This is it, I thought to myself. I just had this feeling the moment was upon me. But I never would have guessed Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to be the impetus for the conversation.
On the television screen was a warehouse full of mall Santas in various costumed states, running an underground knockoff toy ring. Jim Belushi was trying to con Schwarzenegger, the desperately gift-less father, into buying a cheap replica of Turbo Man for his son.
So many Santas. So many obviously fake Santas. I could sense my daughter recognized the perfect moment of opportunity.
She is eight years old, after all…she’s only eight years old, though.
“Are you and dad really Santa?”
Okay, you’ve planned for this. Just remember your script.
“Well, honey. What do you think?”
She paused for a moment.
“I think yes. Because there are things I’ve asked for that Santa never brought, and I noticed they were all really expensive things.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic. And just like that, I was the mother of my first non-believer. It was something I had previously looked to with a mixture of sadness and dread. In fact, last year my husband and I went to completely ridiculous lengths to keep her believing in Santa by means of an “accidental” wireless signal outage and some bait-and-switch email tactics. I wasn’t ready then for her to have one more toe in the world of reality and the harsh light it sometimes casts. I didn’t want the magic to end for her.
Yet when she did finally learn the truth about Santa just weeks ago, I did not see the face of a little girl whose holiday had just crumbled, or of one who felt betrayed, or of one who now suddenly saw the world with faithless eyes. As she and I snuggled under covers, watching a cheesy 90′s Christmas movie, I realized no magic had died for her. It simply had a new maker.
The fact that Santa is not a real person will not change the way we celebrate Christmas. We will still make lists, still bake cookies, still receive gifts, and still watch for reindeer in our backyard.
The only difference is that now she will know her dad and I will be the ones checking those lists, eating the cookies, giving the gifts, and the “reindeer” are really the same wild antlered deer that roam all year round. She will realize the magic she has felt every year of her life does not come from some elusive stranger who bestows the same treatment on every single child in the world, but that it exists in her everyday life and comes from the two people who love her more than anyone else. And we create it only for her and her brother. No one else.
I will admit I feel a certain satisfaction in knowing credit will finally be given where credit is due. I’m not so naive to think my eight-year-old will immediately and fully appreciate our efforts to make Christmas a special time for her and her brother. However, I do know the time will come when she understands that the reason her dad and I put a little more on our plates and take a little more out of our pockets during this time of year is because we want her life to be built upon the story of happy memories…in just the way our parents did for us, and their parents did for them.
It is the same reason Arnold Schwarzenegger battles Sinbad the mail carrier to the near death on a Christmas parade float for a Turbo Man, all to appease his son’s fleeting desire. We want our kids to one day understand that we parents may not fly in a magic sleigh or be able to fit down a chimney, but these same people who wash their underwear and ask them to clear the table are also capable of making one day of the year feel so magical, we had to give the glory to a mythical miracle worker for it to even seem plausible.
So I do not mind that my daughter finally knows her dad and I are Santa Claus. It just means that when she doesn’t get that iPhone under the tree this year, she will not think she has somehow failed the judgment of a bearded break-in artist with a keen sense of morality. She will instead know, just as she had suspected, mom and dad are simply cheapskates and believers in the school of thought that nothing really good can come of an eight-year-old with an iPhone. More importantly, it also means she now knows we are the makers of magic.
Hasta la vista, Santa. The real person who has been keeping track of the naughty and nice is taking over.
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