It started the day my oldest daughter stormed into the kitchen and asked me to pay her because ‘she’ didn’t come. The she in question was the tooth fairy. Sensing what was afoot, and all the implications of looking into the Pandora’s box of childhood magic, I simply told my 10-year-old, “That’s not how it works.” And with that, she hastily walked away.
I encouraged her to try again, but the next night I forgot—again.
This time she walked into the kitchen and confidently informed me that “she knows.”
“What do you know?”
“I know about Santa.”
I resorted to answering questions with questions. In my moment of panic that seemed about right.
“What do you know about Santa?”
“I know he’s not real mama, I’m not stupid. I know it’s you guys.”
And there it was. After 10 years, a signal to the end of so many things, the words sharp and cutting. I felt like if I looked closely enough I could see the magic fade from her eyes while I wanted so desperately to hold on to the last bits of her childhood. The only words I could think of were:
Don’t and stay…
Don’t grow up so fast…
Stay with me just a little while longer…
I spent most of that day thinking back through the previous Christmases that have come and gone. I thought about the videos from Santa where he addressed each of my daughters by name, their eyes wide and filled with joy; Santa was talking directly to them. I thought about the letters from the big guy that arrived in the mail and the year that Jake (our elf) joined us to keep watch and report back. I remembered the half-eaten cookies on Christmas morning, and the year I almost blew it when the girls saw the receipt from a “Santa” gift. I smiled at the memory of sleepy eyes that tried so hard to stay up just to catch a glimpse of the magic.
It feels like so much is slipping from my grasp these days. Ahead of me, I can see the things that I’m not ready for. Ahead of them, I can see the things they’re not ready for. My mother always said, “the bigger they get, the bigger their problems get.” And with each passing year, I find that she is right, as usual.
Childhood Christmas should be the time for unbridled joy and wild abandon. All too soon they will learn that life isn’t always easy and life isn’t always fair. Today there are no heartbreaks, there are no bills, no injustice or politics.
Now that the secret is out, I wonder how much of it was for them and how much of it was for me. Watching them enjoy Christmas with such immense happiness brought me joy in equal measure.
Year after year it was so much work. All the whispers, all the hidden treasures in the back of my closets and high up on the shelves. Santa’s wrapping paper that I stealthily threw out in January, moving mischievous elves and filling Christmas stockings. Every task was powered by love because on Christmas morning it was all worth it just to see the expression on their faces.
And that’s why we do it.
We do it to see the face of innocence. We do it because Santa is the personification of magic, joy, and the spirit of giving. He is dreams and wishes and hope. All of which are never more powerful than during Christmas. He is bright eyes filled with the promise of all that is good in the world and the optimism for a better tomorrow. He is the “stuff” great childhoods are made of.
Yet the battle for Santa rages on year after year: to believe or not to believe, to perpetuate a myth, and to lie. The truth is, it’s not that serious, my girls believed in Santa and they’re doing just fine, a little magic never hurt anyone.
And although the sadness still tugs at my heart, I have no regrets. More than anything, I’m glad I have given my girls so many wonderful memories. These are the things that will keep them warm when life is bitterly cold, these are the things that they will remember with a smile. And perhaps most importantly, this is the thing that they will someday do for their own children.
Today I will remind myself that Santa is never really gone, the spirit of Santa lives on in our hearts.
So, for now…
Goodbye bright eyes…
Until we meet again.