12/12/2014 12:26 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

Santa Guilt

Dieter Spears via Getty Images

I have two boys, ages 14 and 12. About four years ago my oldest son, Jimmy, sat me down and told me that he was on a mission. He needed my help. He was going to stay up and PROVE once and for all that Santa Claus was real, because he was tired of all the kids at school telling him otherwise.

"My parents are not liars," he said.

I nearly melted into a puddle of salt water.

I came clean and instantly regretted ever taking part in the Santa Claus game. He cried; nay, sobbed. He hated me in that moment and I'm pretty sure he still does.

These past four years, we've been very guarded about the Santa Claus thing. We've continued keeping the secret from Tony, who, like his brother, is a steadfast, my-parents-aren't-liars club member. He just started junior high this year and he came home the other day with almost the exact mission in mind that Jimmy had.

"It really burns me when the kids at school insist that you and Dad are Santa. I keep telling them that their parents have to be from Santa because they are so bad."

After my initial shock that Tony's faith in his own goodness far exceeds my own (especially after we had just gotten done talking about being disrespectful and that his idea of "commenting" is considered "talking back" and guarantees a one way trip to Grounded), I took a step back and digested what message was coming my way. I said nothing at the time. Instead, I waited and consulted his brother.

"Jimmy, should I tell him?"

"Um, yeah. You may as well ruin his life now."

Ruin his life? At the tender age of 12? Harsh, harsh boy.

Then, I consulted Jim. His reply: "How long do you think we can keep this up? Where is the line drawn? How much longer do you want him to look like a fool in front of his friends?"

Then today. Oh, God, today.

My newly-minted 12-year-old came to me talking about the ridiculousness pouring out of his friends' mouths.

"Can you believe that they don't believe in Santa? I don't get it. And all they want to do is point fingers at me and call me stupid and a baby for believing."

My eyes started to water. Visions of Jimmy's hatred and anger overcame me. Then the waterfall of tears rushed down my cheeks.

"Mom, what's wrong?"

I was sobbing as I said, "Santa Claus is your parents."

"What about his parents?" he asked. "Oh, no. Are they dead?"

Sniffing and confused, I said, "What?"

"You said, 'Santa Claus's parents' and didn't finish. What about his parents?"

Then, it occurred to me. He didn't hear the "your." My words came out so choked up that it became inaudible.

I should have backtracked. I should have taken it all back. I should have run off and blamed the tears on hormones.

But I didn't. I 'fessed up.

And he cried.

Huge alligator tears.

He said he wasn't mad at me, that I didn't do anything wrong. I was left feeling guilty, like a Grinch of the first degree, stealing the magic of Christmas from my poor baby.

We spent the evening cuddled up on the couch, crying together and watching Christmas movies. We smothered our tears in cheesy bread and doughnuts. I kissed the top of his peach fuzz-covered head a million times. He snuggled closer and closer.

He feels like the magic of Christmas was stolen away. I feel like my little boy just lost the last thing that made him a little boy. He mourns the loss of Santa Claus and so do I, for vastly different reasons, but leaving us both with this hollow space inside.

Watching kids growing up is sad, but actively participating in it blows to no end.

At bedtime he said to me, "Mom, I feel so depressed. Like something was stolen from me."

"I know," I said and thought, Me, too.

When it comes to the difficult side of parenting, I seriously need a pinch hitter.