When Christmas isn’t cool anymore

I just finished a very dramatic conversation with my 12 year old daughter Haley and it went like this:

“Hey Haley, how are you?”


“Are you excited for Christmas?”


“Cool. Me too.”

And then with her eyes and brain sucked into the blue light of her cell phone, like some mind-controlling device gifted to earthlings by aliens, she marched mindlessly up the steps to her room and shut the door to the teal mothership filled with plush unicorns and fluffy throw pillows.

The reality is: Haley does not believe in Santa anymore. At the mention of Santa, she sneaks a quiet smile and shakes her head. As if to say, “I can’t believe I once believed.” And yet, with his whole peppermint heart Dylan, her 7 year old brother, does believe. This makes for an interesting dynamic around the house these days. Dylan wakes up early every morning, tugs on his Santa hat, scampers downstairs, checks the calendar and announces,

“Four more days until Christmas!”

He draws pictures of snowmen and reindeer, sings “Holy Night” between scarfs of cereal, and has constructed theories on how Santa fits down the tightest of chimneys and opens locked doors with simply Santa magic.

I call him “Dylan Claus” and he smiles and reminds me Santa is always watching and that he has to be good so he can get the Nintendo Switch he’s been asking for. He is also asking for a dog that doesn’t nipple. He means nibble.

Tonight at dinner Dylan announced he will be getting up at, “6 am” on Christmas morning. To which Haley, pushing corn around her plate says, “Have fun. I’m not waking up until 8.”

Just before Thanksgiving, Cindy and I propositioned Haley to do our dirty work.

“We will pay you $1 every night you set up Jesse and Jangle.”


“Yes. So what do you think?”

“Sure I’ll do it! I’ll be rich.”

I’m not proud we exploited our daughter to do the stressful toil of setting up our Elves on the Shelf every night. Or that we pay her to manufacture Christmas miracles. Or now whenever we ask her to do something we will be answered with the question, “How much?”

So far Haley has taken her job Employee-of-the-Month seriously. One night around 11:30, I thought Haley was asleep and I found Jessie and Jangle holding tight the positions they were in the day before. I picked them up and laid them on their backs like dead elves between branches of our Christmas tree. As I turned out the living room lights, Haley rushed own the stairs,”I have to move the elves.”

“I already did.”

“Where did you put them?”

“In the tree.”

“They look dead.”

Here are some pictures of Haley’s Elves on the Shelf displays:

This “too cool for Christmas” attitude is new. I knew angsty attitudes were bound to emerge but this happened too fast. At the risk of sounding like every other parent of a tweenager this Christmas, I won’t lament about time moving too fast or how my kid would rather make Tik-Tok videos than watch Elf with her family.

No, I’ll save those cliches for another post. But I’ll say this, when I look at her. Blue eyes. Freckles. Sly smile. I see me. I see a kid who is trying so hard to not be a kid. A kid who is confused and frustrated yet trying to stand on her own. A kid who is trying to ditch fantasies and make sense of a new, harsh reality.

While watching Haley set up the elves I’m reminded of how important it is to strengthen your imagination as you age, as you face the harsh realities of life. Hope is only possible with imagination. And if we learned anything from 2020 it is that people die. Diseases progress. Money runs out. Kids lose hope, which is elusive to find and nearly impossible to hold.

Now that we’re inching mercifully to the end of 2020, I feel like that nippling dog Dylan desperately wants for Christmas. Like surviving 2020 equates to 7 human years. I feel aged. Uninspired. Too tired to play fetch. I just want to snuggle with the couch and eat treats. Maybe you feel this way too.

Between us, I often wonder why I spend so much time agonizing over words that don’t have monetary value. My writing work defies American practicality, the time is money maxim, that’s chiseled in our culture. A grown man not getting paid to use his imagination sounds silly. Child’s play. Uncool. And then Dylan talks about Santa Claus again. His eyes widen again, his voice jumps again, and his imagination provokes a giddy hopefulness in me again. And I’m reminded this blog is my chance to use my imagination, to nipple at hope, one post at a time.

I hope my hope gives you hope.

Be well,


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and to those Canadian WoFo supporters–Happy Boxing Day! I hope you have a peaceful and hopeful holiday season.

PS: We’re not getting a dog.

If you like this post, you may also like:

Good advice I wished I received on New Year’s Eve 2019


Pride before the fall


An excerpt from a secret project I can’t tell you about 


Good advice never dies


The moment in which everything is different

Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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