Will this be the last year she believes? I think this over and over, as I did last year, crossing my fingers that we still have one more year. My oldest daughter at age nine is mature in some ways, innocent in others. She is empathetic, responsible, and intuitive and yet also very childlike and drawn to magic. She and her four-year-old sister love Christmas. As do I.
I will never forget the day I found out. I sat in the bathroom on the closed lid of the toilet and sobbed while my mom perched on the side of the bathtub next to me, spilling the beans about the entire cast of mythic holiday creatures in one fell swoop. One stone, three birds and the magical thinking of her oldest child. I was devastated. I wonder now if all my friends already knew. I don’t remember why I asked—had someone at school said something? I was in 5th grade. It never occurred to me that my parents lost something that day, too.
I just assumed my oldest child was still 100% in. And then yesterday morning she didn’t dissolve into hysterics along with her sister when she saw our Elf on the Shelf perched on a wine glass, having pooped mini chocolate chips, holding a piece of toilet paper in one fabric hand and a newspaper clipping in the other. She cast a sidelong glance at me. Perhaps it reeked of my handy work? (It was my husband’s idea, actually . . .)
This morning when she saw the cut-out Rice Krispies box with “Dopey’s” face where, I don’t know, let’s say “Crackle’s” should be, she again shot me a quick look. She knows, I thought. She suspects.
“Does this mean she’s suspicious about Santa, too?” I asked my husband anxiously, dreading his response.
“I’m sure kids at school talk about it,” he replied. A friend of mine told me last week that her daughter Googled “Is Santa real?” and the results were devastating. This morning as I prepared breakfast I heard my daughter asking Siri a question on the iPad.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, using her full first and middle names. “I have to look up the phases of the moon for homework!” she returned defensively. I relaxed slightly. Clearly, I was becoming paranoid.
“She’ll never confess if she doesn’t believe,” I repeat grimly day after day. “She won’t tell us. She doesn’t want it to end.” My husband counters that she’s afraid she won’t get any presents, but that’s not it.
She doesn’t want the magic to end.
I tell myself that the five-year gap between my children will soften the blow. She’ll become a co-conspirator, one with more creative ideas for Elf-hiding than her parents can muster, I imagine. She’ll carry the magical torch for her sister as long as she can. The mystery and excitement won’t truly disappear. I remember being pulled aside after I found out, my aunt whispering that I wasn’t to spoil the fun for my brother and cousins. It was a delicious honor to be “in the know.” I felt grown-up. My nine-year-old loves to feel grown-up, but only sometimes.
If she asks me this year, I don’t know what to say. I haven’t prepared an explanation for how adults can lie to their children in the name of holiday fun, how the beautifully thrilling mysteries she believes in aren’t real. I don’t know how to take some of the fun out of her life in an articulate speech. I expect we’ll both cry.
The thing is, if she could go back in time and never believe to avoid the pain of finding out, I don’t think she would choose that option. I wouldn’t give back my own years of delight, of waking in the middle of the night filled with the thrill of wondering whether Santa had come yet. I get to keep those memories, that sensation, forever. Which is why I made the choice for my children not to spare them the pain. I wouldn’t wish it away, and after the pain heals for her, I don’t think she would either. But it’s going to hurt.
She loves this magic. She doesn’t want to say goodbye to it. She’s not ready for it. And neither am I.