven’t exactly been heat-tolerant since I was a kid, and every year it got worse. My favorite time of year in Phoenix was when the citrus trees were blooming and the air was rich with their scent. After I became a mom and developed the habit—perforce—of rising early, I would savor the cool, perfumed pre-dawn hours, but underneath that pleasure lurked a sense of looming dread. If the orange blossoms were here, triple-digit temps were not far behind, and it would be Halloween before they let up. Those summertime traditions I learned about from watching television—barbecues, picnics, lazy afternoons under shady backyard trees, bike rides—seemed like part of a fairytale world. When we moved to Minnesota five years ago, I finally got to enjoy that mythical summer lifestyle. Oh, I paid for it the following winter, but I still treasure those days like an unexpected gift.

But here’s the difference between my daughters’ experience of summer and my experience of summer. When I was their age, the summers were long, lazy affairs. I had occasional sleepovers with friends, and we always took a road trip to visit grandparents, but apart from that, summers weren’t scheduled. They weren’t planned down to the last day. They stretched out, three long months of unstructured free time, with pockets of boredom, long hours at the library, and plenty of TV. Part of that was made possible because my mom didn’t work until I was old enough to stay home alone. My daughters have an itinerary of cobbled-together day camps, summer programs, violin lessons, and “stay out of my hair because I’m working at home today” days. On the days that they aren’t going somewhere, there’s the Wii, or the DS. I believe that it’s in boredom that kids develop creativity and self-reliance, and I worry that they—not just my kids, but kids today–don’t encounter boredom often enough. I worry that the only thing that makes their summer lazy is the lack of homework, because that’s really the only difference. Part of that is the reality of 21st century life; even in a two-parent household, it’s much less common to find one parent who’s able to stay at home full time. But I think part of it is our compulsion to fill our kids’ lives with the cornucopia of enrichment experiences at every turn. Are we doing them a disservice by depriving them of empty days? Are they losing the ability to entertain themselves? What do you think?


The Hunger Games Revisited

May 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

This is going to be a brief update, because Gracie’s having surgery in a few days to remove a questionable cyst from her wrist, and with all the tests and doctor appointments —and Isabelle being sick from a nasty respiratory infection— I don’t know which way is up. For what it’s worth, the doctors don’t think the cyst is anything to worry about, necessarily; it’s just that they can’t tell exactly WHAT it is, and they had the choice of putting her under for a deep MRI, or performing an excisional biopsy. And since they would be putting her under either way, they advised the latter option. And because I just want it to be over already, I agreed. And I’m trying not to think about my (probably irrational) fear of general anesthesia. And trying to figure out how to get Isabelle to school when I have to be at the hospital with Gracie at 5:30 in the morning.

But, anyway.

Since my last post about taking them to see The Hunger Games, it has become All Katniss All the Time in our house. We went to see it a second time. They’re spending their allowance on trading cards. And Isabelle told me that it was her favorite movie. Now, this surprised me, because they’re passionate about a lot of movies, including Cars and Bolt and all of the Harry Potter films. So I asked her why? Why The Hunger Games, when it’s scary and violent and sometimes —for a nine-year-old—confusing? And she said, “Because it’s about a girl.”
From time to time, in literary circles, there’s a dust-up after some (usually male) author makes some disparaging statement about female authors. There’s some back and forth about institutionalized sexism and “chick lit” and income disparities. And often, people who argue that women are all a bunch of whiny babies will point to J. K. Rowling as a success story. Hers is a great rags-to-riches tale, to be sure. But if we’re past the need for feminism, and everyone is judged on his or her own merits rather than on gender, then why did her publisher insist that she use her initials, rather than her first name, saying that boys wouldn’t read a book that was written by a woman?

My point is that if anyone tells you that it doesn’t matter, that the important thing is a “good story” and a “compelling protagonist,” that it’s only left-wing academic types who notice or care about the notion of a gender disparity—among protagonists or among authors—and they’re just creating a problem where none really exists…I’m here to tell you that (in our family, at least) it does matter. Kids do notice. Girls are hungry for heroines. And, if box office numbers are any indication, boys will go and see a movie about a girl, and they’ll even read a book by an author who uses her real first name.


Interview with Holly Vanderhaar

Interview with Holly Vanderhaar by The Next Family

TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?

It’s great. I tend to think in “personal essay mode” anyway, and I often find that, in the process of writing my entries, I work through the issue and I find answers to questions I didn’t even realize I was asking. I’m also honored to be able to contribute my voice to such a wonderful community of families.

TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?

Wow. This is a tricky question. I expect that we’re like every other family in that we have our ups and downs, moments of tension and turmoil and not liking each other very much, mixed with laughter and adventures and moments of being completely in sync with each other. Those are the extremes, and most of the time, we just kind of roll along and live our lives. My job is to try to make the positive extremes outweigh the negative ones!

I think every family is unique, though, so pinning down how ours is different is tougher. You could argue that we’re unique in that I’m a single mom by choice who has identical twins; I only know a couple of those, even counting my wide circle of online acquaintances. I think my membership and participation in Single Mothers by Choice (an international organization started by Jane Mattes) makes me feel like I’m part of a huge community of “like” families. But we’re different in the same way that individuals are different.

TNF: Did  your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not, explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and  your lifestyle.

Yes, my family has been incredibly supportive of my choice to become a single mom, even if some of them had their doubts in the beginning. I get a lot of help, even though we don’t live near them anymore.

TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?

Not well, I’m afraid. I feel like I’m constantly three steps behind, remembering appointments at the last minute (or not at all), and I often end up working after my kids go to bed. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a flexible schedule, so I can pick them up from school and help with homework and violin practice, but that means that I end up working after they go to bed at night. I do try to focus on them for those few hours, but I’m not always successful, and if I have a deadline looming, I end up working on the weekends when I’d rather be hanging out with my daughters. But I’m not an organized person by nature, and my house is a mess, and I’m constantly shamed when I drop them off for play dates at their friends’ immaculate houses. My fantasy is to live in a spotless, uncluttered, and well-run house, but I’m afraid it’s probably destined to remain a fantasy.

TNF: What  lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents should  unlearn?

I think generosity is incredibly important. Generosity of time and attention and support as well as generosity of material goods. Compassion. Thinking of others and not just ourselves. Approaching life from a position of abundance and gratitude for what we have rather than what we lack. Taking a long-term view: what kind of world are we leaving behind for future generations? And a love of learning. All of these are very important.

I think we have lost sight of the importance of the common good, of sacrificing some things to help those who have less. We’ve also forgotten how to slow down, I think. And we have lost the art–if we ever had it–of disagreeing in a civil and respectful way. We as adults have a responsibility to model mature behavior and civil discourse to our children. We demand it of them, but we aren’t willing to demand it of ourselves.

TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?

Joseph Campbell said it first and best, but my advice is “follow your bliss.” And believe that everything you need will come to you.

TNF: Anything you want our readers to know about you or your family?

Not really. It will probably all come out in the blog eventually!


Scary Movie

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

It’s true: I took my 3rd-grade daughters to see The Hunger Games yesterday (I’d already seen it twice). I had read all three books about a year ago, and was eagerly looking forward to the movie. It wasn’t really my plan to take the kids until recently. I knew the books were a couple of years beyond them, not in reading ability but in terms of real comprehension of the political machinations and implications in the plot. And I’m not generally a big fan of violent movies or TV; we’re one of those “no toy guns, no combat video games, no gratuitously violent media” households.

I was surprised by how many of their friends have seen the movie and/or read the books–including one girl whose parents strike me as generally quite conservative. (She has an older sister, though, so that might have been a family outing.) Anyway, I saw it first, and I went back and forth with them several times on whether I thought they should see it, and always discussed my reasoning with them. I told them I thought it was too violent for them and that they might be scared. Their commitment to wanting to see it changed with the weather. Sometimes they reeeeally wanted to; other times they were content to wait until it came out on DVD, which I thought was probably the best option. More manageable on a small screen, plus the option to walk away and go do something else if it got too intense.

But for some reason that I still haven’t fully figured out, I couldn’t put the issue down. So Saturday night, over dinner, I told them in some detail the plot of the first book, not caring if there were spoilers, and I explained my concerns about what I thought their reaction would be. After hearing the story and realizing that when I said “scary and violent” that I didn’t mean monsters or things of the kind that they saw when they accidentally caught five minutes of Supernatural in a hotel room (oops), they both were firm in wanting to go. And I’ve tended to be of the mindset that I would prefer to watch something with them and use it as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than forbid it outright.

There were a couple of occasions where they hid their eyes and/or plugged their ears, but really they were more freaked out by some of the previews we saw. (Like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Nothing in their 3rd grade history lessons prepared them for THAT. And I made them cover eyes AND ears when The House at the End of the Street trailer came on). But by and large, they loved the movie. Sat enthralled for all two and a half hours. To be honest, I think they were a bit young to grasp the real horror of the story–oppressive government demands child sacrifice for its entertainment–and just saw it as a gripping and suspenseful story. I don’t say that everyone should take their 9-year-olds to see it. It’s heavily dependent on your kid and her tolerance for this kind of thing. It’s actually kind of hard to predict what will upset my daughters when it comes to movies; they’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies more times than I can count and have never batted an eye at them, but they could hardly sit through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because it was too suspenseful and scary.

I’m sure not everyone will agree with my decision to take 9-year-olds to see it, and I’m still very sensitive about exposing them to gratuitous violence, weapons, and so on. Maybe this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but in hindsight, I have no regrets. First, there were the economic considerations: I wanted to vote with my wallet. It’s not easy to find a female protagonist in movies that aren’t easily dismissable as “chick flicks” and that are marketed to young males as well as young females (the fact that the heroine actually saves the male lead is even better). I’m happy to boost the box office receipts of this movie by three matinee tickets.

But on a more philosophical level, I think it’s good for my daughters to see strong, brave, and resourceful young heroines who fight for the right to be self-determining. I think it’s okay for them to see that people in violent circumstances are deeply affected by it—whether they’re committing the violence or victims of it—and that it changes them. And I also think it’s important for them to see that you can feel scared and sad, and show it, and it doesn’t make you any less strong at the end of the day. I weighed the character of Katniss, and what I thought she might be able to teach my daughters, against the violence, and the scary moments, and the disapproval of many of my parenting peers. Katniss won.


More Will Be Revealed

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Holly Vanderhaar, Multiples, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

Many moms—especially single moms—in my circle will list Anne Lamott among their favorite parenting authors. Not because she gives parenting advice, per se, but her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year has saved many a new mom’s sanity. She gave me the courage to become a writer myself, and when I was teaching creative writing in grad school, I taught Bird by Bird, her book on writing. And I could write an entire post about how Anne’s approach to spirituality made me look at my own spirituality through fresh eyes, eyes of love and compassion and forgiveness.

My daughters were about 18 months old when I first read Operating Instructions, so we were past the every-three-hour-around-the-clock feedings, the crippling (no, crippling isn’t a strong enough word) sleep deprivation, the fierce maternal protectiveness coupled with an absolute unmooring from everything that had ever made me feel secure and confident. And when the attachment parenting books made me feel inadequate for not being utterly besotted with these wriggling, angry, liquid-spewing organisms every second of the day, it was a blessed relief when Anne described her colicky baby—a baby she clearly loved—“raising its loathsome reptilian head again.” I love my children more than my own life, but I think idealizing anything—even parenthood, especially parenthood—is not productive. What’s more, I think it’s dangerous to every new parent who beats him- or herself up over not being perfect and feeling abject adoration every second of every day.

I’m woefully out of touch with publishing news, which is odd considering that writing about writers is what I do for a living. So I was surprised to hear that Lamott has a new book out. And I was gobsmacked to realize that that gritchy little baby from Operating Instructions is now a grown man and a father in his own right. I found out about Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son last weekend, and realizing that new books usually mean book tours, I did some quick Googling and found out that she would be reading and signing at a Barnes and Noble in my area the very next evening. Unfortunately “in my area” didn’t mean in the Twin Cities proper, which is where I live; it meant in a rich, white suburb about 35 minutes away, not accounting for rush hour traffic. The reading was on a Monday night, and it was too late to get a sitter. Monday nights are busy for us anyway, and this Monday was already overscheduled, but I couldn’t miss a chance to meet Anne over the signing table, even if our whole conversation consisted of “Who should I make it out to?” and me spelling my name. Even if I never got to tell her what I wanted to, that she was my angel when I really needed her.

So what I’m calling my Single Parent Reality Check, AKA Monday, went like this: I worked from home, picked the girls up after school, rushed them home, force-fed them a snack and supervised homework like a drill sergeant. They changed into leotards and tights and I took them to their dance class at the local parks and rec. Another mad dash home to change into warm clothes, because a freezing drizzle was now underway, then off to drop off the cookie money. Hit the drive-thru at Wendy’s, and then onto the slippery rush hour freeway out to the suburbs. We made it to the Barnes and Noble about 15 minutes before the reading started, only to circle the Range-Rover-crammed parking lot in a futile search for a spot. Finally found one by stalking a woman who was wandering around looking for her car, and dashed into the store, only to be told by the store employee that it was “hearing room only,” and “the chairs were taken two hours ago” and I “should have gotten here earlier.” I nearly—what’s the phrase?—choked a bitch. Stopped off to buy a copy of the book for Anne to sign and trudged downstairs dragging two 8-year-olds and enough paraphernalia to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.

The reading and Q & A were great; I could hear almost every word, and once in a while I even got a glimpse of Anne’s famous dreads. But the store was a mob scene, and when they announced the signing with some cryptic comment about how “only Marches could line up,” I had to start asking questions. It seemed that they had been handing out desk calendar pages to the people who had their shit together and had gotten to the store early. The woman with the calendar all but rolled her eyes at me when she tore off my page: October 21. And they were on March. I looked at my patient daughters, whom I’d dragged out in the rain, who were already going to be out an hour past their bedtime on a school night, and I knew I couldn’t ask it of them.

I led them through the crush of people, blinking back tears of exhaustion and frustration and self-pity, when Isabelle pulled her hand from mine. I turned, annoyed, and then saw what she’d stopped for. A downy feather was floating down from the ceiling, and she caught it, delighted.

For the last several years, feathers have had meaning for me. When I find them at odd times, or in unlikely places, I believe it means that someone is looking out for me. Someone is telling me there’s a plan, that even if I don’t see it now, more will be revealed. The feather that appeared out of thin air in a Barnes and Noble in Edina, Minnesota, was the only thing that could have snapped me out of my self-pity spiral.

More will be revealed.


The Travel Fund

March 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

I should be writing about the ridiculous bill that is on the floor of the state senate in Wisconsin, Senate Bill 507, one that equates single parenthood with child abuse. Either that, or I should vent my spleen about the loathsome Rush Limbaugh and his complete and utter…well. Never mind. I really should write about these things because I’m angry about them, and I think we should all be angry about them. But all of it sickens me and I reserve the right to save my psyche for another day. I’ve decided to dwell instead on something a wee bit lighter and fluffier this week.

There were a number of hopes I cherished when I was pregnant. I hoped that my children would have a sense of humor. I hoped that they would grow to love music, especially the Beatles. I hoped that they would love horses. And I hoped that they would be good travelers. My hopes have been rewarded in every case, save one: they remain stubbornly indifferent to horses. So far. I haven’t given up yet.

I’ve been thinking about the future lately. I refuse to think about Gracie and Isabelle moving away and living their lives without me, ha-ha, so I focus on the things I look forward to instead. I can’t wait to travel, REALLY travel, with them. Money’s been tight for the last several years, so it hasn’t been financially possible anyway, but they also haven’t been old enough to really get much out of travel. Last fall we went to New York City for the first time (the first time for them, anyway; I lived there for a while). They were terrific: walked all over the city with no complaints, loved taking the subway, and managed the crowds—even an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Times Square—with aplomb. I was so proud of them, and I began to be able to envision a future where we would go to visit friends in California, or go back to New York again for a longer visit, or go to the UK so I can take them to London and Liverpool and Dublin. Maybe I’ll finally get to Italy, and we can discover it together.

I know that, when it comes to your kids, you’re never supposed to wish for time to fly faster. Every grandma in the grocery store says, “Enjoy them. They grow up so fast.” And this is a good age, although most of the ages —bar the first year— have been good. But as my daughters grow up before my eyes, I’m getting a glimpse of the future now and then, and I’ve been thinking about the things I look forward to sharing with them. I’ve come up with some strategies to save money, and I’m going to start that travel fund next month. We’ll send postcards!


No Visible Means of Support

February 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

I was recently approached about submitting an essay on single motherhood to a magazine. I sent the editor a précis of my motherhood to date: began trying to conceive when I was 36, unexpectedly conceived identical twins, babies contracted twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome in utero. Had experimental surgery. Babies survived. Had tons of help from friends, sister, and Mom. Moved half a country away when my daughters were four. They’re now almost nine.

The editor asked some follow-up questions. Could I talk more about my support network? In what ways is it harder to build one versus having a built-in one, i.e., a partner? What do I do when I want to brag to someone about something “awesome” my kids have done? And whom do I talk to when I want to tear my hair out?

I thought about this for a while before I responded. The editor seemed genuinely perplexed. “But how do you cope?” seemed to be the subtext of most of the questions.

Having never been married or otherwise in a long-term, committed relationship, I don’t know any different. How could I possibly articulate how parenting is harder or easier as a single woman? Sure, it would be nice to have another adult in the house when I’m facing a deadline and I need a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time. If I need to run to the drug store at 9:00 after the girls are in bed, it would be terrific to just be able to go. There are lots of logistical things that would be made much easier by having a man around the house.

On the other hand, it’s a relief sometimes to not have to put the work into keeping a marriage healthy. One of my friends was undergoing fertility treatments at the same time I was, only with a husband. Their daughter is just a couple of months younger than my girls. And my married friend is just as likely to feel that I have it easier, because I’m doing it alone.

In this Internet age, it isn’t hard to share my pride and frustration. I can snap pictures with my phone and send them instantly to family and friends. The girls are old enough to chat on the phone, to text, and to email. My mom and my sister are still a big source of moral—and occasionally financial—support. We miss their physical presence. The emotional support is there even at a distance.

But the one thing I’ve learned about myself on this road is that I’m much stronger and more capable than I ever would have believed. It’s not easy, not by a long shot, but most of the time it’s hard in a way that parenting itself is hard, or at least hard for everyone who wants to do it well.

So I told the editor all of these things. I’m still waiting to hear back. It’s possible that they don’t need my contribution for the issue after all, or that they’re still deciding. But sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to sell the story of single parenthood as martyrdom.


What We Leave Behind

January 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. I always aimed too high and set myself up for failure. What’s more, I’m making resolutions all year ‘round, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in forcing myself to come up with new ones just because I’m hanging up a new calendar. (Oops, there’s a resolution: upload the 2012 photo calendar to the Costco website before February!)

So, how did I spend New Year’s Eve? We were newly home from having spent Christmas in Phoenix with family, the girls were in bed, and I was enjoying a quiet, cozy evening with a book and a glass of wine. What once would have been considered a New Year’s Eve FAIL —sitting home alone— now felt like bliss.

And I remembered that, several years before I had my kids, I had improvised my own New Year’s Eve ritual. I had been going through a rough time, and I had gone up to my parents’ mountain cabin to spend a quiet, reflective, and restorative holiday alone. I wrote down everything I wanted to leave behind me in the old year, bundled up, and sat out on the deck with an ashtray and a box of matches. Under the dome of the stars, with the moon as my witness, I burned every one. Then I sat for a while, watching for stray meteors left over from the December Geminid shower, and sending up prayers for the people and animals who were no longer with me.

The ritual worked, insofar as I walked away from it feeling stronger, feeling less overwhelmed, feeling braver. You could say “placebo effect” and maybe you’d be right, but then again, who cares if it’s the placebo effect if it works?

And so this year, as 2011 rolled into 2012, I reprised that ritual. I burned little scraps of paper that held the names of six things I’d like to leave behind. Things like procrastination and disorganization. Things like fatigue and envy. Anger. I can’t remember the last one now, but I can feel whatever it is being worked loose and slipping away nonetheless.

May you all have a safe, beautiful, and blessed 2012.


The Santa Report: 2011

December 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

For the last several years, we’ve had a Christmas Eve tradition. My daughters get to open one present—which is always new Christmas- or winter-themed pajamas—and we cuddle up on the couch and watch The Polar Express. This year, The Polar Express’s theme of belief was especially relevant, and the wheels were turning in their heads as well as on the tracks. Twice during the movie, Gracie asked me if I believed in Santa. I said, “Yes, well, I believe he represents the spirit of giving.” I don’t think that answer was satisfactory to her, but she didn’t seem willing to press the issue.

Did I miss a good opportunity to tell them that I don’t believe in Santa Claus? I exist very comfortably in the language of metaphor, and so in that sense I wasn’t lying when I said I believed in him as a symbol for the spirit of giving. But at their age, they don’t function that way yet. They think in much more concrete terms. When they finally figure out that he isn’t a literal truth, my answer will probably sound like a lie to them, and maybe I should have said that most grown-ups don’t believe in Santa anymore, and that’s why they can’t hear the sleigh bell in the movie.

To tell the truth, I was surprised by the way things went down this Christmas. After my daughters really seemed uninterested in Santa Claus this year, to the point where I was convinced that they’d stopped believing, they spent the weekend completely immersing themselves in the myth, taking great interest in helping me prepare the plate of cookies and worrying that the reindeer had enough carrots. They both asked me to keep checking the NORAD Santa tracker site to monitor his progress. They seemed determined to believe.

And speaking of NORAD, it occurs to me that—rather than rendering Santa quaint and outdated—21st century technology has provided kids with a lot more “proof” that Santa is real. Back in my day, you mailed a letter and had no idea if it got there or not. If you were lucky, your parents took you to sit on the lap of a guy at the mall (although that kind of close contact with a stranger freaked me out, so I usually opted not to go). A lot more was taken on faith, and the proof depended on whether you got what you asked for in your letter. Now, Santa e-mails you back, using details provided by your parents to render his answer all the more plausible. Then there’s the NORAD site to monitor Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, using Google Maps and Google Earth technology as well as phony news updates from around the globe. If my daughters are half as credulous as I was when I was a kid, they’re going to keep believing for a long time, now that the Internet is in the mix. But, paradoxically, I think their stubborn insistence on believing this year is probably a sign that our Santa days are numbered.


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