If memory serves correctly, (which is a pretty big “if” these days), I was eight going on nine. It was the summer between third and fourth grade and I was wearing an acid washed denim skirt, riding in the passenger seat of my mom’s Ford Taurus. We were alone in the car and she pulled over to the side of the road and did it right there. I don’t remember any of her exact words, only the way her lips pouted sadly and the look of complete apology on her face, which came again as the realizations came like little aftershocks…if no Santa, then also no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy.
It is the first time I actually felt my heart ache.
And I remember crying and then feeling silly to be crying, there in front of someone who had been watching me all along, as I lifted unwrapped gifts on Christmas mornings and exclaimed for her to, look what Santa gave me! Like a child.
It is the first moment in my life that I remember feeling the disappointment and disillusionment of adulthood. Oh. You’re the magic. Just you, no miraculous man on a sleigh who cares enough to write little thank-you notes by our plate of half eaten cookies.
My mother was right to tell me though. It was the right time and within a few hours, I was at a presentation at the elementary school summer program that my brother was in, and there, in my super awesome denim skirt and with my new found knowledge that Santa isn’t real and there is no Easter Bunny, I was officially part of a secret club. Among a roomful of little kids I was, for the first time, big.
And I relished it.
This year, Alex turns nine two days before Christmas. And I know, it’s time.
I didn’t expect it to be so hard, but then, I never expected my son to be so sensitive and sweetly immersed in the wonder of what-if and the glory of imagination. Alex loves childhood and every last innocent, magical corner of it, so much so, that I almost hate to pull out the map and show him all the places where X = just plain ‘ol Mom and Dad.
Vinnie and I don’t play up Santa at our house, we never have. I adore Christmas, to the point of humming Jingle Bells to Alex through the entire first year of his life as a lullaby, to watching A Christmas Story in July.
Christmas is my favorite, in part because of the magic I remember loving as a child, but more so now, for the hope that I know we have in our future.
My children know Santa through the movies we let them watch, through the songs we listen to and yes, the gifts that we do sign FROM SANTA (in very clever all capital letters, as opposed to the gifts from scribbles from Mom and Dad,) but we never tell them to behave, lest Santa hear them and bring them coal. We don’t really mention him much at all, aside from putting out his (Vinnie’s) plate of cookies.
We read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, but then we put away fairy tales and sit around the candles at our kitchen table and read from the Bible, the true story of Christmas and sing carols of remembrance and worship, and we get goosebumps on our arms and warmth in our hearts, a warmth that transcends any gift, or fleeting moment of youth.
Truth is, I trust that by now Alex has this in his heart too, and that he will be ready to come and be a part of this secret, to stand on this bridge between youthful wonder and adulthood responsibility. He is ready to be the magic for his brother and sisters, to light up with excitement as though he just heard the jingling of sleigh bells on our roof with them, and to help Evie and Asher carefully draft letters to a man he knows, does not exist.
But still. I am sighing deeply this Christmas season, knowing it will be my last to see his face fully lit by the innocence of childhood, his smile, not rehearsed or over-done for the benefit of his siblings, but true and bright and blinding with the faith that this magic is real.
And, it is.
Just not in the way that he knows now.
It’s bigger and brighter and better, by a thousand Christmas mornings.
Yet, just as it did some twenty-six years ago, my heart aches.
And I think I’ll be asking Santa for extra tissues in my stocking this Christmas morning.