Dear Santa, All I Want for Christmas Is a User’s Manual for My Kid

Dear Santa:

Ho ho ho

Yeah, I know. But drawing lessons are WAAAAYYY down the list.

Well, you’re probably surprised, right?  I mean – first off – I’m kinda old for this.  It must be at least, I don’t know, 30 years since my last letter?  And, we both know I’m a notorious procrastinator.  It’s practically breaking a law of nature for me to write you this letter before December 24.  But, I was in the grocery store the other day, staring at row-upon-row of Halloween candy and decorations (even though it was still summer … No, really, still summer), and I thought, I’ve been pretty good this year.  I think I should get something for that.  

Selfishly, I’d like a medal.  A great big, shiny gold medal that says “I’M A SUPER MOM.  SANTA SAID!”


But, selfish doesn’t get you on the “Nice” list.  So, here’s my one and only request:  I want a user’s manual for my kid.  I have a BIG question, and it would be marvelous if there was an actual resource for this one.  I tried asking a group of about 25 spectrum parents, and I got about 25 different answers.

(I’d give you their names so you could give them user’s manuals, too, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy on pain of never being allowed to eat bacon again.  Ever.  Seriously.  I know.  You can’t even wrap your mind around that, right?  It’s a tough crowd.)

You see, Santa, here’s my dilemma.  My daughter, Helene, is autistic.  She knows who you are — sort of.  You’ve appeared in quite a few animated videos, so she believes you are a cartoon character in some of her favorite shows, singing some of her favorite songs.  (Come to think of it, I’ve been better than “pretty good” this year.  Do you know how much patience it takes to sing Christmas carols in the middle of July when it’s 100° F and you’re sitting in traffic? GOLD. MEDAL. PATIENCE.)


… had a very SHINY NOSE!!!

But, Helene does not know everything about what you do.  She has no idea that you fly around the world in your sleigh to deliver presents anywhere outside of YouTube – particularly our living room.

I am torn.  Do I let her go on believing you are nothing but a cartoon character?  Or, do I encourage her to behave her best and send a hopeful letter to the North Pole, wishing for a magical delivery?  Because, Santa, my daughter (like many other children on the autism spectrum) has a very small circle of trust, and I am lucky enough to be in the circle.  Helene believes me when I tell her that her shoes are pink, that it’s warm outside, that I will pick her up after school, that I love her. Also, Helene’s mind is very literal – I have to be careful when I say things like “just a minute,” “hold your horses” or “keep an eye on it,” or I end up with a child who will wait only 60 seconds, ask “What horse?” or press her eye against whatever “it” might be.

Need an example?  I can do that.  One time, Helene was trying to walk around the left side of the dining room table to get something from me.  But, a chair blocked her way.  I said, “Helene, go the other way,” meaning walk around the right side of the table.  Instead, she turned around and tried to walk backward toward me.  Yep.  That was the other way.

Listen, one my life’s missions is never to break Helene’s trust, which is especially challenging when communicating with someone who doesn’t deal in shades of grey.  (No, not THAT grey, and I’ll have you know I doubly deserve a GOLD MEDAL for not reading that crap …)

Bad book.  No biscuit.

At the same time, I have to balance Helene’s need for literal clarity against my responsibility to give her as authentic a childhood as possible by not depriving her of experiences because of my own fears about what she can or can’t handle.

It is fear from which my need for advice springs, Santa.  What happens if I convince Helene to believe in you — the realness of you — and someday, she doesn’t anymore?  Will she think I lied to her?  Will the circle of trust be broken?  Or, will she simply take it in stride because she’s outgrown you?  Will she be able to look back at memories of you and recall the joyful anticipation of Christmas morning, the comfort of falling asleep enveloped in the sweet, warm scent of fresh-baked chocolate chip and sugar cookies, and the thrill of finding an overstuffed, red-velvet-and-white-fuzz-trimmed stocking full of goodies and toys next to her bed on Christmas morning?  Or will she feel only as if I played an elaborate trick on her and start doubting everything I say?

I truly don’t know what to do here.  On the one hand, I could tell her that you’re not real; that you’re just a cartoon character like the Wonder Pets or Mike the Knight.  But, she will inevitably hear about you from kids at school or family members, each of whom will try mightily to convince her of the magic that happens each year in the North Pole.  Or, Helene could end up breaking the heart of one of her friends or family members by staunchly insisting that you are not real, because her Mama said you aren’t real and Mama always tells the truth.


So, Santa, if you could please send me a user’s manual for my beautiful, sweet, complex, enigmatic daughter, I’d take that over pretty much anything else I could wish for this year.  The gold medal can wait.


24 comments on “Dear Santa, All I Want for Christmas Is a User’s Manual for My Kid

  1. teemcp says:

    Switch to Judaism?
    Tough one. Myth is an important part of culture and how we explain things, but it kinda falls apart here.

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      I was thinking more Jehovah’s Witness? But, I really like birthdays. Because, cake. So, yeah. Back to square one. How to teach a literal mind myth? Beyond me right now, but I’ll figure it out. 😉

  2. Well, my parents had me on the tooth fairy, the easter bunny, and santa. When I figured out they weren’t real, my parents sat down and talked with me about how they are there to help enrich childhood and other such things. I never really understood the why, but it also didn’t break my trust of them. But that’s just my experience. Perhaps, just let Helene’s interest in Santa expand or contract based on her interests. Don’t force it, and answer questions if she has them. It sounds like, to her, he’s already a fiction character. Perhaps thats where he should stay. Don’t say “Santa isn’t real” or “Santa is real” – that backs you into a corner. And if you don’t discuss it, keep it as more of a non-issue, then it may never become a problem. I didn’t feel like my life was made better by the “existence” of santa, but again, that’s my own thoughts. I’m not sure if that made any sense, but my thought is perhaps, just don’t stress the issue in either direction. Take it as it comes.

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      That makes a lot of sense, E, you have no idea how much I appreciate having your perspective. I’m afraid, though, I could avoid talking about it only for a while. This year, I think Christmas is still largely beyond Helene’s broader comprehension. But, someday, I know she will start questioning things — probably everything — as she puts context to her world. So, when she asks me all the “whys” about the traditional holiday activities – hanging stockings from the fireplace mantle, putting out a plate of milk and cookies before bed, going outside in our PJs before bedtime to sprinkle oatmeal and glitter on the lawn – the answers are all “Santa.” The Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny seem less of an issue to me. But the fat man in the suit vexes me. 😉

  3. Bec Oakley says:

    Oh man, I hear ya on this one! I never figured it out either so I decided to wait until my boys asked me the question. Like flat out just came to me and said “So…. I’m kinda thinking that you’re Santa”. I mean that’s a brilliant foolproof plan, right? They’re now 12 and 14. Still haven’t asked… and it’s getting kinda ridiculous by this point. Everyone assumes they know. Do you know how hard it is to get the rest of the world onboard with the idea that your teens still believe in Santa? Or to understand that they just don’t notice that every other kid their age doesn’t believe, hell even practically says it to their face but they still don’t get it. And I’m not even sure whether they actually believe it or just haven’t said anything in case they won’t get presents anymore 🙂 Every time we’re watching a movie where someone makes a joke about kids still believing in Santa (or the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, yep still believe in those too) I think okay, here comes the question… but nope. And I feel simultaneously relieved that I don’t have to burst that bubble and incredibly frustrated that the ruse continues.

    Sorry. That was no help whatsoever 😀

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      LOL, Bec. It is helpful to know I’m not the only parent who can’t seem to figure shit out. 🙂 I have a 14-year-old, and a couple of years ago, Santa nearly caused WWIII in our house. Nate wanted a PS3 for Christmas. I think they’d just come out, and the only way you could get one was if you were related to the President of Sony. So, when Nate wrote out his Christmas letter to Santa and the only thing on it was the PS3, the Hubs and I tried to gently tell him that Santa may not be able to bring one. “Well, he’s Santa. He has magic,” Nate said. We tried to explain that a LOT of kids wanted a PS3 for Christmas, and Santa couldn’t possibly give every kid who wanted one a console. “But Santa has elves and a massive workshop. He can just make more.”

      Long story a little less long, we finally had to tell Nate. I’m proud to say that I’ve had only a handful of “asshole” parenting moments. (Like the time I accidentally dotted Helene in the head with a rattle …) That conversation with Nate was definitely one of them. “Devastated” seems so … inadequate. So, mostly, I’m looking for a better score on the next round. 😉

      • Bec Oakley says:

        OMG that is exactly what my son says! I have one verbal, one not-so-verbal… the 12 year old chatty one pulls out the lawyer-logic when it comes to all the reasons why Santa will be able to bring him the limited edition Star Wars lego that’s going for $7000 on ebay. You should see the sell-job that Santa has to do explaining why the thing that he did bring is sooooo much better… basically it boils down to me being a chickenshit. So props to you for just getting on and doing it because now I’m stuck in this impossible situation where it’s just beyond the point of ridiculous. Sigh. This year. It’s going to have to be thing year…

  4. Love Many Trust Few says:

    Just tell Helene ‘if you don’t believe, you don’t receive’ – when she’s old enough to understand what the hell you are talking about!! Funny you should ask for an instruction manual – I actually make/write an instruction manual to go with my little bubbas when they are adopted. It’s half funny half extremely helpful – just giving the new parents the inside info on what makes their new baby happy, settled etc.
    Also, I recently read a great post on helping with ‘inflexible thinking’ and I think it could possibly help you out when the day comes for the explanation about Santa. Will send you the link when I am not in bed trying to get the baby to sleep!!

  5. Heather says:

    Had I been around from the time Eric’s kids were very small, they would have been raised without Santa. Not because I think that they shouldn’t believe in something like that, but because I’m not big on the consumerism aspect of Xmas. I won’t go into all that here.

    ANYWAY, I certainly didn’t think of my parents as liars (and I didn’t distrust them) when I realized Santa wasn’t real. I actually appreciated that they went through all of that extra work to make Xmas special for us. I don’t know anyone who was ever angry at their parents for letting them believe in Santa.

    • Heather says:

      I also don’t know how this applies to children on the spectrum, though. I’m just commenting from personal experience.

      • ProfMomEsq says:

        I know what you mean, Heather. I didn’t think of it as my parents lying to me, either. In fact, I was pretty damn proud of myself that I “outsmarted” them by discovering … *ahem* stuff …. *ahem* …. about Santa.

        But, if I’ve learned *anything* about parenting a child on the spectrum (besides the fact that I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m doing), it’s that if my brain works one way, Helene’s will almost certainly work the opposite.

        FWIW, I share your feelings about Santa and materialism. I look forward to this time of year only for Thanksgiving – the rest can suck it. Bah humbug and all that. But, that’s a blog post for another grumpy day. lol.

  6. gkinnard says:

    Sigh . . . you really get to me sometimes. I mean that in a good way.

    It would appear that we’ve been relegated to a lifetime of “winging it” as there are no user’s manuals. Every day is a combination of strict routine and taking your best wild-ass guess on what to do next. I wish I could deliver better news. . . .

    At 19 Sam still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny. We have no intention of changing that because, well, reality often tends to suck.

    Yeah, you’re right: ask 100,000 parents of kids on the spectrum what the right thing to do in any given situation is and you’ll get a different answer from every one.

    I decided long ago that there is no way you can explain life with autism adequately; it has to be lived to be understood.

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      I love that Sam still believes, George. If I knew that would be the case for Helene, I’d have so much less apprehension about this. Ah, if only we could get inside their heads – even for just a moment. I’m torn because I have so many good memories of the holidays when I was young and they still had magic. Then, as I got older, holidays became a logistical and very un-magical nightmare, filled with adult worries and responsibilities and no sense of mystery whatsoever. I want to give Helene the magic, but I want that to be as “real” as possible. If that makes any sense.

  7. Jessica says:

    I love this! I feel the SAME way!!!!! Can I send this to Santa as well? HAHA!

  8. I’m sorry – I don’t have an answer for you either – I think most parents would find a manual useful but even more with a child liek Heene who thinks a bit differently to most of us.

    I agree with Heather that I know no one who is angry at their Santa experiences. It is a magical thing that I feel is a fun part of childhood and am a little sad when people prevent it for their children (by that, I don’t mean parents in your situation).

    I just wanted to say I understood your letter to Santa and the difficult decision you are facing. I think it has to come down to YOU know Helene best so go with your instinct about how she coudl react.

  9. Lonely Ronin says:

    Even though am still a college guy, I must say that this post is heart touching. Ma’m by writing this you have told me to value my Mom even more. Thank You 🙂
    Best of luck for you and your daughter. I really hope she has the happiest life possible.

  10. Cafe says:

    Aww, this is so sweet. I’m sorry I don’t have any advice for you. Just wanted to let you know this was very touching 🙂

  11. Piper George says:

    My daughter goes to a C of E school and is taught about God and Jesus. She has asked me what I think of Jesus (she is 6, this was not a detailed conversation) and my answer was that some people believe in God and Jesus, some people believe in God by another name and some people don’t believe at all. It’s good to believe that there is something beautiful and magic out there, that brings happiness to people everywhere, but really you have to make your own choice as to whether you want to believe or not.
    I would say that the same advice belongs to Father Christmas, it is a choice as to wether she wants to believe or not. But with the qualifier, that she doesn’t need to decide right now, but while she thinks about it, we can have stockings and put out food for the reindeer, just in case.
    Would that help?

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      I know what you mean. I do. My struggle is between my desire to protect her and my desire to let her find her own way. Emotions are complicated for my daughter, so faith-based concepts might elude her in some ways. In others, the depth of her ability to feel might be bottomless. But, yep – going to do the stockings and lawn glitter and cookies no matter what. If I figured out anything from writing this post and the great advice I received in response, it’s that the only reason she really needs for why we do it all is love.

  12. susysg says:

    Hey! I love your posts. Your writing is very interesting, and doesn’t let me get my eyes off of what I’m reading until I’m done. Just thought I’d throw that in. About the “Santa situation”, I’m not a parent, (or near to being one) but I can tell you the story about what happened when my little cousin found out Santa wasn’t real…
    He was only 8 years old, he grew up believing Santa was the one putting his Christmas presents under the tree every year. One day, he goes up to his mom, and says, “Mom, my friends say Santa is not real.” She then proceeds to tell him the truth about Santa… oh boy, she did not expect what happened next.
    He started crying, (the I-have-never-been-so-betrayed-before cry,) saying, “Mom, how could you lie to me? Why didn’t you just tell me he wasn’t real? How could you do this to me?” She was heart-broken, and started crying as well. She had to say she was sorry! What kind of 8-year-old would feel so deeply betrayed by his mom just for lying about Santa? Well, apparently there’s people for that.
    So, my advice, (as a non-parent, third-party-observer,) is to tell your daughter that Santa did exist once, he brought gifts to kids every year, etc. But he’s not alive anymore. And then go on and say something like “he’s alive in kid’s hearts”, or something to compensate as to why her friends believe in Santa.
    Hope this helps. Best of luck!

    • ProfMomEsq says:

      Hi, Susana. Thanks for the great compliment and for sharing the story about your cousin. What happened to your aunt is exactly what I fear. But, I do like your solution a lot, and I will definitely keep that in mind.

It's boring when I do all the talking around here. Speak now, while you can get a word in edgewise.

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