This is a repost of an original piece for BlogHer.com.
The one thing I thought I had a chance at getting this Christmas was for my kids to believe in all of the magical elements of the holiday for one more year. Santa Claus. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The Elf of the Shelf.
But, since kids sometimes have a way of doing the very opposite of what we want, that wish is now the one thing I know I won’t be receiving. And, much to my surprise, I am okay with that.
I was tucking my eight-year-old son into bed when he said the four words I didn’t think I was ready for yet.
“Mommy, are you Santa?”
A few weeks earlier, he had figured out that I was the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, so I knew it was only time before we had the Santa talk. We were here, at the Good-bye Santa milestone, earlier than I had expected, though we were all probably ready for it to happen.
“What do you think?” I replied. I wasn’t giving up on my wish so easily.
“I think it’s you,” he said, staring at me with a challenging look. He was ready for the truth; I realized I was, too.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Santa. Are you mad to learn that?”
“No, I’m not mad,” he said. “But now I know Santa isn’t real. That means there’s no such thing as magic.”
“No, honey! Santa is real — he is in all of us! And, there is magic. It’s all around us. Love is magic. You know love. So, you know magic; you know it’s real.”
My son looked at me skeptically. He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know about that.”
“It’s true,””I said. “Love is a magical, wonderful gift. It’s the best part of Christmas.”
This short conversation with my son will be one of my strongest parenting memories of the year. I find myself repeatedly returning to this moment with him, wondering what he’ll remember most: my encouraging him to continue to embrace magic, or the end of Santa?
I had wanted one more Christmas with him still yearning for a visit from St. Nick. There’s something about believing in Santa that makes Christmas more joyful. The anticipation kids have about Santa Claus fills the weeks before December 25 with an infectious excitement. Their anticipation of Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season. Combine that with days spent with loved ones and it’s the perfect time of year.
Later, my son explained that what made him suspicious was that every time he saw a Santa in public — including getting his photo taken with him at the mall, over the years — Santa looked different. The Santas came in a variety of sizes, shapes, and costumes; therefore, my son deduced there was more than one Santa and likely not one true Santa after all.
“Oh course,” I replied. “There’s no way the real Santa Claus can be everywhere, so he has these assistants — deputy Santas — who go around the world for him. They report back on what kids say they want for Christmas and how people are doing.”
While my son liked my answer, it was too late; he had already rejected the idea of Santa Claus. He has, however, recognize the importance of keeping Santa alive for others, so he is playing along for his younger sister who still believes the North Pole is inhabited by a man in a red suit with a long white beard and reindeer — though I can tell she is starting to suspect someone else may be in charge.
My six-year-old daughter is another dasher of my Christmas wish. She may still be counting down the days until Santa Claus lands his sleigh on our rooftop and pulls out toys for her from his big, red bag, but she has figured out the truth about Charlie, our Elf on the Shelf. She called me out for being the source behind Charlie soon after my son unveiled Santa.
“Mommy,” my daughter asked, while we down the street together with her brother. “I think Charlie is a toy. I don’t think he’s a real elf. I think someone moves him around the house every night.” She paused for dramatic effect. “And, I think that person is you!” she exclaimed, pointing her figure at me and jumping up and down.
She had asked my husband about the Charlie the day before, and he, in a long tradition of fathers everywhere, answered her questions with a recommendation to “go ask your mother.” He had prepared me that she might be coming my way, so I was ready.
“Yes, I am Charlie,” I said. I was really done with the responsibility of Charlie. Far too many mornings over the past five years, I had awoken in a panic, realizing I hadn’t moved Charlie. I’d leap from bed, and run around our darkened house to find our Elf and relocate him before the kids were clued in. It was time to retire the Elf on the Shelf.
Both my kids started yelling at once. “Really? Wow! Can I touch him? If he’s not real, can I move him around the house? Where does he live?”
“Where does Charlie live?” I said. “Between Christmases, he lives in my underwear drawer — not the North Pole.” Radical honesty, I decided, was the way to go.
“Your underwear drawer?!” my kids screamed with laughter, clutching their stomachs. This, apparently, was the funniest piece of information they had heard in a long time. They giggled about Charlie’s “home” for the rest of the day. In the days that followed, they implored me to keep moving him around our house. The news that their mother was the Elf of the Shelf wasn’t disappointing, as I thought it might be, but they still wanted to fun of the elf to continue.
Since then, my son has inquired about the cookies we’ll be putting out for Santa on Christmas Eve and asked if we had enough carrots for the reindeer. It seems he’s not completely given up on Santa after all.
Perhaps, in an odd way, in the way that only kids can do, I am getting my Christmas wish after all. My kids may no longer believe in the symbols of Christmas, but they are continuing to embrace the traditions that make the holiday special for us as a family. And, that, is what matters most.