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Early Santa trauma

I don’t have–to my current knowledge–many memories of my six-and-under life (and that’s fairly normal, I believe, as the brains of children six and under are in somewhat of a pre-memory, hypnagogic state of learn-learn-learn and not so much remember-remember-remember), but I do have a memory from when I was maybe five, maybe six. It involves Santa.

I don’t recall all of the details of this experience. Just some. There was a room. I’m pretty sure it was the basement of a store–maybe a JCPenney or Montgomery Ward. I remember it was a room without windows. The walls were painted a light blue. Many children were there. And Santa was there.

My well-meaning dad had brought me to this room to do what children are supposed to do, come these weeks and days leading up to Christmas, which is to tell Santa what they want him to bring.

One by one the kids went up to Santa, sat on his lap, told him their secret wishes and then were handed a candy can. I think we might have even picked a small, wrapped present, too, though that part is a bit fuzzy.

Whereas other kids might have beef filled with excitement, I was filled with anxiety.

As the clamoring-to-be-first children got what they wanted and rushed to tell Santa their desires, and then the next round of shyer kids went, the room started to thin out. Fewer and fewer children were in the room. My anxiety rose with every child now holding a candy cane and leaving the room with their parents.

My adult mind now tries to make sense of the anxiety I felt then, and I can try to fill in some of the pieces. I think it was all some combination of —

  • being afraid to ask for what I wanted,
  • being afraid I wouldn’t get what I wanted–even if I asked and
  • being afraid I certainly wouldn’t get anything if I didn’t ask Santa.

You can see my dilemma.

I wasn’t at the age where thoughts of Santa’s actual existence were yet coming into question. I wasn’t at the age where I knew my parents were the ones really in charge here. And I wasn’t at the age to understand Life would go on and I would survive even if things didn’t work out as I’d thought they might, would or could.

I remember feeling almost sick to my stomach with fear. I started crying, sobbing–hysterical, most likely, through the mind’s eye of a five-year-old who, at that moment, could neither ask for what she wanted nor trust life would continue on unimpeded if she didn’t.

I was at the back of the room, as far from Santa as I could be. My life and future wants-fulfilled hanging by a thread. I was doomed.

Somehow, my dad got me somewhat calmed down, though I was still in that tender post-breakdown place, tears still fresh on my face, when I finally climbed onto Santa’s lap and told him what I wanted.

I was the last kid in the room to go up.

I don’t recall what it was I asked for. Maybe it was a Suzy Homemaker Easy Bake Oven (likely). Maybe it was an Etch A Sketch (possible). I did have those two toys in my younger years. Whatever it was I sought from Santa, the acquisition of it was key to my happiness, but my fear about asking for it in that moment was gripping.

I am glad my dad pushed, counseled and/or comforted me in that moment and that I did get up on Santa’s lap and whisper my desire and need to him. I’m figuring I did get from Santa what I asked for that year; and, yes, I did go on, in time, to understand the whole “Santa thing” was, indeed, my parents’ doing, though that year, in particular, I made sure–via my mother’s doing, of course–we set out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. (We always put out carrots for the reindeer!)

I’ve had a gripping, lifelong, often-debilitating and certainly self-sabotaging fear about success, getting what I wanted and even believing I’m worthy of getting what I want or deserve throughout the entirety of my life. I’ve been examining this fear-story-limiting belief more actively of late, and this memory from some 55 years back of being afraid to ask Santa for what I wanted came to mind as I’ve started unpacking and examining this program/story line about Fear of Failure running nonstop in my life.

Well, with all things in life, we can only change what we are willing to look at, see in its truth and work on, so… thanks, Santa! Forward Ho … and Ho, Ho, Ho!




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