Christmas morning is a great moment in parenting history.
The excitement. The smiles. Your children jumping and dancing and rejoicing because Santa Claus is real and he was really listening to their wishes and he was really watching as them clean their room, share their toys and muscle down broccoli all year long.
There’s wrapping paper strewn across the living room and the children are playing with their new toys. The fireplace is glowing and Frank Sinatra reminds you to have a merry little Christmas. Cinnamon buns rise in the over and hot chocolate rings your mug and you ease back into your favorite chair and smile as the moment unwraps itself before you.
Then those children grow up.
They go to school and learn about things like distance and time. They learn about other countries and cultures. They study maps and spin globes. They realize there’s a lot of other kids in the world. They begin to privately question the realness of a jolly old man and his high-flying reindeer.
And then one day some kid, usually one with an older sibling, confirms that the low voices coming from the living on Christmas Eve were in fact their parents spitting curse words while turning Allen wretches late into the night.
Haley is 9.
She reads Girls World magazine. She likes shopping at Justice, being lazy, has a pair of Unicorn slippers and finds her younger brothers to be mostly annoying, always disgusting.
Sometimes when she sings Ed Sheeran songs or explains the pH levels of solids I don’t recognize her. Sometimes when I hear her sing or talk and I’m sucker punched by time.
For the last few weeks her questions about Santa Claus have grown in both intensity and specifics. How does Santa fit all the toys in one bag? Since Santa only comes at night, how does he have time to visit all the kids in the world? And recently…Why does our new Elf on the Shelf have a tag hanging from her? Did you and mommy buy her at the store?
Cindy and I know Haley’s belief is wavering. We may not want to accept the truth — but we know this is going to be her last Christmas of believing in Santa Claus.
She’s growing up. She’s starting to understanding matters of life. And that’s when the real parental work begins — teaching your children to believe when it seems there’s nothing to believe in.
What became of your belief in Santa Claus, is what became of your relationship with things like love and friendship. Once the initial magic of those things vanished — reality surfaced. And it was terrifying. You were experiencing the world in a rawer, more corporal way then ever before. You knew from this point on, your beliefs would be poked and prodded and on some days, ripped to shreds. And the act of believing, which was once so natural when you were a child, was now subjected to hard, daily practice.
When you learn the truth about Santa Claus, you learn a lot about life. When magic gives way to reality you feel disappointed, cheated and maybe little sad. But you’re young. You’ll recover. You just happened to learn a fundamental lesson of self-preservation— that in your moment of disbelief you still need to find a reason to believe.