Much thanks for all the kind emails and comments regarding Little Girl’s post Monday. I’ve passed each of them along, and she’s most thankful. There are few things more important to a fledgling writer (as well as a not-so-fledgling writer) as a good dose of encouragement. I know this from experience.
I offered Little Girl the proverbial blank canvas. Write about anything, I told her. That she chose a story that included Santa was welcomed by both of her parents. It also, in a way, confirmed something that’s been wriggling around in my mind this Christmas season. Something that involves not only Little Girl, but Little boy as well.
They’re older now, if you consider eleven and nine old. I do. How and when my children began growing up are questions that continue to elude me. One of the best pieces of fatherly advice I ever received was from someone who told me it won’t matter at all how old my children are, to me they’ll always be just getting out of diapers. I’ve found that true. I expect it will be true for a long while.
Normally, their reality doesn’t get in the way of my perception. My kids can grow all they want. The toys that got them through the early years can find their way from the tops of their dressers to the backs of their closets, forgotten and dusty. I can walk into their bedrooms and see the squiggly penciled lines that mark how tall they’ve gotten. They can start asking weird questions about other girls and boys. I’ll notice these things, but I won’t see them. A person will go to great lengths to protect the lies they tell themselves, and the lie that nothing is changing especially.
But I’m finding that’s hard to do at Christmas.
On the surface, everything is the same. Both of my kids are still gung-ho about decorating the tree and the house, finding the little porcelain wise man who wanders around from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day looking for the Nativity atop the fireplace, baking cookies and singing carols. All of those things are going well. Fine, even. But there’s one part of Christmas that has gone missing this year — there’s been little desire for Santa. There have been no outgoing letters placed in the mailbox, no mention of going down to the mall and sitting on his lap. Nothing. Nada.
You know what? I think they both know.
It pains me, having to admit that. But I can deny no longer. Little Girl and Little Boy know there is no Santa, at least not in the way they’ve both been led to believe. Santa is their parents, the North Pole the Charlottesville mall, the elves all those daring people behind the cash registers, the flying reindeer my old truck.
It has to be crushing. I remember finding out the truth myself, right about their age. It crushed me.
It would be nice to be able to talk to them about this, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Neither can my wife. Because even now there is that tiny strand of hope deep within us both that says maybe they still believe, and even if they only believe a little, that little is well worth protecting. So there is only a shaky silence now — a hole where there used to be a very big Something.
But here’s the thing: Little Girl still wrote that story.
And written on the small chalkboard in the kitchen is this note in Little Boy’s hand: “Dear Santa, I’ve been really good this year. Please bring me stuff.”
And last night while we were all outside looking at the stars, both of them pointed at a flashing jet in the sky and pronounced that light to be Rudolph’s nose. A practice run, they said, and then they both smiled.
I smiled, too. It was to me a small dose of a new sort of Christmas magic, one just as meaningful and powerful as the one we all have perhaps now lost. A magic that proved our time on Earth can be best drawn in a circle rather than a line. My kids are still playing the game, but it isn’t for their benefit. I’ve spent years helping them to believe. Now, they’re helping me.