My yearly disclaimer: because of the universal chord it strikes, I have declared this my very own “Yes, Virginia” tradition and continue to publish it each year, complete with updates. Ho, ho, ho, my friends!
Show me a parent who’s a little wigged out by the inevitable birds-and-bees talk with their child and I’ll show you a parent who hasn’t even thought about – let alone attempted – the Santa Claus talk. Heads up: nothing – nothing – prepares you for that ambush while innocently watching a sitcom. Give me reproduction or Heather Has Two Daddies any day of the week, thank you very much.
“You guys buy the stuff, right?” It came from my oldest, an 11-year-old who is blissfully naïve, heartwarmingly immature, and constantly questioning why he can’t use words like crap. He IS in sixth grade, you know. He held his newly formed Christmas list.
“Why do you ask?” my husband’s panicked eyes pleaded for me to jump right in at any time. I was too busy weighing the odds. I was sensing that the question held an honest desire for truth, yet I couldn’t be certain a bluff wasn’t involved.
Last year I was confident the belief was still there. My friends and family couldn’t accept that my wide eyed middle schooler dutifully wrote his letter to Santa without question. Sure, there was talk on the school bus and there were kids with older siblings and yes, there was a slight wane in his interest in gathering around to watch those goofy Christmas shows from the 70s (Burger Meister Meister Burger, anyone?). Still, I knew the dreamlike image of a man in a red suit rousing him from sleep (at what – five years old?) was embedded in his memory. I could tell there was something in his eyes that wasn’t quite sure he wanted to know.
My husband’s cough seemed forced. “Well what have you heard?” (Wasn’t that always a good parental deflect?)
It was as we’d expected. Damn those kids on the bus with older brothers. Ugh, what to do next? First, we had to consider the sibling factor. We’ve got three more coming down the pike and quite frankly, I love a household full of innocence and wonder. It’s magical primarily because it’s, well, fleeting. Could it be over already? Second, I wasn’t entirely sure he could pull off a covert mission of betrayal to the brothers he still chased around with swords and the sister he lived to torment. This couldn’t be a good thing.
Sensing our concern, he pointed out that he stopped believing in the Easter Bunny a long time ago (because come on now, a bunny?) and he still keeps that from the little ones. And that he’d gotten the “other” talk almost two years ago and never spills on that, either. Good point. So why was this so much harder?
It’s simply a door that closes on childhood that just blatantly makes us sad. It’s a milestone that isn’t measured in pencil marks on a doorframe, can’t be captured on film, and doesn’t exactly make our lives easier like some other benchmarks. Honestly, sometimes we can’t wait for them to get just a little bit older. We anxiously await the first hot dog that is eaten with a bun. We secretly rejoice when swing pumping is officially mastered, allowing us a few more luxurious minutes on a playground bench instead of in a sandpit wearing sandals. Some might even want to dance naked when their youngest FINALLY starts to toilet train (okay maybe that’s just me). These are milestones indeed and we look forward to them. But some rites of passage sure do stink.
While we openly dread learner’s permits and after-prom parties, we tend to forget about the smaller life moments that affect our kids – and us — before acne: Their first order off the adult menu that is actually eaten in its entirety; The way their new big teeth completely change the look of their faces, quietly erasing the baby-ness from their features; The first time you notice – really notice – that their legs are so much longer since the last time you seemed to look. It’s these times that grip our hearts and keep us frozen just for a moment. Just slight, inconspicuous reminders that calendar pages keep turning and candles on cakes keep taking up more space on the frosting.
“Yes, it’s us” my husband blurts out. Subtlety obviously isn’t his strong suit. I probably would’ve gone a softer route but I admired his zeal. The last thing you want in life is your kid being made fun of by a bunch of kids on a school bus.
“And it was me in the Santa suit” he spat. (Whoa, easy there, Tonto, give the kid a minute to digest….)
It was a nod and a matter-of-fact shrug that acknowledged the news. He handed me his Christmas list and looked spy-like over both shoulders, “Mom, I really don’t need #8 on my list. You can cross it off.” Another check of the perimeter and then a wink and a whisper, “It’s kind of expensive.”
Well break my heart in half and bring on the acne. I’ll be dammed if that kid doesn’t get #8 this year. Maybe he’ll even get two.
* * * * * *
2009 Update: that blissfully naive 11-year-old is now an awesomely out-of-touch 16-year-old hoping Santa brings him (pick one) a car, I-Phone or mountain of cash. He’s obviously still blissfully naive but he’s kept our secret like he promised he would.
2010 Update: that blissfully naïve 11-year-old is now filling out college applications (sigh…. we just don’t speak of this topic without also employing the phrase “God willing”). His sharp-as-a-tack 11-year-old brother (irony?) keenly keeps his Christmas desires to a financial possibility. And watching from the wings is an equally suspicious 9-year-old, who really wants to believe…..but……since the Tooth Fairy bailed on three straight nights…..is having some…..doubts……
2011 Update: that blissfully naive 11-year-old is presently enlisted in the United States Air Force Reserves as an Airman. The only thing he’s asking for from Santa this year is his mom’s meatballs (she, in turn, is begging for an endless supply of L’Oreal grey coverage). My teen diva — surprisingly — has nary a thing on her list. She’s got a job, a boyfriend and a 1994 Nissan with roll-up windows so life is pretty close to perfect right now. My sharp ‘lil tween, fresh into his first foray of romance, is desperately seeking some Old Spice Swagger under the tree to keep him smelling gooooood. And my baby…..my ten-year-old baby…… is ready to shout from the highest rooftop that HE, too, knows THE TRUTH about all this nonsense and HAS known for a VERY LONG TIME. And thinks he should get an I-Phone. Because — he insists — 10 is the new 15.
2012 Update: that blissfully naïve 11-year-old is now a college freshman, who really just wants to sleep in his own bed awhile before next semester begins. I know. How and when in the world did that happen? The weird thing: our countdown is finally up. My youngest baby – who was in diapers when this story began – is now a point guard on his basketball team and wears a bigger shoe than his mom. Never again will I have a blissfully naïve – or any other for that matter– 11-year-old in my family. Some days, when I least expect it — I won’t lie — it just makes me really, really sad.
2013 Update: Nowadays the “children” in my home consist of 2 young adults and 2 ever-growing, ever-eating teens. When we recently sat down to Thanksgiving dinner — when college classes and freshmen football and work schedules and every other life commitment of six people all miraculously meshed together for one day — I had a moment when I believed Santa came early. A happy and laughter-infused occasion, I wanted to freeze the moment in time. It was a little magical.
Now more than ever before I am acutely aware of time passing quickly. Unbearably and unfairly quickly.
Because of this, I look for a little magic all the time.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
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