Christmas is a lot like an Escape Room

Canada and I went to an Escape Room for a Grown Up Play-Date. We paid a lot of money for a sitter along with a bunch of other parents who also spent a lot of money for sitters to be locked in a room with other parents. But us parents were just so desperate for an adult Play-Date before Christmas season launched us all full-bore into the financial/emotional stress test of making magical miracles come true for our children while giving Santa all the frigging credit.

Our Escape Room Adult Play-Date came with a 19-year-old babysitter, monitor, who pretended not to watch us not be able to escape. Our Play-Date babysitter was careful not to take pity on us, no matter how much we tried to charm, guilt, shame and bribe her. She reminded me of me, witnessing Grace try to decipher the truth about Santa, The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, etc.

We are very torn about nurturing the Santa Claus ideology- mainly because we are lying to our child while simultaneously endeavoring to teach her that lying is wrong.  It feels cruel to know that one day, probably sooner than we hope, she’s going to learn Santa isn’t real- perhaps while on the playground- where we won’t be able to soften the blow. Knowing Grace, she will be shocked, hurt, but pretend she knew the truth all along to save face. Then when I pick her up, she will yell, ‘Momma! Santa’s not real!’  And I will probably burst into tears like I always do when Grace grows up in quick, painful bursts.

Since arriving in Calgary, it’s been so far below freezing all remaining reindeer have lost their nuts.  After playing in the snow for five minutes, Grace sustained frostbite on both cheeks (she called it ‘frogs-bite’). Once her face thawed out, she resumed bouncing off her Nana’s walls, so we bit the bullet and sported Grace to a Play-Date in the local Calgary shopping mall just three days before Christmas.  

Determined to keep Grace out of toy stores, we searched for the perfunctory mall play area and accidentally found the super fake, forced cheerfulness of Santa’s Workshop replete with suspiciously human-sized elves.  We did begrudgingly have to give Santa extra credit for sporting a real snowy and long beard.

Santa has been a touchy subject in our house.  She hated every Santa she’s ever had a lap Play-Date with– White, Black, Hispanic, East Indian. Grace was born an equal opportunity Santa-Hater.  But when she figured out Santa Claus delivers all the Christmas toys, she decided to give him another chance.

We asked if she wanted the obligatory Santa Claus lap Play-Date. Grace pondered this endless choice while watching the other well-dressed and hair-styled children wait calmly for their lap-time.  When the other children finally scored their lap Play-Dates, they exploded in a fury of squirming taffeta and tears, begging parents to rescue them from the velour-clad man’s suddenly evil grasp.  Grace decided this guy wasn’t Santa because ‘the real Santa dude’ was busy getting presents ready for all the world’s kids, but her first. Grace concluded, “I want to, but I also don’t.”  Which was precisely how I felt about the Escape Room. We moved along before she changed her mind, thereby saving ourselves 75 bucks, Canadian.

Even today, on Christmas Eve, when Grace sadly asked if Santa is make-believe, I studied her sweet, unmapped face– and remembered the technical end of my childhood as the day I sadly accepted the non-reality of magical beings. When innocence ends, cynicism begins, so, I ultimately recognized that it didn’t matter who was real and who wasn’t, as long as I got presents.  So, I looked in my child’s hopeful face, recognizing she wants the truth, as long as the fact is that Santa is real. So I removed all expression, sympathy, pity, and cynicism from my face and allowed Grace to believe the lie she desperately wants to be true.

Just like the sweet, stone-faced Grown-Up Baby-Sitter who knew we weren’t going to escape our Escape Room Play-Date but never stopped allowing us to believe.

Contributed by Kathleen Dennehy 

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