Friday, November 30, 2007

Mexican Food and Christmas

Ok, before I get into the meat and potatoes of what I have to say, I just want to mention that I think I have finally reached the end of my quest to find the best Mexican restaurant in Milwaukee. Having lived in Mexico for a time, and having spent a considerable amount of time cooking with my Mexican host mother, I consider myself to be somewhat knowledgable (read: snobby) about Mexican cuisine. I have been searching for a really, really good Mexican restaurant in Milwaukee to frequent when the urge strikes, and I found it tonight. If you're in Milwaukee, or when you're in town visiting, be sure to check out Taqueria Azteca here in the Bayview neighborhood. It's a very unassuming place, so it's easy to pass it by on the way to a flashier destination. At first I was a little disappointed by the small menu, but when my food arrived, I realized that this place was all about quality over quantity. The portions were smaller than the usual trough full of carbs that I receive at other Mexican joints in the area, but that just meant I didn't leave the place feeling like a walking sausage. The food was heavenly, fresh, and very authentic, the sangria was divine, and the flan was as good as the stuff I had at Sanborn's in Mexico City (it was so good--beyond words). The service was just as good as the food, and the atmosphere was mellow and perfect for a family dinner OR a date night. I have found my new favorite Mexican restaurant, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants a break from the run-of-the-mill places that cater to all of the gringos.

Ok, moving on to the other topic at hand--Christmas. Honestly, I've been kinda concerned about the whole season this year. Yes, it's fantastic to see Gracie get so excited about everything, but one question keeps lingering in the back of my mind: Should I be setting her up for the whole "Santa disappointment"?

I remember the moment I realized Santa wasn't real. I was in 3rd grade, and my class was standing in line outside, waiting to go inside after recess. It was right before Christmas, and one of my classmates announced to anyone that was listening that his parents told him that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I was crushed...for me, the whole excitement of Christmas morning was based on the belief that a fat old man in a velvety suit was going to somehow sneak into our house undetected, leave heaps of presents under our tree, eat the cookies and eggnog (mmmm...eggnog) that I so thoughtfully left out for him, and sneak back out. Now, this little brat stole that image away from me and replaced it with a strong sense of disappointment and loss.

Now, I had had my suspicions about Santa before that day. I was old enough to notice that the handwriting on the gift tags on the presents from Santa looked suspiciously like my dad's. I also was old enough to question how someone could get into our house after my dad meticulously locked it each night before bed. Things didn't add up in my young mind, but I suppose I kept on believing because it was just more fun that way.

So, now that I am a mom, I've taken my child through the drill...we talk about Santa, I took Grace to the mall to meet Santa and have her photo taken with him, I remind her to be good so Santa will bring her lots of loot, and we watch all of the classic Santa movies. In the midst of it all, I can't help but wonder if this is wrong. Should I be setting my child up for disappointment? Why not just tell her the truth now and spare her from the same kind of sadness that I felt when I heard the truth?

The more that I think about this, the more I realize that one of the most precious things about childhood is the innocence--being able to believe wholeheartedly in something like Santa Claus without wondering if it's real or not...just accepting it, for the time being, at face value and letting yourself get totally wrapped up in the excitement of it all. Even though I was hurt when I learned the truth about Santa, I still look back with immense fondness on those early Christmas mornings filled with excitement and tearing open my gifts with wild abandon. Those memories of joy far outweigh whatever disappointment I experienced.

I suppose that there is little harm in feeding this excitement. After all, soon enough, she will lose that innocence and learn that disappointment is regular a part of life. She will learn the truth about Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, and countless other things, and she will be sad for a while. She might mourn the loss of her youth and long to believe again. And, hopefully one day she will be fortunate enough to have a child of her own, and she will be able to remember what it's like to believe.

That is one of the beautiful things about being a parent. You have another opportunity to experience, through your child, all of the magic and wonderment that you experienced as a child. Except this time around, it's a little sweeter, because you have the privilege of being a big part of that little person's memories.