11/27/2012 06:08 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

How Long Will They Believe in Santa?

It's easy to decide which magical lies you'll introduce to your kids. What's tough is keeping up with those lies, especially the ones that add the all-important magic factor to Christmastime.

You have to deal with the holiday season itself, surrounding your kids with relatives who unknowingly threaten to spill the beans about Santa or the Elf on the Shelf or whatever else you've got making twinkles in their young eyes.

I've been busting my tail to not let my kids catch me managing the slew of pictures of naughty Elf on the Shelf photos I have on my laptop, because their own Elf, "Sporticus", will be making his arrival soon. Then the other day, a relative announced to me in front of the kids that she saw "that shelf elf thing for forty damn dollars in Target -- what a racket!" Luckily, my offspring were too busy stealing quarters from my handbag to catch the slip-up, but it was only one of many holiday minefields I traverse as a parent during this Most Magical Time of the Year.

Two weeks after Cyber Monday, will deliver a barrage of boxes the same approximate size and weight of my kids' Christmas Wish list, and I must come up with all sorts of casual explanations as to what's in the boxes without busting my deal-loving self.

Recently, my kids yelled from my room that they discovered my "secret hiding place of everything fun." I bolted to the bedroom with panic in my throat, only to see that they found my stash of wrapping paper and Halloween candy, not the bags of gifts behind the other sliding closet door. I kicked them out, knowing that from now on, Christmas purchases were to be stored in black garbage bags in the attic.

My kids are 5 and 7, which makes them simultaneously the most excited-for-Christmas-Magic age and one breath away from understanding how much of it is a farce us parents put on for their pleasure.

How much longer to I keep up these charades? Should I tell them in some tactful way that Santa looks decidedly a lot more like me than Wilford Brimley, or wait until some kid at school breaks the news? Their dad and I loved feeding their belief in Santa and his elves, but have been at a loss as to what to do about their belief's inevitable demise.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I was battling the shopping mall crowds with extended family, sweating beneath my puffy coat and swearing under my breath, when my Mother-in-Law landed us on Santa's doorstep. Clearly, the whole outing was a set-up and this was the intended destination all along.

I immediately got cranky: At least one of my kids always ends up crying when we go see Santa, and I wasn't prepared for this task. I assumed the lines would be long. My kids were dirty and dressed in old casual clothes. We all needed lunch. There was no way this would end well.

Then, shockingly, the line moved quickly. My kids got along and were patient (!!!). When the room got dark, my daughter didn't climb up my leg in fright. Before I knew it, we were at the front of the line, and the gold-trimmed velvet curtains were drawn.

When Marshmallow the Elf escorted my kids to The Big Guy in Red, the only tears in the room were mine as I witnessed my babies run to him with warm hugs, genuine smiles and magic in their eyes. Surprising both Santa and me, they each only asked for one gift. They listened to him with rapt attention, answered his questions politely and promised to be good kids the whole rest of the year.

It's too late for that, though. They are already great kids, so I'll continue the fight to keep them feeling the magic of Santa for as long as I can. I'll dance through the holiday mine fields of loose-lipped relatives who don't think and bratty classmates who don't believe, because if anyone deserves to feel the magic of the holidays, it's the two little people who make me happier than a kid on Christmas morning each and every day of the year.