Household H has slowly evolved a Santa Claus policy that works for us. Basically, we're not anti-Santa; we think he's a fun guy. Over the years, we've found that Santa has faded into the background organically as we've tried to add Christmas traditions more aligned with, well, the stuff Jesus talked about - feeding the hungry, reaching out to the lonely and hurt,... Our basic policy is:
- Play along in a reasonable way* with the ones who still believe.
- Let the ones who don't believe stay up a little late on Christmas Eve to eat Santa's cookies and leave out a Santa gift for the uninformed.
- Answer any direct question honestly and forthrightly after, perhaps, a bit of dodging. (What do you think? Why do you ask?)
We've brought that Santa policy to cancer. The boys know Chris has cancer, that there are a lot of different types of cancer and that his is treatable. We decided not to address, "Is Daddy going to die?" unless they brought it up but to answer that question honestly when confronted with it. Man, that's a tough balance. I want my children to absolutely depend on me for the truth. But, the truth sucks, and cancer is certainly not age-appropriate for them (or really me, for that matter).
The folks at MD Anderson gave us backpacks loaded with goodies designed for the children of patients. One of the items is a set of color-coded wrist bands** for displaying emotions.
When we handed out the bags, I was fairly certain that two of my children would turn the bracelets into weapons, one would try to do whatever his brothers did and one would use them for the purpose for which they were intended. I was right. That evening, Jacob was wearing his wrist bands.
Me: I see you're using your color bracelets. Tell me about that.
Jacob: This is because I know you love me, and this one is cause I'm worried.
Me: Whatcha worried about buddy?
Jacob: I'm worried cause Daddy has cancer. Is he going to die? Is he going to die from cancer? (puts on blue "Sad" bracelet.)
Sigh. We talked about what I do and do not know. What follows is what I wanted to say (with some 7-year-old translation), but I'm sure it was garbled and a little rambly because
- I write better than I speak.
- Holy shit, he's 7 years old, but he's got to be able to depend on me for the truth.
Basically, I don't think Daddy will die from this, but I don't know for sure, just like I don't know for sure that I won't die in a car accident tomorrow or find a lizard in my cereal bowl. I do know for sure that God loves me and he loves Jacob and he loves Daddy and none of us will die until we're supposed to and no matter what horrible things happen to us they're not because God doesn't care or can't help. He loves us and whatever happens to us will be used for our good and his glory which kind of makes God seem like an emotionally detached psychopath unless you remember that he didn't spare himself and turned the suffering and obedience of his son, Jesus, into the most healing and beautiful thing the world has seen (in my humble opinion).
So, I didn't say exactly that, but I got in the ballpark and will, no doubt, have many more chances to rehearse that particular speech.
* For me, stuffing stockings and leaving out Christmas cookies for Santa is fun. Waiting in line for an hour to talk to Santa at the mall is not fun.
** Wrist bands is the correct euphemism for boy bracelets, right?