Are You A Santa Baby?


My mom believed in Santa until she was 12, and when she found out, she had a crisis of faith. She thought her parents had lied to her. She thought God didn’t exist anymore. She didn’t know what to believe.

So we grew up knowing about Santa, but not actually believing in Santa. We took some Santa pictures each year, until the local neighborhood mall Santa was found out to be a sex offender, and watched shows where Santa was featured. We were instructed to not ‘ruin the story’ for other kids, so all through elementary school I kept my mouth shut when people asked if I believed in Santa. I knew presents came from my parents, that Christmas was about Jesus, and that there was some historical parts of the Santa story, as we learned about St. Nicholas and other world traditions around the Christmas time. I never felt like I was missing out.

Boof was raised in a totally different way. He believed in Santa. He got Santa presents every year, and doesn’t seem too damaged by learning it was a made up story. But when we got together I told him that Santa was not going to happen in our house. I wanted it to be like how I was raised. His mom was offended, thinking I was saying she was a bad mom for ‘lying’ to her kids about Santa. I didn’t actually believe that, or even say that, I just don’t know why Santa is such a big deal. I don’t mind imaginative play, or even learning about Santa, but I just can’t imagine teaching Potamus that his gifts come from a big guy dressed in red who comes down the chimney.

Now that Potamus is getting to the age where traditions and stories start to become a part of his life, I wonder how I, or we, will handle the Santa story. I don’t think Boof feels really strongly one way or the other, whereas I still feel squeamish about the whole thing. And yet, I don’t want my upbringing or brainwashing, to be transferred to my kid, who is perceptive and probably wouldn’t believe in a Santa story past 5 anyway. But I can’t help think about how religious stories and Santa/Tooth Fairy/etc stories are linked together. We learned about the spirit of Christmas without having it be attributed to Santa. But then, has that shaped my agnosticism…the lessons that goodness and love aren’t attributed to something like Santa…or even Jesus…like did my parent’s inadvertently set me up to struggle with any thing related to faith?

How do you handle the Santa story in your family?

Coyote Mother. Trickster Mother.

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The fog was low and thick as I rounded the bend toward Potamus’s daycare. It was early, traffic hadn’t taken us as long as I thought, and I wasn’t quite driving the 40mph speed limit, to try and savor the yellowing leaves that looked so pretty in the swirling fog. And then, up ahead, I see a lone coyote trotting across the road. He seemed casual about his journey, even stopping on the other side to stand still, looking around curiously. If I had slammed on my brakes I could have snapped a gorgeous profile shot of his steely eyes staring ahead. I wondered, did the woman standing at the bus stop notice him? She was quite close, less than a hundred yards, from this wild creature, but neither one seemed bothered by each other. And rather than risk an accident, I kept driving along, but that image has been playing about in my mind for over a week now.

Coyotes have played a role in my life since I was a little girl. Perhaps they are my spirit animal, though when I was really young they frightened me. Our backyard bordered undeveloped cemetary land, and I could hear ‘howls’ late into the night. Being young, I classified them as wolves, and nobody believed me that they existed, until one day my dad was jogging through the cemetary and came across one. The haunting howls frightened me, and I wove stories about coyotes (once I learned what they were) living under my bed and trying to snatch me away for their dinner. I remember sneaking out into the woods with my brother, when we were probably 12 and 10, and coming across a clearing that was filled with fur. Maybe it was the springtime shedding, but I felt that we had come across something magical, a coyote resting spot? A coyote barbershop? I never did see them, but they were there, just outside the campfire.

Historically, coyotes are used as trickster characters in stories. According to Wikipedia:

The coyote mythos can be categorized in many ways. In creation myths, Coyote appears as the Creator himself; but he may at the same time be the messenger, the culture hero, the trickster, the fool, the clown. He also has the ability of the transformer: in some stories he is a handsome young man; in others he is an animal; yet others present him as just a power, a sacred one.

Did you know that coyotes are the only animal that has adapted to life in all 48 continental US states? That they stretch all the way down to panama and up to Alaska. Did you know that it lives in urban areas like New York City, as well as rural areas like Big Sky Country? Where wolves have ‘failed to adapt’ to the encroachment of human territory, coyotes have thrived, survived, natural selection at its finest. With the culture surrounding mother-animal archetypes, like the famous Tiger Mother, it is surprising to me that nobody has talked about the Coyote Trickster Mother.

I have created something, and yet the creation has a mind of its own. I take many shapes depending on the situation: bedtime wrestling champion, ultimate sandwhich preparer, no-more-chocolate-chips-today enforcer. I can go from laughing, or ‘playing the fool,’ to the disciplinarian, and back again in the course of a few moments. I can adapt, to staying at home during the summer and working full time during the rest of the year. I am restless. I feel cagey and panicked when confined, and sometimes motherhood feels like smotherhood and I want to chew off my own leg, but I’m glad I don’t have 19 pups like a real coyote mother. I hold a sacred power inside, part human, part animal, that instinctual I-would-kill-for-my-offspring feelings. I can wear lipstick with my hair done and relate to fancy-pants business types. I can sport yoga pants and a sports bra with my sweaty yoginis. I drink wine or Miller lite. I laugh and joke and play the fool, and I could cut you if you get too close. I may blend into the crowd, unassuming, or stand out, on the side of a foggy road early in the morning. I am a coyote mother. A trickster mother.

Adoptees in Fiction

Comment on how adoption is portrayed in fiction, either as a fiction reader or writer. Adoption in classic fiction often centers on the orphan experience, from Oliver Twist and Little Men, to orphan Jane Eyre living with her aunt and cousins. Today there’s the Twilight series and others that use adoption to explain “families” comprised of various vampires. Talk about other examples of adoption used as a plot device in fiction. What types of adoption stories or adopted characters have resonated with you? Or haven’t? Are the feelings and experiences described authentically, accurately? 

I was obsessed with orphan storylines as a kid. Some of my favorite books included: The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and Anne of Green Gables. I know now, as an adult, that I was drawn to these storylines because I was trying to work out some of my own feelings around abandonment and family and perseverance.

Even the games that I played as a kid were storylines around adoption. So my siblings and I were always playing, “orphans” or “lost kids,” where we had been separated from our family and we were trying to get “home.” I wonder if my parent’s had psychological training they might have noticed these play themes and gotten us counseling, but, alas, they did not. When I met Boof he was surprised that my childhood was spent playing “orphanage,” as that storyline never crossed his mind as something to play pretend when he and his sisters were children.

But it seems like, since the dawn of time, stories of orphans have been popular. Mythology, folklore, fairy-tales…Disney. From Oedipus to Romulus/Remus, to Mowgli from the Jungle Book or Little Orphan Annie, Harry Potter or Superman, there is something appealing to people…and I think it’s about overcoming hardship and the search for identity and home and family. Characters being separated tragically from their family from a young age provides a great backdrop for exploring the themes of identity and perseverance, that can’t as easily be found in other storylines. Like the Alex Haley quote goes:

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from.”

The adoptee storyline in fiction is one of the reasons that I resonated so deeply with BJ Lifton’s A Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. In the book she looks at myth and fictional adoptees and shows how it is quite the archetypal character.

I wonder what other examples of orphans/adoptees/adoptive families can be found in literature. What list could we come up with if we put our brains together?