I went into this holiday season knowing that, probably, it would be the last year my oldest daughter believed in Santa Claus. After all, the doubting had already started: But someone told me Santa is really just your parents. And, He can’t possibly be in Africa right now and here tonight. And, Reindeer can’t actually fly, Mommy.
Until this year, her grandmother and I had disagreed about encouraging belief in things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy (though my daughter is still fairly certain the two shared a cup of coffee in our living room last year); I didn’t see the harm in it, and perhaps she didn’t see the point. Sure, eventually, we all find out that it’s not exactly as we thought. I can vividly recall sitting at the white cafeteria table in fourth grade with a girl named Tammy, who always wore a ribbon barette on each side of her natural part, forcing her head to resemble the handlebars of a small child’s bicycle with its plastic tassels blowing in the wind. She said, tilting her handlebar head, “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.” As far as I was concerned, there was no need for a spirit because Santa wasn’t dead. (Did I mention that I was a very young fourth-grader?)
Sure, I was disappointed. But there was no emotional scarring. And I didn’t consider my parents to be liars. And after reading this article, even my mother-in-law was convinced.
As a parent, I don’t always know what I’m doing (it’s only on rare occasions that I do know, it seems), but one thing I’m certain of is that there was something in my daughter’s face on Christmas Eve; her skin was so bright and white, as though it had been lit from somewhere inside. Her eyes were crisp and ready.
We came home after an evening of church and family and too much food. All three kids watched their messages from Santa (individually, my daughter said, just in case someone was on the naughty list — it wouldn’t be nice for the rest of us to know). They had opened the packages marked for December 24th, and donned this year’s pajamas for a picture in front of the tree. They put out the carrots and water, the cookies and milk. I suggested leaving Santa a beer, but my oldest reminded me that he still had quite a bit of driving to do that night.
Shortly after we tucked them in, she came out of her bedroom and clung to the door frame. She knew the rules: no leaving the bedroom until it was light outside. “But Mommy,” she said. “We forgot to put out the stockings.” Her eyes were desperate. Please, they said. And almost, Just in case.
Maybe it’s that, sometimes, we forget she’s only seven. But she doesn’t. What I’ve learned about her, especially lately, is that she really enjoys being her age. She likes being a kid, and maybe even a little kid. She’s in no rush to grow up. Just the other day, during a quiet moment on the ride home, she said, “Second grade is going by so fast.”
She still holds my hand when she’s around a gaggle of giddy girls who can tell you the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S-4, and have some working knowledge of Harry from One Direction. I admit that I bought her a pair of skinny jeans last month, but only because they were no others in her size at TJ Maxx and her single pair at home was covered in paint, with holes in each of the knees.
She wants to grow up slowly. And we’re okay with that.
So maybe, this year, she wanted to keep believing, and so she was only letting herself believe. She was practicing her own “willing suspension of disbelief.” Maybe she was believing for her siblings. Or for me.
Or maybe because there’s so much about this world she isn’t ready to believe in.
We drove to the beach on Christmas Day, to our favorite pocket of the county. The kids built castles and stood knee-high in the Gulf of Mexico. We rocked out to ZZ Top on the ride home ’cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man. That evening, we ordered General Tso’s chicken and Mu Shu pork and as we sat together, she said, “This is nice.” At the same time, I was thinking, This is what I believe in.
I’m going to wait for her to tell me that Santa isn’t real. And, maybe, she never will.