The issue has really never come up until now because last Christmas Kathleen had just begun to think about speaking and hadn't really gotten around to having conversations with us. This year, however, the conversations have fully arrived and refuse to leave.
My first encounter with Santa Claus came while Kathleen and I were shopping for baby clothes. Kathleen saw something with Santa Claus on it, and she asked me who he was. "Who do you think he is?" I asked her. "The mailman," she emphatically replied. I then told her it was Santa Claus, and then got to hurriedly outline the parental policy about how Santa Claus was a pretend man who likes to bring presents to children.
After her first brush with Santa, Kathleen was excited to point out all of the examples of that pretend man, and even got to play with quite a few when we decorated for Christmas last week. She seemed perfectly capable to dealing with an imaginary man because, after all, everyone knows that mugs and dolls and pictures aren't real anyway, so how could Santa be real?
And then we went to the mall. While my mother and I were encouraging each other to greater heights of profligacy at Ann Taylor Loft, my father took Kathleen to see Santa Claus. She came back happy to have ridden all of the escalators and elevators in the mall with a reindeer hat perched on top of her head. I asked her about seeing Santa and she didn't have much to say. Which is about right for someone who is pretend.
This evening, however, she asked me where the real Santa Claus was.
"He's pretend," I told her, reinforcing the party line.
"What about the Santa at the mall?" she fired back.
"He's a man who's dressed up like Santa."
"What's his name?" she asked, knowing that if he was just a normal person he'd have a normal name just like everyone else.
"Well, I don't know," I lamely replied.
"Well then where's the real Santa?" she asked again.
After a few rounds of the same, I gave up. Perhaps, for the sake of my sanity, Santa Claus actually does exist. But he still doesn't bring the presents. Daddy does that part.