It's Christmas morning. I'm the first one up, and I'm wondering, "Did we do the right thing?"

This is a common question you ask yourself when you're a parent. The topics can range from string cheese and jello lunches all the way to vaccinations, from teaching a two-year-old to use a can opener to choosing to homeschool.

And there's no one to tell us "yes" or "no," to give us parents a passing grade. Our end result is our child's happiness. And sometimes that's hard to measure - especially when we can't see what might have happened if we'd made a completely different choice.

Now the Christmas question is on the table. It's something Ronak and I have been wrestling with since our little guy was born: What do we tell him about Santa?

When he was 5 1/2 months, we didn't really need an answer. When he was almost 1 1/2, we mentioned something about Santa filling stockings, but didn't stress the point, since we weren't sure about it ourselves. (Our son loved seeing and saying "Santa," although that word was just as popular with him as "snowman.")

This year, Santa was a guy who sat under the city's beautiful live oak tree; he was a guy who sat in front of the pool in a Round Rock park, and he was a guy who sat in a chair at the Ultimate Mom's Club Christmas festivities. Our little guy wanted to say "hi" and waved at him from a few feet away.

When the Mom's Club Santa tried to make conversation with my son, my son seemed very confused. Why did this man care what he wanted for Christmas, if he liked trucks? After all, he'd just met the guy. He told the man in the funny red suit that he liked "vans," waved goodbye, and looked for some toys to play with.

Did we do the right thing? He seemed happy - which was my only clue.

My son and I were taking a walk yesterday evening, and I asked him a few questions about Santa to see what he'd say. (He'd been very interested in the library story time books that talked a lot about Santa bringing presents. He was learning about Santa "on the street," since we hadn't said anything ourseves.)

Before I relate what my little guy said, I should probably give a little background on why there was a Santa question in the first place. First of all we're thinking parents - probably over-thinking is more accurate. We are always questioning if we are doing the right thing.

Secondly, Ronak and I come from two different cultures with different sets of holidays, so we have to evaluate what we want to pass along, what's meaningful.

Thirdly, when I thought long and hard about Santa, I didn't like what he stood for all that much. Kids are told they will be rewarded with material goods if they are well-behaved, honest, kind people. I think that being a good person is it's own reward, and getting a Buzz Lightyear action figure for Christmas won't make a kid a better person. It's an unnecessary focus on an extrinsic reward.

And what about the kids whose parents are going through a rough time financially? They won't see as much under their tree on Christmas. Should that lead them to believe that they are on the "naughty list"? Or should their struggling parents go into credit card debt to prove to their children that they really are good (and obviously their parents are too)?

On the other hand, Santa is fun, magical. Who doesn't love to see a plate of cookies and cup of cocoa disappear, stacks of presents spilling out from under the tree, stockings filled by unseen hands? It's fun, exciting. Much better than waking up Christmas morning to finally get to open those presents from Mom and Dad, isn't it?

I honestly don't know. I smoked out Santa when I was a kid and realized on my own he was a lie, but in that moment I chose to preserve the lie for my younger brother Jeff, because I wanted him to be able to enjoy the magic a little longer. (see Santa Trap)

In this age of technology, I expect many a Santa Claus is caught on hidden Nanny Cams. We could leave it up to the kids - let them choose if they want to act detective and expose the lie or just enjoy the ride.

My son is a lot like me, so he would probably be asking for surveillance equipment in his letter to Santa. Am I ruining the magic by not giving him a good Christmas mystery to solve? (Well, there's always the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too. Maybe we could keep one. What's better: a bunny who brings candy or a fairy who pays you for lost teeth?)

Anyway, to keep up the magic, you have to focus on quantity, not quality, because there have to be a lot of presents to make an impressive display, so your kid is sure beyond a doubt that he was good this year. (Of course, there will always be a lot of presents when you are giving from both yourself and your alter-ego, Santa.)

(Side note: why does Santa bring the really cool stuff, and parents get to give socks? Maybe Santa should be rewarding good behavior with a sturdy pair of shoes, not fancy scooters. Yes, I'd like proper credit for my good deeds too. But I don't even get a "thank you." It's all Santa, Santa, Santa. Or it would be, if I mentioned him at all.)

Anyway, we followed our little guy's lead and didn't say much this year. And he only wanted to see Santa and say "hi." So that was the extent of our "teaching" him about Santa.

And now, here is the conversation I had with my son about Santa to see what he had "learned on the street":

 

Mommy: Tell me about Santa.
Son: He flies.
Mommy: What else?
Son: He drives a white pickup truck.
Mommy: And?
Son: And an SUV.
Mommy: Cool. Tell me more.
Son: SUV is blue.
Mommy: What do the reindeer do?
Son: They ride in the back.
Mommy: Who drives?
Son: Santa.
Mommy: Where does Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife, sit?
Son: In the middle.
Mommy: Next to Santa? On his lap?
Son: No, in the back.
Mommy: Where is Rudolph?
Son: In the back with the reindeer.
Mommy: How does Santa fly?
Son: On a kite.
Mommy: Tell me more about Santa.
Son: He has a lot of toys.
Mommy: What does he do with the toys?
Son: Goes to the playground.
Mommy: Then what does he do?
Son: He plays with the reindeer.

I like my son's story better than anything Ronak and I could ever come up with. Because let's face it, the magic is in the moments that we spend together, laugh together, walk together, talk together, play together.

Christmas isn't about a guy in a red suit who brings you stuff you want if you are good. It's about sharing yourself (and your toys) at "the playground" with all the people (and reindeer) you love. That's something to celebrate.

Merry Christmas! :-)

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)

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