No, Virginia. No!

I have an old winter jacket that I wear when I walk the dogs. I put it on at least a hundred times a year for such walks. And there is a pocket inside the jacket–a breast pocket that sits close to my heart. And inside that pocket were two envelopes containing two letters–letters that rested there for over four years. Letters to Santa.

Many a night I would feel the edges of those letters in the zippered breast pocket and think about how I held a secret close to my chest.

FullSizeRender (12)-001

A lifetime ago, when my youngest son was half his age, and my older one still looked like a little boy, I was handed these letters. I’m sure I was on my way out the door to walk the dog (we only had one at the time) when the boys forced the envelopes into my hand. And being the dutiful dad, I promised to place those ever-important letters in our mailbox, so Santa would indeed know what two little boys on his list wanted for Christmas.

Once outside, I’m sure I shoved those letters in that pocket and zipped it up tight, And there they sat, and sat, and sat. I didn’t plan on housing them in the jacket this long ( I didn’t plan on having the jacket this long, either). But you know how life is. Things have a way of just remaining in our lives, until, one day, they don’t. Things like jackets, and secrets, and Santa Claus.

As time passed, I would occasionally feel the letters inside the pocket. My hand would brush past the flattened lump, and I would think, Oh, right, the boys letters to Santa. How long have they been inside this coat…1 year, 2 years, 3 then 4? What if they discover them? Well, even if they don’t find these letters, they will one day learn the truth, and then these letters will remind me that it’s the end of__________. And that’s the part I always fumbled on. The end of what? Innocence? No. Childhood? Certainly not? The magic? Perhaps. I would settle on magic and tug my coat a little tighter–a reminder that for now the letters meant they still believed.

But Easter morning changed all that. Yes, the Easter Bunny dropped a big dose of reality in the boys’ baskets this year–the fact that he doesn’t really exist. And with that came the dreadful domino effect–no Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, and no Santa!

It was a wonderful morning. Honestly. I had just thought to myself how much I was enjoying this particular Easter Sunday. The boys let us sleep in. They bounced into our room with homemade cards. They helped each other find their eggs. The sky was even as sunny as our dispositions.

And as Owen (10) was coming back in the house from getting me the newspaper (another reason it was such a splendid morning) he got a quizzical look upon his face,

“Wait. How did you know there were 22 eggs in all if the Easter Bunny hid them?”

Pause. Parental glance.

“What?” he said, a bit panicky. “Is he not real?”

Another pause–this one more awkward. Parental glance and simultaneous nod, yes.

Tears sprung from his eyes as big as Cadbury Mini Eggs. “Nooooooooooo!”

“Does that mean there’s no Tooth Fairy?” said Hayden (8). Another affirmative nod.

“Oh, God! Is there no Santa Claus?” Two more nods. Owen was inconsolable (I just caught myself grimacing, recalling these moments while writing this post–it is so incredibly sad that THEY were so incredibly sad.)

“I guess there are no leprechauns, either?” chimes Hayden.

“No, Hayd. No leprechauns.”

“We’re sorry, guys. We thought you might already have had an idea that these things weren’t real.”

“No,” says one. “We still believed,” says the other.

The day continues in fits and starts. The boys calm down, then get weepy again. Calm. Weepy. Calm. Weepy. In talking about the various characters that have been visiting our house this past decade, we recall many memories. Pam produces two tiny jewelry boxes; each a home for the boys’ teeth. And I run to that old winter jacket and pull out their letters to Santa that I had hidden in there for four years now.

Owen opens his letter and tries to decipher his wish list to Santa.

FullSizeRender (8)-001

Hayden opens his and bursts into laughter.

FullSizeRender (9)-001

Rest assured, he got the Bat Cave that year.

WE spend the hours saying all the lines we hope will soften the blow. Things like: There really is a Santa Claus–it just happens to be mom and dad…I know it seems like we lied to you, but think of it as playing pretend–we pretended there was a Tooth Fairy…You had fun at the egg hunt yesterday, and you knew our friends hid the eggs–not the Easter Bunny…Look at how much you love Harry Potter–that whole world is made up, too. And on, and on, and on.

Pam and I try to gauge their emotions. “Are you worried that now that you know the truth, you won’t get as many presents next Christmas?” she asks the boys. “No,” Owen says, “I don’t care about the presents. I’m just sad about the magic.”

We all were sad. Pam and I got a bit teary recalling the many times we played these parts. Truth is, I’ve been wanting to live in a world without the pressures of these imaginary figures lording over me. I thought Hayden would have another year or two of believing beyond Owen, and when I told my nieces that, they said, “No. It’s good they had each other to lean on.” That made me feel better.

But when I saw them crying and even a little pained by this news, I realized what made me sad was not the fact that they know the truth–I never felt right lying to them once they were in grade school. No, what made me sad was seeing my sons hurting and knowing that they just had to suffer through this loss, the way they will when other painful things–real tragedies and the world’s harsh realities–come across their path.

That night, in the bathroom getting ready for bed, I sit on the tub’s edge as they take turns coming in to brush their teeth. I can tell they’re sad again. They are unusually quiet.

I watch Owen in the mirror and our eyes meet. “I know today was hard. I don’t really have anything to say that will make the pain go away. But I want you to know that we are a family, and we will get through this together. And each day, it will get a little easier. I promise.”

I feel good about this, so I repeat these words to Hayden when it’s his turn to brush. Both boys seem comforted by my message, but as I sit in the hall and listen to them settling in to sleep, I hear heavy sighs and a few stifled cries.

They’ll just have to be sad for a time, I think. But then I recall my words, and I repeat them in my mind. “…We are a family, and we will get through this together.” There is such power in words, and these words helped my boys realize that when we share the pain, it doesn’t hurt as much.

And now, that’s what I’ve been carrying close to my heart since that day–and I have to admit, there’s a little magic in such thinking.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Here are Owen and Hayden’s cards from Easter morning. The last thing they created as true believers. After the cold hard reality set in, their drawings took a dark turn for me. I kept imagining Owen’s #1 fingers as middle fingers, and Hayden’s bunny brandishing a gun instead of a carrot.

FullSizeRender (11)-001

FullSizeRender (6)-001

Advertisements

18 comments

  1. Our kids figured out Santa Claus on their own, when they were 7 and 6, and the two of them climbed onto the low branches of the dogwood tree to discuss strategy. Mylène wanted to spill the beans right away. Tim decided that the longer they kept their knowledge a secret from us, the longer they would continue to receive gifts from Santa, which to him meant there would be more presents under the tree. They believed in the Easter Bunny much longer. These were kids who were raised on carob-coated raisins, and they could not fathom a world where their parents would suddenly give them their weight in sugar. There HAD to be an Easter Bunny.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My experience was similar but not so upsetting. Me and my little sister were about the same ages as your boys. It was just before Easter so it also started with the Easter Bunny. I wanted to play dress up so we went into mom’s dresser to get dress up clothes . . . and found Easter goodies. For some reason, I didn’t think much of it, until a few days later and the stuff in our Easter baskets were an exact match to the stuff in mom’s dresser. We didn’t even ask our mom about it. We just suddenly knew. Mom was the Easter Bunny. That meant mom was also the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Come Christmas, we started hunting out presents to get a sneak preview of what we were getting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I often wonder why we choose to retell these cultural tales to our children, especially when we likely know how they’ll feel when the magic ceases to enchant them. Is it some sort of rite?

    Like

    1. There are many secrets adults keep from children. It would be sad to disillusion the young from the get go if we are worried that eventually they will have to find out the “truth.” There is a magic to childhood, and our myths, whether it be an giant bunny that delivers eggs and candy or a flying bell (as the French believe), keeping the wonder alive. Believe it or not, my third-grade teacher, a nun, told the class that there was no Santa. My parents were upset that the decision of when to tell was taken out of their hands, but I suspect it was also a relief. But think of the other things from which our parents protected us. When I was young, we weren’t exposed to every news story, but today’s 24/7 news cycle makes it almost impossible to keep children innocent of the evil in the world (which is what the news focuses upon most of the time).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s interesting to consider it part of our mythology, Linda. It gives it more a sense of purpose. I’m happy to report that I avoid the daily news and my kids have never sat down to watch it–accept while in a McDonald’s one day. Not sure which did more damage, the trans fat or the big story at five!

        Like

  4. Oh the right of passage when you find these things out. We had two sets of kids and the big ones never wanted the little ones to know. I think they loved the magic all over again just watching it. Sad but fun too. My kids used to find their presents and play with them before Christmas and I didn’t even know. It makes for quite a few laughs now when we talk about it. I loved this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Michael — well this was a significant day! You’ve just lived through a moment I’m dreading will come my way fairly soon. The relief of not having to pretend any more, mixed with the kid’s dissapointment and the parent’s sadness at the passing of this magical stage in their children’s lives, are all emotions I can relate to, and which you express beautifully. But of course, as you pointed out, it’s the love that exists between you that is the real magic, and no one can disabuse you of that. Many thanks for another wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

If you've made it this far in the post, why not join the conversation?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s