I knew the day was coming. Actually I knew last year it had already arrived. And after Christmas, when she said "Santa" had gotten her gifts, using the quotation mark sign with her fingers, I knew we had seen the last of the magic and wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a small child.
So when Earbaby turned to me in the car one day and said, "If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?" I knew what that question would be. "I have never lied to you and I never will," I replied. (That's a promise that I guarantee will become harder to keep in the next few years as she grows more into womanhood.)
"Is there a Santa Claus?"
And there it is. I had tried to hold off as long as I could, and I got rid of the Easter Bunny this past spring, telling her I would get her a basket, but the Easter Bunny wasn't going around giving baskets to bigger kids. But last year around this time, her sixth-grade teacher had them write letters to dear old St. Nick, and I wasn't sure if he was just giving them a fun assignment, or searching out believers and nonbelievers. So I told EB that Kris Kringle wasn't coming into our house, that it had been us all along. But he had been a real person a long time ago, and in that vein, I still believed in the spirit of Santa Claus. So when she would ask me if I believed in Santa, I could truthfully say yes.
Now EB claims she's known since she was seven, but it wasn't too long ago, a year or two, she was asking for expensive presents, saying she knew we couldn't afford them, but Santa could (what is he, Rockefeller?). And a few days ago she was reminiscing about the time she heard hooves on the roof. She then asked what she heard. I have no idea. Maybe it was the spirit of Rudolph.
We then talked about the Tooth Fairy, whom she thought was Dad until I gave her a sidelong look. "It was you?! How cheap, I only got a dollar, some of my friends got $25!"
I told her I only got dime when I was growing up and a lot of kids got a quarter. Any kid getting $25 a tooth must be spitting out pure gold. I then told her the story of when my mother was working or something, and I lost a tooth. My sister, who is four years older, found 11 pennies to put under my pillow so I would still believe. I don't remember, I'm betting my older sister doesn't either, but my mother does. It made me love my older sister even more, because she kept the magic for me for a little longer. EB figured out the Easter Bunny and wasn't traumatized by it. She might have been a little saddened by the loss of Santa, but I reminded her she still gets gifts.
And she asked about why we tell the story of Santa Claus coming to the house to reward good boys and girls. I've had a lot of time to think on it. I've known parents who tell about Santa Claus, others who grow up without him in their lives.
I grew up with magic. In every household there is sadness, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But I believe that if you grow up thinking that magic and wonder can come into your house and make things happy and fun and special, even if it's just for that day, is worth the fantasy.
I told Earbaby that there is very little magic in the world. Now we just had a new addition to our extended family in the form of a new step-grandniece (step-cousin to EB, it's complicated), so we know about miracles. And we're a family of faith, and during Advent, it's all about the miracle.
But before children grow up, I believe they need magic. They need clowns, and magicians, and wonderment. They need to have bright eyes and the unexplainable unfold before them. They need to be children. I remember when we stopped being children. When my younger sister no longer believed, the wonder was gone. We were still happy, and grateful and Christmas was fun, but when the dolls and toys disappeared from under the tree, when I realized that Santa Claus had the same handwriting as my mother, I stopped being a child of magic.
I told EB that one day when she gets married and has children, she's going to tell them about Santa Claus and get the magic of Christmas all over again. Is Santa Claus real? Of course he is. He's the best of our childhoods, captured and preserved for eternity.