Scrolling through Facebook one day, I noticed that my fifteen-year-old niece was upset with a TV show. “Dang it Attack on Titan... Whyyyyy would you do this to me?” her status said. She had just watched episode 5, where one of the main characters dies dramatically. “They ripped my heart out!” she said, posting a picture of herself in full ugly-cry mode.
“I recommend you get used to it...” one unsympathetic friend commented.
“Really??? Your kidding?” she replied, with a cavalier approach to grammar.
“It gets a lot worse...” said another.
“I don't think I can prepare for more,” she lamented. “I mean, this is worse then Game of Thrones...”
Oh, you sweet summer child, I thought, laughing as I wondered how she’d react to the rest of the show, in which almost everyone dies horribly.
But when my laughter subsided, I sighed. I was being unfair: this might be a Santa Claus incident.
When I got home after second grade one day, my mother asked how my day had been and I told her about the argument between my classmates. Half of them had decided they were too cool to believe in Santa Claus anymore, while the other half clung to their beliefs with a zeal that could have rivaled the Spanish Inquisition. The argument had eventually spiraled out of control, derailing the math lesson for nearly half an hour while the teacher sent the chief instigators to the office and calmed several other children down.
“And which side were you on?” mom asked me.
“Oh, neither,” I said. “I read a storybook while they talked.”
Mom nodded solemnly, then took me out for ice cream so that she could soften the blow of telling me Santa Claus was not real. “Since your classmates are talking about it, I wanted you to hear it from me,” she said. “Your daddy and I are the ones who put out presents on Christmas morning.”
I took the news rather calmly. “Okay,” I said, and I really was okay with it. My older brother had already hinted at as much, and I had decided that Santa Claus could be not real if he wanted to be, as long as I still got presents.
I listened as my mother explained how heartbroken she had been as a child when she learned Santa wasn’t real, how she wanted more than all the world to spare me what she went through. “Just remember that Santa Claus is always real in your heart,” she said, choking back tears.
“Okay,” I said again, staring at my ice cream.
I felt bad for not feeling bad about it.
You see, for my mother, learning the truth about Santa Claus was an incident. For me, it was not.
My Santa Claus incidents, and there have been several, have not been about Santa Claus at all.
Do you have any idea how upset I was as a child to learn that Muppets were not real? We’re talking nuclear grade devastation. No amount of comforting ice cream was going to smooth this tantrum over. I was a wreck for weeks. To put it in the modern parlance, four-year-old me just “could not even”.
And can we talk about how I mourned for Optimus Prime? “Oh, honey,” parents and grandparents said. “The Transformers aren’t real, so he isn’t really dead.” This is surprisingly unhelpful, but thanks for trying.
There have been books I’ve literally thrown across the room because they didn’t end the way I hoped they would, leaving me feeling both traumatized and betrayed. Critics say, “It had to end that way for literary reasons!” Screw them.
There have been TV shows the left holes in my life when they were cancelled. “What am I going to do with myself at 7:00PM on Tuesdays?” I asked. “Just watch something else,” people said. IT ISN’T THAT EASY, YOU UNFEELING WRETCHES!
These are Santa Claus incidents. Not the big things, the real things like deaths or divorces or house fires, but the grief for things not real. Did anyone think to take you out for ice cream when Superman died? Did anyone lovingly comfort you after “The Reichenbach Fall”? No one did for me, but it would have been nice if someone had thought of it.
So I called my niece. “I saw your Facebook post,” I said. “Are you okay?”
She sniffled. “Yes.”
I made a mental note to buy her ice cream later.