Care and Feeding

Our Kid’s Letter to Santa This Year Asks for a Sign of His Existence

Is it an adorable attempt at belief or a trap to catch us in a lie?

A child wears a Santa hat and writes a letter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jovanmandic/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I haven’t been sure about our 11-year-old’s thoughts on Santa for a few years now. His younger brother and sister (9 and 7) believe, but we thought he might know the truth and just be pretending for his siblings. We opened his letter to Santa this year and found this.

Dear Santa Clause,

I have but one request for Christmas this year. Everything around me (kids, movies, books etc,) seems to deny your existance. So please on Christmas morning give me a sign you are real.

P.S. I really want to believe

Yours truly

[redacted] age 11

What do we do? I’m worried that there’s a big difference between not telling him about Santa and actively misleading an 11-year-old. I don’t want to risk eroding trust just to keep him believing for another year. I also think there’s a chance he’s just writing this letter as a test. He surprisingly didn’t ask for any presents in the letter, which is out of character.

We have to tell him, right?

—Reluctant Elf

Dear RE,

OK, first of all, I know a lot of conspiracy theorists are going to think this is fake news, but I’d like to assure our readers that this is a real-ass email we got with a photo attachment of a real-ass letter in real-ass kid handwriting, and I, for one, am destroyed. I have been weeping for like an hour off of this, and I’m barely getting started. This is either the most precious or the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen in my natural life.

So, either this kid should be applauded for having the sweetest and purest heart on planet Earth, or he should be applauded for finessing his parents half to death with this checkmate of a letter. For reasons having entirely to do with my own Grinch-ly-ness (and the fact that he didn’t ask for presents), I’m leaning toward the latter, which would mean that he’s basically laid for you a perjury trap. If he knows you’re Santa, then he forces you to lie to his face for an entire year while he gathers evidence of the depth and relentlessness of your dishonesty. Your only alternative is to risk smashing a kid’s hopes, dreams, and his one last remaining shred of faith in this rotten world in one fell swoop. Impressive, kid. Very impressive.

So, dear parent, you need more information. You need to casually ask him what he wrote to Santa in his letter, you need to ask him how would Santa prove he was real, and you need to ask him what he would do if he found out Santa wasn’t real? You’re looking for cracks in his façade. You’re looking for tells. Maybe you’ll get nothing. But if you know him well, he probably won’t be able to hide his angle long.

Other than that, I, for one, say let this kid believe in Santa as long as he wants. Who cares, we’re all going to die anyway at some point. You don’t have to make fake reindeer prints in his bedroom or whatever. But you can certainly follow his letter to the … letter and not get him any presents. I’m sure that will either answer or render moot any existential questions he has.

Dear Care and Feeding,

So, I have a 9-year-old nephew who’s delusional. I’m laughing out loud as I type this because I believe that most children are somewhat delusional, and it’s totally normal. Yet, here I am writing to you!

Anyway, I have a 9-year-old nephew who is, probably, over 4-feet tall? I don’t know his height exactly—I’ve never measured him—but I can see well over his head even though I’m a petite (<5-foot-3) person.

About a year ago, my nephew decided that he’s taller than me. Now, I don’t really care about my height, nor his, but the first time he mentioned this, I gently said, “I don’t think you’re quite there yet, but so close and someday soon you will be. Probably even taller, I bet.” I thought it was a little odd because it came out of the blue but figured maybe he feels insecure about his height so I left it at that.

He’s since brought this up every. single. time. that I’ve seen him. “I’m taller than you, Auntie!” or “Did you know that I’m taller than you?” It’s really obnoxious and getting old because he’ll do this while I’m in conversation with others, which is really rude. I can’t get him to stop.

Again, I don’t care to make him admit that he’s wrong, but he’s so insistent/aggressive about this. If I happen to be near any wall, he’ll try to push me up against it and also put his back up against it so he can show how close in height we are. Though the difference is obvious, he still insists he’s taller, so it’s really weird. On other occasions, he’s ambushed me; he yelled out, “I bet I can pick you up!” and then grabbed me from behind before I could respond. For now, I’m still bigger than him, so all he did was demonstrate, poorly, the Heimlich maneuver on me.

I don’t know what to do because I can’t get him to drop this. Anytime I try to talk to him about it (always after an “incident”), he further taunts me for being so short: “Oh Auntie, you’re just mad at me because I’m taller than you!” But, as most adults would understand, that’s not what’s upsetting to me. It’s upsetting to me that I have a nephew, who’s otherwise a nice kid, who goes around trying to make others (me) feel bad about something they don’t need to feel bad about.

Is he a bully? As far as I know, he’s not done this to anyone else, thankfully. Just me. My husband (his mother’s brother) has talked to him about why it’s not OK to do this, yet he keeps doing it the second we’re alone. It’s a bizarre fixation and I’m VERY worried about the physical stuff (grabbing and pushing) escalating. I’m dreading another incident at Christmas.

Please help,

—Let’s All Keep Our Hands to Ourselves

Dear LAKOHtO,

Yeah, I don’t love this. Kids being weird is one thing, kids being delusional is another, slightly iffier thing, but kids pushing people around and force-touching them after they’ve been told not to, especially when the matter is about physical domination—well, that’s starting to hint at something altogether more troubling.

One of the things I think is important in situations involving, on the one hand, children, but on the other hand, behavior that would (or should) get an adult an assault charge, is that with kids you actually do get to separate out impact from intent—a courtesy I generally avoid extending to adults. Children are still learning. They are learning how to be, how not to be. They are trying things out that they have seen and think might be funny or cool. Frequently they mimic toxic behavior because we live in a society that seems to reward such behavior, and they start to wonder what it would be like if they went through life like this or that certain kind of asshole who might also be very cool. And while the behavior that comes out of this should definitely be treated as something to put a firm end to, it does not have to be treated as evidence of the existence of a psychopathic rapist. It should be treated as a good person undertaking bad action from which he needs to be dissuaded as soon as possible.

It sounds as if your husband is not taking this nearly seriously enough. He should be talking to the kid about it as if it were something that is entirely and unremittingly unacceptable. Not just “not OK,” a phrase I’ve always found distressingly feckless. His mother should be talking about this. His father should be. The whole family should be. It is that serious.

Secondly, if he is having this much trouble reading social cues, and expressing this much fixation on a thing, I’m sure I would not be alone in wondering if there is a diagnosis along the spectrum there for him, one that might help him have alternative ways of recognizing boundaries. It may just be that he is trying to come across as charmingly trolling and roguish with an aunt-in-law that he has some affection for (or a crush on?) and badly missing the mark. Or he may be unable to tell what the marks are at all in many contexts.

I also give you permission to avoid being alone with him and telling him in clear language (“this thing you do of pushing me against walls, grabbing my body, and saying you’re bigger than me makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to be alone with you until you stop doing it”) why you are avoiding being alone with him. A big part of his learning how to behave in society is learning how people respond to his behavior. Good luck.

Dear Care and Feeding,

With Christmas approaching, my husband insisted that we do stockings for our two children this year (2 years old and 4 years old). I was against the extra work, so I agreed only if he did all of the shopping for them. We received the stockings, and I was disappointed to find out he ordered my stocking in white, our youngest son’s stocking in green, and then his and my older son’s stocking in the same color, red. I am worried as the children age my younger son might feel as if he is left out with his own separate color while his older brother gets to be the same as Dad’s. I am tempted to just order two more and have everyone be the same, or at least the kids. Am I reading too much into this?

Thanks,

—Already Over the Holidays

Dear AOtH,

Only you know if buying new stockings is ridiculous. Actually we all know it’s totally ridiculous, because all of parenting toddlers is ridiculous, but only you know your kids well enough to know if it’s the kind of ridiculous that you just have to tolerate. If I’m being completely honest here and it were me, I would totally buy the new stockings. We know 2-year-olds are crazy little emotional terrorists anyway, and no one wants to have an insane meltdown around the Christmas season if it can all be avoided. There will already be meltdowns aplenty among your whole family, I’m quite sure. So if you have the resources and ability, I would recommend just getting this taken care of quickly via the magical Yuletide power of next-day delivery.

P.S. I’m assuming these stockings are monogramed, right, because otherwise you would just … you know … give Mom and Dad the red stockings. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you already thought that part through. But you never know … ’tis the season.

— Carvell