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Grigori Rasputin died on December 29, 1916, at the age of 47.

December 29, 2018

Earlier this week, Donald Trump, the guy you turn the TV off when he’s on it and your kids are in the room, asked a seven-year-old girl if she believed in Santa Claus, adding, “because at seven, that’s marginal, right?” This made all sorts of news, as everything that person does, to everyone’s woe, though I’m not sure enough has been made about how the call happened in the first place. The girl, named Collman Lloyd, sat in her kitchen with her family in Lexington, South Carolina, and thought, “where is Santa Claus right now?” So she called NORAD, which, I must say, is an enterprising thing for a seven-year-old to do. A scientist answered the phone, and, curiously, said, “would you like to talk to President Trump?” She said yes, and after six minutes on hold — and I’m certain there is no way my seven-year-old would handle six minutes on hold — Trump picked up. This was the exchange:

Trump: “How are you doing? How old are you, Collman?”
Collman: “Seven.”
Trump: “Seven, wow, that’s pretty good, right? Is everything good? You doing well in school?”
Collman: “Yes.”
Trump: “Are you still a believer in Santa?”
Collman: “Yes, sir.”
Trump: ““Because at 7, that’s marginal, right?”
Collman: “Yes, sir.” (Collman later told the Charleston Post and Courier she did not know what “marginal” meant and was just being polite to an alleged adult.)
Trump: [laughs] (I note this because it’s honestly one of the first times I’ve ever seen Trump laugh.)


Much has been made of this incident, with considerable lambasting of the oddity of Trump’s decision to tell a little girl there’s no Santa Claus, on Christmas Eve, when literally all she did was pick up the phone to call NORAD and ask where Santa was. (I’m glad she didn’t call to find out where her grandmother was. “Oh, she’s deader than Dillinger, Collman. Have your parents not explained death to you yet? Your grandmother smoked too much, and let’s not even get into what she did to her liver. She’s gone, and she’s gone forever. Someday it’ll happen to you too. [Chuckles]”) But I’m not gonna make a massive thing out of it. It’s probably the 897th worst thing Trump’s done this week, and besides, that dude’s got enough problems these days anyway.

I’m instead taken by a clever story by Daniel Victor in The New York Times about the incident, and, specifically, whether Collman already knew that there is no Santa Claus. (Spoiler, adult readers: There is no Santa Claus. Also, your pet doesn’t like you, he just likes that you feed him.) Victor, after running through the particulars of the incident, notes that, for once, Trump might actually be right about something: It is marginal at seven.

Most children stop believing in Santa somewhere between 5 and 8 years old, according to several studies. That range has been largely consistent for decades; a 1978 study said that 85 percent of 5-year-olds believed, while just 25 percent of 8-year-olds kept the faith.

One 2015 study from Australia found that children are catching on earlier, perhaps because the internet is full of spoilers.

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This was a surprise to me. I am not sure of my precise age when I learned the terrible truth about Santa Claus, but it feels like it was later than seven. I remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve and hearing my father cursing as he tried to put together a remote control car for me and a Barbie Dream House for my sister. If my sister was old enough for a Barbie Dream House, and she is five years younger than me, I must have been nine, maybe even 10. Was I just a naive, overly gullible child? Was I just playing along because I had a younger sister? Did my parents think I was a sucker? Or was I just being nice? Or both?

This is even more relevant, because, well, there is a seven-year-old who lives in this house, and as far as I can tell, he seems all-in on Santa. This might be because he has a four-year-old little brother for whom the “Santa is watching so you better pick up those toys right now” trick still works like a charm. (Even in July.) He is also a trusting, open-faced child who is so sweet and good-hearted that we worry about him in this mean world. He is also seven. Seven isn’t too old for Santa, is it?

There are signs that he might be placating us. When my mother returned from Illinois with an Illini basketball schedule poster she grabbed for him in Champaign, she proudly presented it to him as a gift. Mom didn’t know that he already had an Illini schedule poster on his wall, but rather than say, “I already have this!” like a lot of kids might, he looked over at me, nodded with a lopsided grin, turned back to Mom and said, “Thank you, G-Ma! I love it!” He doesn’t want people to be sad. He didn’t want to hurt G-Ma’s feelings. He could be playing along with the Santa business because he doesn’t want to hurt ours.

But more to the point: A large part of parenting is thinking that your kid is smaller and more vulnerable and younger than they really are. It’s why William and Wynn will still look like third graders to me when they’re in their dorm rooms. The thing about being a parent is that it always feels like you’re just getting started, even as time keeps flying by. I remember being sad when Wynn was potty-trained, not because I enjoyed wiping his ass and would miss it, but because that was the end of that: There would be no more children in diapers, that stage of life was over, forever. William can now ride a bike; once Wynn can, that’s just something they’ll know how to do, something they’ll never need me for again. There are two strollers that sit out in our backyard shed, retired. That stage of life ended, and it’ll never return.

That’s why I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that William might no longer believe in Santa Claus, or will be stopping very soon. I feel like we just got started with Christmas, with presents, with Santa, with leaving cookies out, with the Tooth Fairy, with the Easter Bunny, with all of it. I have been a parent for seven-plus years, but it still feels like I’m always just on the cusp of getting the hang of it, just getting warmed up. But the thing is: A lot of it is already over. He is now learning as much, probably more, from the outside world than he is from me. He’s sprinting out ahead, like I want him to, but faster, faster than I am ready for him to. He’s just a sweet little boy. But he’s also probably too old for Santa now. That’s another part that’s almost over. There will surely be another part soon, and more after that. They will never stop, until they’re grown and gone. Before I realized how much I loved seeing my kids love Santa Claus, it was over. It’s all marginal. Everything is marginal.

They really weren’t kidding: It all just goes by so, so quickly. And goddammit: I can’t slow it down.

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Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. You Can Only Grieve So Much, Deadspin. I cannot thank Barry, Megan, Drew and the rest of the crew at Deadspin enough for letting me make my annual cameo over there. They’re really doing incredible work, all of them, and I’m in awe of them and beyond grateful they let this old-timer push his walker over there once a year to play in their sandbox for a day.

2. Robert Zemeckis Movies, Ranked, Vulture. I like Zemeckis movies a lot more than Grierson does, so I did the heavy lifting on this one.

3. The Thirty: An Ideal Holiday Gift For Every MLB Team, MLB.com. I very much enjoyed just getting to nerd out on a bunch of baseball stuff this week. It made it feel less cold outside.

4. Debate Club: Best Genre Movies of 2018, SYFY Wire. This really was a terrific movie year.

5. Bonus Thirty: Every Team’s Best Player on the Ballot But Not in the Hall of Fame, MLB.com. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I should have put Ted Simmons on there over Jim Edmonds.

6. Ten Players Whose Names You Learned in 2018, MLB.com. I love how once a baseball player’s name enters your subconscious, it will stay there longer than college professors, former bosses and old flames.

7. Ten Names You’ll Learn in 2018, MLB.com. Vlad Jr. Vlad Jr. Vlad Jr.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW

We’re on hiatus until February! Get caught up with the ones you missed on Amazon or on SI TV.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, the number of people who have told me they have spent a large swath of their holiday season listening to our Dorkfest: Best Movies of 2018 show has warmed this brittle heart.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week, previewing Sugar Bowl next week.

Seeing Red, no show this week.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

They keep coming in. I respond to every one. I desperately want to talk to you. Be a part by sending me letters, about whatever you’d like, at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

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“Maybellene,” Chuck Berry. I do this weird thing where, while I’m working, I play my iTunes in chronological order. (Also, I still buy albums on iTunes. That is also weird. We’ll get into that at some point.) It usually takes me about a year to go through my entire catalogue, and I just finished my 2018 records last week. So we’ve flipped back to the beginning, which is, in order, Billie Holliday, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I saw Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis in 1999. He played for about 20 minutes — he would always do a show a month, and they were all about 20 minutes — and then he spent the rest of the night drinking and grabbing waitresses, which, let’s face it, is exactly what you would have guessed.

Have a happy new year, everyone. Remember: Next year won’t be better, but that you think so means you have a good heart. Be good to each other, you’ve got to be. See you in 2019.


Best,
Will

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