Jack is five. He is at a really fun age for the magic of Christmas. He believes in Santa wholeheartedly, but he is also a really smart kid who thinks everything through. Lately he has come up with a few practical questions about how this whole thing works and I have a feeling that his days of believing in Santa Clause are numbered.
This morning I sent him to school with a new unwrapped present to donate to the toy drive that the school is hosting. It was a really cool motorcycle that makes noise and runs when you push a button. He wanted it and totally refused to give it up. He threw a big fit about wanting to keep it. I was ticked. I explained to him that it was never his to begin with, that it wasn't purchased with his money and that he already has plenty of toys and will be getting even more at Christmas. I explained that this toy would provide Christmas for some child who would otherwise get nothing. We have so much and so many people have so little. There are families in our own community who don't even have enough to eat, let alone toy motorcycles.
He looked at me and scoffed "Why don't they just get what they need from Santa Clause?" his wheels were turning. "And why do you always tell me stuff I want for Christmas is too expensive if you're not buying it anyway?"
"Uuuuuhhh..... Well Jack, Thats a good question..." I was totally stumped. I want to answer his questions honestly and I want him to have an appreciation for the things he has and the money spent on him, but I don't want to squash the magic of Santa for him at five years old. He wanted to know what a parent's income has to do with anything if we all get all of our presents from Santa anyway. He wouldn't let me change the subject. He was thinking hard about it and he wanted answers.
I told him that yes Santa brings the stuff and yes he makes a naughty list and a nice list and stuff but theres no way in the world that one guy could afford to buy all of those toys for everyone so we pay him money for the toys he brings. By donating the toys, we are helping Santa bring toys to the kids whose parents can't pay anything. Jack countered that Santa makes the toys in his workshop with his elves. I explained that he has to pay the elves and it costs money to run the North Pole so he needs the parents to pay and some parents just cant afford it.
The whole answer was awkward and unsettling. Jack could sense that something is messed up with the whole program. I wish I had had more time to think about it but even then I don't know what is the best way to explain this without ruining it. John was listening in to the whole conversation and he was horrified. He says I "used the nuclear option" but he didn't have any better ideas either. In my defense, I didn't tell Jack there is no Santa, I just turned him into a capatalist. He's jolly and generous and magical but he doesn't show up unless his invoice is paid in full.
So toy drives are a great thing but I'm starting to realize that maybe we should leave the kids out of it. I think I will try to find other ways of fostering holiday generosity because Jack is too smart for his own good sometimes. This is one of those parenting challenges that I probably screwed up on and I will know better with the next one. The oldest child in every family is the guinea pig in a lot of ways. Sorry Wack, if it makes you feel any better, we will screw up less on your siblings.