“Is Santa real? Like…does he really exist?” She’s looking off into the corner of her room. We’re lying in bed together discussing our day like we always do before bed. This is when our truth-telling always happens. This is when she asks me the hard questions about death and evil and pain. For a moment I consider point-blank lying to her, but there are already tears in her eyes. There’s a part of her that knows and is already heartbroken over it. She’s coming to me now…like she does many nights in this bed, wanting the hard answers to the questions that haunt her days. I can’t lie to her. Not here. Not in our truth-telling place.
I didn’t really grow up with that magical belief in Santa Claus that my husband had. I figured out early on that I never really got what I asked for at Christmas and all of my friends did. My Dad just didn’t really get into that part of the Christmas…the making it seem magic part. I don’t know if I every really believed in Santa. I always pretended, but I never truly believed.
I got pregnant with E at 18, so obviously I had no ability to make Christmas magical for him. He kinda grew up the same way I did. We pretended, but I didn’t go out of my way trying to make it seem real. When you’re buying Christmas at the Dollar Tree, you don’t really want your kid hoping for presents from ToysRUs. I didn’t want him being disappointed on Christmas so I never really made Santa out to be anything but an imaginary being we use to make Christmas seem fantastical.
I also don’t believe in God and I wasn’t raising E in religion so it always felt weird to be all, “God is not real. But the guy at the North Pole who brings gifts on Christmas? HE TOTALLY IS.”
But then I married Donnie. And he grew up with the magic in epic proportions. He would challenge Santa to make sure he was real and his parents would jump through all of the hoops every year to keep the magic alive, and he wanted to do the same for the kids we had together. It bothered him that I didn’t do that with E and he really wanted me to honor his request for Nikki.
It was a tough thing to reconcile on many levels. I didn’t like lying. It felt weird. But I did it more as “playing make believe” than lying and with every year that ticked by, I got more and more into it. And then it was suddenly like I was discovering the magic of Christmas as a 30+ year-old woman…through my kids.
But I still was careful about my lies, especially in the last few years when the questions would get more pointed. I always told them, “I believe in Santa in my heart. Sometimes my brain doesn’t, but there are years there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy and I like to believe those are from Santa.”
“Do you remember how at Harry Potter World I was getting so into doing all of the spells in the mornings when we got there early? I know there were sensors there. I know in my brain that it was all about electronics and mechanics and science. But in my heart? I believe in the magic. That’s kinda how Santa is. He’s something we have to believe in with our hearts.”
And again, like the times before, it sufficed. I was starting to wonder if she truly believed.
And then last night, she asked me alone. In the spot she asks me all of the hard questions she has at the end of the day living the life of an anxious, empathetic, emotional 9-year old girl. This is the same place she tells me when she’s been bullied, or she asks me what happens when we die. This is the same time she quizzes me about my first marriage and about divorce. This is where she comes to me with questions and fears about mortality and heartbreak. This is the place she knows she gets the truth from me. I couldn’t lie to her there.
I started down the same path I usually take, but as I start talking she turns to actually look at me. Look me in the eyes to see my answer. Her eyes were already moist with tears. Tears of hope that I give her the answer she wants, but also tears of anguish because she already knows I won’t.
I know that in this moment, the magic is over for her.
“In my heart, I believe Santa is real.”
“But does he give us all of the presents?”
“Sometimes there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy you.”
“But do you know who did?”
And here is when my tears are forming because I know where this is going. I know that in this moment, the magic is over for her. She’s begging me for the truth and I can dance around it, but I can’t just lie to her about it.“I’m pretty sure Daddy does it to make me feel some of the magic of Christmas that you guys feel.”And then we both started crying together. In each other’s arms
We spent a long time talking and crying last night. She kept thinking about things like the Tooth Fairy, and Elf on the Shelf, and every time she did she’d cry more. I told her about growing up without the magic and how amazing it has been being part of that magic for her. I pointed out that she gets to be part of that magic now. I told her about how her big brother loves doing that, helping hide Fifi the Elf, or helping wrap presents.
One of the amazing moments was when it occurred to her that she and Wesley are grateful to Santa every year for something that I do.
“But you never got the credit for those awesome gifts?!”
She cried a lot. Big, fat tears of heartbreak. I apologized to her a million times and told her I was so sorry if it felt like I had lied. She wasn’t mad at me, she understood. She felt really dumb because I guess there are a lot of kids her age that don’t believe and she’s always been one to fight for Santa.
We also laughed some together as I filled her in on some of the challenges, like the times I’ve forgotten to leave her money for teeth and have had to leave notes from the Tooth Fairy explaining fears of dogs. She asked me who ate Santa’s cookies and we laughed about that being one of the best parts of being a parent at Christmas. I told her all of the things she’ll get to do this year to help me. “Think about it for Wesley though, when he finds out there’s no one left to be part of the magic with. You at least get to be part of it for him, he won’t have that.” I’m not sure if there was any consolation in that for her, to be honest.
“Nikki?”We had cried a lot and we were both very drained. I could tell she was about to fall asleep, it was so far past both of our bedtimes. She was curled up in my arms, her wet cheeks were resting on my chest while my own tear-dampened chin was resting on her head.
“I want you to know, the world is still full of magic. I truly, honestly believe that. I ran with the sunrise in Breckenridge a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful my heart hurt… I didn’t know a sunrise could be that amazing. You’ll get to see that next year! There are people in this world who do amazing things to help others around them, without payment or attention. They make people’s lives better without even being asked. They are basically Santa to people in need. There’s art and music that will make your heart soar or ache in ways you can’t explain. There’s adorable puppies who will make you feel warm inside. There’s food that is so delicious you’ll want to marry it.”
She giggled a little bit.
“I just want you to know that there are still things that are going to surprise you in this world. You’re going to read books that change your life or see movies that make you laugh so hard you want to puke. You’re going to fall in love for the first time and be overwhelmed with the feeling of never wanting to leave this person’s side. You might have kids some day and you’ll learn a whole lot about your capacity for love.”
“I’m never having kids.”
“And that’s fine too! You’ll find the magic in a million other places. Not Santa Claus magic or Harry Potter magic, but you’ll discover that unexpected things make you feel unexpected ways that you can’t explain. Immense joy and love and happiness. There are still amazing things to look forward to, I promise. I believe that more now as a 40-year old woman than ever. I’m surprised constantly by people and places and nature and science and I find all of that still magical. Please believe me there.”
“I do Mom, I really do. Thank you for telling me the truth. I love you.”
“I love you too, my sweet Angel.”
I remember calling my Dad to tell him about my first miscarriage and I was obviously fighting back tears over the phone and he said, “It’s hard as a parent knowing you can’t save your kids from the pain of life.”
I thought of that a lot last night. I was torn about the fact that – inherently – this pain is my fault. If I had never created the magic, she would have never had to lose it. I’m hoping that, in the end, she’ll think it was worth it. I’m hoping to show her the other side of the magic this year, the part that I’ve enjoyed since she was born. I’m hoping she’ll find joy in that.
But holy crap, y’all. I cried more than I ever considered I would cry during that moment. I think I kinda assumed she would just figure it out but continue to play along. I didn’t think it would come down to her essentially begging me to tell her the truth and me having to be the one that shattered the world for her. I never really saw it play out that way and oh my lord – it was awful. She asks me tough questions all the time in that quiet time we share together before bed most nights. She asks me about homosexuality and sex and drugs and death and God and murder and war and divorce and pain and never have I struggled as much as I did last night.
If I had never created the magic, she would have never had to lose it. I’m hoping that, in the end, she’ll think it was worth it.
I’d rather answer 100 questions about sex or about how gay people have babies… I’d rather try to explain why people we love get cancer… I’d rather talk about how life just ends when you die, than have to EVER tell ANYONE the truth about Santa again.