In December of my son’s sixth grade year, fifteen days before Christmas, he asked me if Santa was real.
After I mentally scraped my heart off the floor, I sat on his bed, where I hemmed and hawed and stumbled, until he finally said, “You have to tell me, Mom. The kids on the bus are all saying it’s you who gives us presents. Santa is not real. Tell me the truth.”
The truth. I looked into his wide, almond eyes, as he waited for me to tell him the one thing a parent never wants to admit to their child. I silently chastised myself for not driving this kid to school everyday. The bus is a petri dish of harsh, real-life information. And I wondered, why is he asking me this? Shouldn’t he pretend until he’s in college, like I did?
I started to shake my head in denial, thinking I could eek out one more Christmas, and then I saw something in those eyes: complete trust. If I didn’t answer him honestly, when he finds out I lied, then instead of coming to me with questions about sex, and drugs, and other topics I dread, he’d keep to his dream-crushing peers on that bus. So, I did what I never imagined I would do.
I told my child that Santa doesn’t exist.
What I really told him, off the cuff, was that there once was a man named St. Nick, who gave gifts to children around Christmas, in the same way the three wise men brought gifts to Jesus when he was born (trying always to keep Christ in Christmas). Eventually, it became too much for one man, and so all the parents in the world started to help, and that’s how the tradition of Christmas started.
I was under pressure. Cut me some slack.
He took it hard. And so did I.
When a child segues from unquestionable belief to doubt, it’s the beginning of the end of their innocence. We might as well let him watch Family Guy, and drink beer.
Perhaps I’m overreacting.
My younger son also figured it out around the same age (damn that bus!), though he accepted the news in stride. So, this is the first year Santa won’t be playing a role. A tough transition for a parent, if you ask me.
For those of you still in the wonderful throes of third-party gifting, there’s an upside to this story.
My worry ratio about how happy they’ll be on Christmas morning has gone down tremendously. I’m no longer dealing with the difficult thought process of: How come Santa brings Bobby a smart phone and electric scooter and not me? Weren’t I a good boy this year too?
These are the questions I am happy to have behind me.
Now, when lists are made, I can set reasonable expectations: Don’t expect to find a furry friend with four feet, or anything with a motor, under that tree.
The big day starts at eight o’clock, instead of six (HUGE plus!).
I still hide their presents, and put them out when they’re sleeping. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that.
We’re in another phase of our lives: our babies are no longer babies, but teenaged boy-men. As much as I long for the days of unabashed glee and easy acceptance of a generous, obese, old guy in a red suit, breaking and entering into our house while we sleep, I’m grateful and happy, especially this time of year, where lifetime memories are made.
I treasure mine, and if I try hard enough, I can still smell grandma’s house: the scent of homemade raviolis and meat sauce mixed with filterless Camel cigarette smoke; tiny rooms filled to capacity with family — cousins I grew up with and miss, because they have their own children now.
My sons will have their own memories, with their cousins, and family, and love surrounding them.
They may no longer believe in Santa Claus, but I pray, like me, they will always believe in the magic of Christmas.