When I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old, my parents took me to Santa Claus Village in Canada. I met the Jolly Old Elf and Mrs. Claus, toured his summer cabin and saw real reindeer grazing in his yard. I believed in Santa with every fiber of my being. As part of the experience, my parents arranged for me to receive a letter from Santa in November. He talked about my visit, expressed his happiness that I was still being a good girl, and asked me to write back with a list of Christmas wishes.
At school that fall some of the children tried to tell me that Santa was a fantasy, perpetrated by my parents, but my belief remained unshakable. I’d seen him! He wrote to me! What did they know? These days, I’ve adjusted my thinking to the idea that Santa is the embodiment of Christmas spirit, sharing and goodwill that produces a human kind of magic each December, but in some respects Santa still remains real to me.
Jet is every bit as stubborn about her various cherished beliefs. Sometimes her tenacity frustrates me in the way that seeing yourself in your grandchildren can do. At the same time I am impressed by her rationality when presented with conflicting evidence and her patience working through problems in logic.
At almost 5, Jet still believes in a classic concept of Santa with all her heart. She says that he and the Easter Bunny are really good people, like Jesus. At the same time, she accepts the existence of pretenders to the role, helpers who fill in at malls and other locations as needed. As a very practical child she is able to find ways to make sense and order of the world around her. Jet also firmly believes in the magical kingdom of Disney. Stories may be told in movies and cartoons about Belle and Elsa and Cinderella and these stories may differ in various details but she knows that the genuine princesses, villains and heroes live at Disney World. She has met them and touched them. She has photos. I know just how she feels.
Meeting Gaston posed something of a conundrum for her. Gaston had been one of the major villains of Beauty and the Beast. Toward the end of the movie, Gaston fell from the Beast’s castle, presumably to his death. Yet, she saw him, alive, well and talking affably to children at Disney World. How could this be? Jet pondered the problem and adjusted her thinking. Gaston was hurt by the fall, but he didn’t die. His horrible experience changed him for the better: he’s good now. Problem solved!
Until recently I operated under the understanding that Jet’s stuffed friend, Kitty had achieved realness in the manner of the Velveteen Rabbit. Kitty needed to watch Jet eat breakfast and take her bath so she wouldn’t be lonely. She wore clothing to keep her warm including some matching outfits just like Jet’s. Kitty had thoughts and feelings that included deep angst at the idea of being left at home alone. Sometimes she could read and drive a car and sometimes she was just a baby, but always, always, Kitty was in some manner real to Jet.
I failed to notice that things had changed until one morning at breakfast Jet mentioned that Kitty didn’t think she needed a bath today. “Oh? Why does she think that?”
“About your bath. Why does Kitty think you don’t need a bath today?”
Jet paused and looked at me over the top of her glasses. “Grandma…” she paused, trying to find the right words. “Grandma, Kitty isn’t real.”
Kitty may not have been real anymore, but my astonishment certainly was. “What? When did that happen?”
Jet looked at me solemnly. “Well,” she said slowly. “She’s never been real. She’s a stuffed animal.” She watched me carefully for my reaction.
What I wanted to do was cry and bewail Jet’s rapidly vanishing childhood, but I took a deep breath instead. “I see. I guess I didn’t know that.”
“Is there anything else that isn’t real?”
“Animals don’t really talk.”
“Are you sure?”
“Marcy talks. Maybe not with words, but she can tell me what she wants. She tells me when she wants to go out.”
“No she doesn’t.”
I walked over to the canister of biscuits. Predictably, Marcy jumped straight up to indicate her desire that I open the lid. “What’s she saying right now?”
“She wants a biscuit.”
“Yep. She doesn’t need words to talk to us, does she? Is Marcy real?”
“Is Dory (from Finding Nemo) real?”
“No, she’s a cartoon.”
“Is Belle real?”
“Yes, not the cartoon, but she is a real Princess in real life.”
“Okay. I think I understand.” I know it had to happen sometime, but I already miss Real Kitty.