I stood at the kitchen sink with the usual school morning mayhem unfolding around me. Washing, drying, packing, fielding, answering, signing Important Things, reminding. Oh, and, of course, mitigating the seemingly endless bickering. But that's a post for another time.
Henry sat down on the kitchen floor to put on and tie his shoes. I continued my buzzing about and then he asked,
"Is Santa real?" Pause, pause, pause... "Is Santa really the one who comes and puts all the presents under the tree?"
Everything stopped. I stopped. All the blurs of my morning stilled. I was suddenly aware of so many details: the soaked dish towel that hung dejectedly over my hand; the crumbs on the counter, which multiply like little rabbits; the tilt of Henry's head as it held his jaunty Santa hat.
And the avoidance of his eyes to mine.
Without not-looking back at him, I thwopped the dish towel on the counter and refilled my coffee mug.
"I believe in Santa, H."
"Me too!" He beamed. And then, "but those kids on the bus said that he wasn't real and that moms and dads put the presents under the tree."
"Why would they say THAT?" I bantered back.
"I don't know." He answered quietly.
In this moment, I LOATHE THE BUS*. Children like to be The One Who Knows. Especially when they can clue someone else into something that they know first. I get it. But oh I really, really don't like it. Unfortunately, this drive forces The Ones Who Know to then usher others into the realm of non-believers. When Abby graduated from being an innocent believer in Santa, I asked her to take a sacred pledge, promising to be a perpetual spreader of wonder and belief to preserve the magic of Christmas for other children.
Although the edges of this last Christmas of innocence are slightly tarnished, I will soak up every gift which unfolds. Each one -- especially the ones I know will become hazy-edged memories: the way his mittened hand still reflexively reaches up and grabs for mine. The way he runs out of school and tackles me with hugs, no matter who is watching. The ease with which he shares his most important thoughts -- from the number of diamond swords he's found in Minecraft to the specifics of an uncomfortable situation with a friend. The feeling of his body, heavy with sleep, on my chest. The way his Santa hat always adorns his head, even while he sleeps.
I am keenly aware that this may be the last year I have an unabashed Santa believer under my roof. If I'm really honest, he may have already passed to the other side. But let me be clear: I am doing everything in my power to make this a Christmas in which he believes. I brainstorm ideas that will wow him and make his Christmas Spirit meter tip over into burning faith. At least for the time between now and December 25.
Abby is my faithful spirit wingman in this quest. When she hears Henry say something that wraps his belief in Santa in question marks, Abby reports to me.
The latest one: "Mom, Henry said that you and Dad are the elves. That you do the work. I told him that was silly, that OF COURSE you and Dad couldn't do all that stuff."
I looked at her and my shiny eyes met hers.
"Mom? Why are you so sad?" she queried through inquisitive eyes.
How do I answer her? That this is a profound stage of childhood that I'm not ready for him to leave? That her desire to sprinkle this season with mystery and magic slays me? That their faith and belief infuse my days with a pureness that sparks my soul? That ever since I figured out that my parents were arm-in-arm with Santa, that I extinguished my anguish by making Christmas magical for my baby brother? And that then, when I got older, I realized that if I had children I would get to relive this time with them? And that now, half of my children don't believe in Santa and the other half almost don't? UGH. That I vicariously view the world through Henry's reverent belief? That this milestone marks the clear, bold swath of time's passage?
I wipe the tears away. My answer to her starts in a hug. I wrap her solidly in my arms and say:
"I just want him to get all the time he should to believe in Santa. I don't want anyone to take that away from him."
Or, as it turns out, from me.
*I love Sixteen Candles and can still see Sam's (a.k.a. Molly Ringwald's) disdainful face as she spits out this line.