We're at the mall, shopping for Christmas decorations, when my seven-year-old son, Isaac, spots a costumed Santa."That Santa is fake!" he suddenly shouts.
My husband and I exchange identical looks of surprise. Some parents waiting with their preschoolers in the lineup to meet Santa turn and scowl at us.
"What makes you say that?" I ask.
"First of all, how can Santa be everywhere at once, especially this time of year?" Isaac points out. "And I really don't think he makes all those toys."
I could see the wheels turning in his head, and I didn't like where the conversation was going.
"Is Santa even real?" he finally asks. There it was: The Santa question.
**** The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus... telling my kids the truth about these childhood icons is something I knew I'd struggle with one day. I recall discovering Santa wasn't real and, even though most people say kids get over the initial disappointment, I was genuinely disappointed for a while after I found out. So, when it comes to my own kids, I've stayed ambivalent—neither denying nor promoting the idea of Santa's existence. My husband takes the kids to the mall for Santa pictures, and he's also the one who buys and wraps all the gifts from "Santa."
However, the fact that my son has started connecting the dots in the Santa myth caught me off guard—and made me incredibly sad. It's not so much his questioning the existence of Santa that bothers me, but that a magical part of his childhood is coming to an end. I wasn't ready for my son to leave it all behind just yet. Funny how my son not believing in Santa made me want to believe in him all that much more.
**** This Christmas, my son has asked for a ridiculously expensive Lego set that we've told him repeatedly is out of our budget range. It really is. When we talk to him about money issues, his disappointment is palpable. In all honesty, my husband and I are just as upset that we can't buy him the one toy he actually wants this year. So, the two of us agreed not to buy each other anything for Christmas this year so we'd would have enough money to purchase Isaac's coveted Lego set.
"Maybe Santa will get it for you," my husband tells him one day, out of the blue. "You'll have to write him and ask nicely, and be on your best behaviour."
This time, it was my son's turn to look shocked.
"But I didn't think Santa was real," he says.
"He's real as long as you believe in him," I told him. "He's real as long as you believe in magic."
You can accuse me of buying belief, or buying an extension on Isaac's childhood. And I guess the accusations would be true—but it's worth every nickel and dime.
This article was originally published in December 2014.
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