Friday, March 29, 2013

You had a good run, Mr. C

Three-year-old A, at Christmastime
"Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."

The worst part of parenting? Breaking bad news to your child. 

Last night, P was working so the kid and I headed to my gym. She likes playing in the play area. The owner of the gym gives her gummy bears, so there's that, too. When I was done sweating, she and I climbed into my mom-mobile and headed home. I needed gas, so I stopped along the way. "Do you want a snack?" I asked her.  She held out her hand for some cash.  In recent months, I've been letting her go into the gas station to get herself a snack. I figure this little exercise has two benefits: 1. She learns a little bit of independence by going in by herself and checking out at the register on her own and 2. She starts to understand how much stuff costs.  I always worry a little because she is so tiny that I don't want people thinking I'm sending a five-year-old off by herself. Of course, when someone asks her how old she is, she proudly states, "I'm seven and three quarters."  She's actually up to "Seven and eleven-twelfths" now but I haven't bothered to point that out.

Anyway, I finished pumping the gas and then saw my daughter coming back across the parking lot. She even looked both ways before hopping into the van with her bag of barbecue potato chips in hand.  "Here's your change, Mom!" she exclaimed as she fastened her seat belt.

As we drove home, I looked at her in the rear view mirror and noted that she is really growing up. About two second after that thought passed through my mind, she said this: "Mom, is Santa real?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Becca at daycare said he's not real. She said that parents hide the presents in the garage and then bring them in the house. She said he's not real and then she made me say it. I feel like I should tell Santa that I'm sorry."

Made her repeat it?  What a bratty little sadist!  Grrrrr

"Let's talk when we get home," I said.  My heart sank.  I had hoped we'd get through another year or so before she asked about Santa. When she was a toddler, we talked about Santa but kids that young don't really "get" it. Then it seems like you only get a few short years when they get it and they believe and then, in a flash, it's all over.

When we got home, I took my daughter in her room and sat her down on her bed. "I'm sorry that Becca said that to you."  Her eyes welled up with tears and I knew she could see what was coming. Now, I know that other parents have younger children that they have to protect and have a strong incentive to keep the story going even for their older children. However, we are not in that situation.  I could've lied to my daughter and perhaps bought a little time, a month or two at most. If it wasn't the brat at daycare telling her, it would be some other brat. So, I told her everything. I told her that there is no Santa, no Easter Bunny, and no Tooth Fairy. I tempered it as best I could by letting her know that none of the magic goes away. She'll still get an Easter basket on Sunday and she'll still hunt for eggs. I told her how Santa is more of an idea, a feeling, and that the magic of Christmas remains.

"Where do you hide the presents?" she asked.  "In the basement?"

I smiled at her and gave a little laugh.  "Do you think I'm crazy? I'm not telling you so don't ever bother looking. You won't find anything, Goober"  She gave me a weak smile in return and then looked down, tears spilling over her cheeks. I felt like I could hear her heart breaking.  It is the worst feeling in the world. I'd almost rather have the "You were adopted" talk again over this one. I put my arms around her and held her close to me.

When we were done talking, I reminded her that she should keep the secret for younger kids. For the rest of the evening, she sat in the living room, reading a book and eating her potato chips. Normally I would give her a rack of shit about getting crumbs everywhere, but I let it go.  When it was time for bed, she dutifully got up and walked to her room. "Okay, Mama," she said. She seldom calls me "Mama" anymore. I think some part of her wanted to be a toddler again, not this knows-too-much almost-eight-year-old.

About a week before this happened, one of her best friends was handed the painful "no Santa" reality by her older brother. We took that same friend to a hockey game last weekend.  I was teasing my daughter about having two loose teeth that need to come out. Her friend said, "If you pull them, then the tooth fa-" and she trailed off, remembering what she now knew. I saw a shadow pass over her face and was sad for her. Now, a week later, my kid is in the same boat.

So, I've got a heavy-hearted little girl on my hands. I felt like crying myself last night. For any parent who might be in the same boat, a friend sent me a link to this letter (it's sort of like a modern retelling of "Yes, Virginia . . . "). I did read it to my daughter and found it helpful.

"No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

2 comments:

The Lovely One said...

That is so sad. I kinda suspect that Bug knows there's no Santa, but she hasn't said anything. And she HAS to know there's no tooth fairy--- the tooth fairy would NEVER forget to put change under her pillow as many times as I have!

Beth said...

Jason knows the Bunny's not real, but is clinging to the Tooth Fairy and Santa, despite the fact that I told him about all three.

"Santa IS real," he announced, "He sends me e-mail from the North Pole!"

"Ok, Sweetie," I told him, deciding not to try and convince him further.