I knew this day would come eventually but I never dreamed it would be so heart-wrenching.
You see, my daughter has been dropping hints about her wavering belief in Santa Claus for a several months now. Her questions about the existence of Santa, however, always came when my six year old was nearby so I tended to hedge a lot.
“Let’s talk about this later”
“Can we have this chat another time?”
I didn’t want to lie to her any more than I already have with the whole Santa myth but I also didn’t want to spoil it for my son, who is already fully indoctrinated into the Santa Claus Believers Club.
I figured if she asked me when we were alone, I could be honest with her. But she never did.
And I would assume she’d forgotten about it and exhale, thinking I’d dodged that particular bullet one more time.
A few days before Christmas, she asked me if I believed in Santa.
I said yes.
She replied that she wasn’t sure how she felt and I gave her the look that said “Not now, pleeeeease” and covertly nodded my head towards her little brother.
But she ignored my obvious attempt to deflect her questions and kept at me about the existence of Santa.
I gave her a vague answer, more or less saying that if you believe in Santa, then he is real. And if you don’t, then he isn’t.
She got frustrated with me and said “So you’re saying you don’t want me to believe in Santa?”
I never said that!
And so I replied with something along the lines of “No, I’m just saying that what you believe is up to you. I can’t tell you what to believe. You have to decide for yourself”
Total cop out.
She seemed satisfied with my totally non-committal farce of an answer and we went back to watching a Christmas movie while she searched for footage from SantaCams on Youtube. She wanted some kind of confirmation…not a confirmation that he wasn’t real…but that he was.
The next day, Christmas Eve, she spent all day watching the NORAD Santa Tracker and again, I thought I’d dodged the Santa bullet.
She still has friends who believe in Santa, too, and for whatever reason, the fact that these girls are still innocent enough to believe made me feel really happy.
They weren’t growing up too fast. They are still little girls. My baby is still my baby.
Don’t think I didn’t feel bad about dodging her questions, about not being honest with her or about giving her nonsense answers. I did. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
But the idea of willingly and permanently taking away from her the magic of Christmas made me feel worse. I didn’t want to ruin it for her.
I thought about when I was a kid.
I kind of figured out Santa wasn’t real when I was 9 years old and my parents had left the Lionel Playworld sticker on the box of my Holly Hobbie doll kitchen. That pretty much confirmed what I’d been hearing from other kids for a few years. But I didn’t want there to be no Santa and it was a very unhappy realization. I never said anything about it to my parents, though, because I was afraid it would upset them or make them sad, too.
I can’t remember exactly when or if we ever formally acknowledged that Santa wasn’t real. My parents split a few months after that Christmas—I suppose Santa suddenly isn’t such a pressing matter when your dad is moving out, your mom is getting a second job and you are becoming a latchkey kid.
I just wanted it to be different for my daughter. I didn’t mean to perpetrate a fraud that would end up troubling her so much, as it clearly did.
Well…the whole house of cards kind of imploded on Christmas day.
We went to a late afternoon movie and saw Arthur Christmas. When it was over, my daughter and I went to the bathroom and in the bright light, I saw her lip quivering and she looked so very upset.
“What’s wrong, baby? You look like you’re about to cry”
“Hon? Tell me what’s wrong”
And in a shaky little voice she said “I don’t think I believe in Santa Claus anymore”
“Because of that silly movie? Oh, baby…”
And with tears streaming down her face and sobs choking her words, she said “I saw the electric scooter in your trunk back in November”
“I RUINED CHRISTMAS!” she exclaimed mournfully.
And then I started crying while I held her and put all the pieces together…
We had stuck a tag on the scooter that said it was from Santa, not us.
And she had seen this supposed gift from Santa in my car.
And now she’s blaming herself for ruining Christmas because she knows for sure that Santa isn’t real.
After a few minutes, we pulled ourselves together and went out to find my son and husband. I asked her to pleeeeeease try not to cry—for her brother’s sake—and that I had something to give her when we got home.
She didn’t say a single word the whole way home.
When we got home, I gave her a letter I had written a few months back. I had seen a similar letter earlier this year that was so perfect that I knew I wanted to use it to write a letter to my questioning eldest when the time came.
I sat with her while she read it and she seemed a little less sad afterward. We talked about all of it for a while and she finally said “So even though Santa isn’t a real person, the magic of Santa is still real?”
Yes, baby…that’s exactly right.
She’s had a few more sad moments since then and told me today that without Santa, Christmas is now pointless. That hurt my heart but I didn’t comment. I just let her get it out.
I don’t know what to do about my son but I can assure you that I will not have a repeat of what happened with his sister. While it will be painful, I will tell him the first time he asks, with no pussyfooting around, that Daddy and I are Santa Claus. And then I will give him his own copy of the letter.
I told my daughter today that when your child is a a toddler and you introduce the concept of Santa to them, it really does bring the magic of Christmas back into your heart and you’re not thinking of how you’re going to deal with it ten years down the road and that I was sorry…that I never intended to hurt or disappoint her…that parents do it because we want them to have that magic in their hearts, too.
She insists I have nothing to be sorry for…that she ruined Christmas for herself by peeking under the sheet in the back of my car while helping me unload groceries.
But the fact that she blames herself for the loss of Christmas magic and a bit of childhood innocence makes my heart ache in a way that I can’t even articulate.
And this makes me think that if I had it to do over, I probably wouldn’t have lead my kids to believe that Santa is real.
No. I don’t think I would…
Have you had to deal with the dreaded “Is Santa real?” question yet? How did you handle it or how are you planning to handle it? Or did you dispense with all of the fantasy and tell your kids the truth from the beginning? Please share your story.