Childhood could be defined as a period in which you have a variety of beliefs about Santa. At the point when you no longer have strong, or more to the point, oscillating feelings, about Santa is when childhood ends. You won’t think much about Santa again until there are children in your life and you have crossed over to the other side.
Something happened in my younger daughter’s second grade class. Older siblings spilled the beans. She knew enough to ask knowing questions. But as a parent you have to answer these in a truthful way that feels authentic, considers the possibility, appreciates that this is a reasonable thing to doubt, but keeps hope and belief alive. They will have had these doubts before but they suppress them as if Santa could sniff you out and cross you off the list before you even opened your mouth. They want to believe.
As the years went on, she more and more knew. We reached a kind of truce of conspiracy. She wants the stocking and we keep filling it. She gets to help with stocking stuffers. She is aware now who that term is aimed at. And it’s not elves. Our friend, Sita, does not actually possess Santa’s mobile number; we used it one year to explain that the stocking would be left in the living room, because we’re American, and please not to come into the girls’ room when they were sleeping as this idea was freaking them out. That was our year of spraying monster spray on the curtains at bedtime. We even talk about it, the loss of absolute belief. She told me this year that in second grade a friend’s father had offhandedly confirmed one of those knowing/testing questions too convincingly put. Both immediately regretted it. He hurriedly backpedaled while she rapidly tried to reabsorb the mystery.
Yesterday we rode the Santa Train with friends, an historic railway journey into part of the city, the dismantled public transportation of yesteryear that would be so handy, so modern, were they to reinstate it. Bring back the intercity passenger trains and the trams! But I digress.
Ho ho ho. She is sitting in a bank of seats behind me. I can almost hear her sliding down, hoping Santa won’t notice her. Parents are fielding questions left and right about his identity. “I should think the real Santa is quite busy right now, so this might be a friend, but maybe…” Leave the door open, people.
Younger daughter, however, is at a particular stage of preadolescence where it is SO embarrassing, SO awkward to pretend, but she knows, in the presence of all these young believers that this is the burden of the Santa secret. Magical moments have their price. Pretend you must.
Santa is accompanied by a photographer with a website where she will sell photos and so she is not sensitive to the nuances of reluctance. Younger daughter is photographed and the picture will be on a website. Anyone could see it and think that maybe she thought this was the real Santa, wanted the photo.
And then you have to make conversation.
“I don’t know what I want,” she answers. “Surprise me.”
But, frankly, 11-year-olds, even worldly ones, are no match for Santa.