“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Her exuberant cries grew louder as she neared the bathroom where I was getting ready for work, “Guess what?! Another elf came – a girl elf!”
“Really?” I feigned surprise, trying to match her enthusiasm.
“Yes! Look!” She held out the two Elf on the Shelf books and a note Marty (our elf) left. She showed me how the new book had a picture of a girl elf, while the other book had a boy. She read me Marty’s note, “Please welcome and give a new name to my cousin. xoxo, Marty”!!
I looked over at my son standing behind her. Eyes gleaming, he had his hands clasped beneath his chin – a gesture he’s had since he was a toddler that tells us he is bursting with excitement! It’s possible that he was even more excited than his little sister, but for a very different reason. You see, it was his idea to get a second elf.
Last year, just a few weeks before Christmas, he asked us if Santa was real. As a logical, literal fourth grader he had been asking a lot of pointed questions that we explained away for the benefit of his younger sister. But when he asked directly, I knew we had to have the “Santa talk” and I called my husband up to the room. We told him the truth, we read from some of those letters everybody pins to use for this very moment, and we cried because he cried.
Later that night, I shared with facebookland that we had crossed that milestone in my son’s life. I got a lot of sympathy and support from all my friends. Most of it was around how hard it is for us parents when our children grow up; and some was specifically about how sad it was to lose Santa. But the truth is, Santa gets way too much credit when it comes to Christmas. We haven’t lost any Christmas magic — if anything we’ve gained magic.
I should have expected it. I haven’t believed in Santa since 1983 and I love everything about Christmas: the music, the movies, the food, the lights, wrapping presents, the smell of the tree, and all the hustle and bustle. Santa is magic; but once you know he’s not real, YOU become the magic. And this year, I’ve watched my son become the magic.
He’s been nagging me all week to get a female elf for his sister. He’s already planned something for Christmas morning to explain why the elf didn’t respond to the first note she wrote him this year. He’s helped move the elf and then watched with real excitement over imaginary magic while his sister hunts in the morning. It’s been amazing and heartwarming and has brought my Christmas spirit to new heights.
It’s hard when our children grow up – it comes with a sense of inevitable loss. Gone are the days of baby snuggles, wet toddler kisses, and early childhood curiosities. But what we gain in the people they become overshadows that loss in unimaginable ways. Leaving Santa behind is a step away from childhood, and it’s hard. It is also a step closer to the amazing people our children will become, and a glimpse into the imagination they will use to change the world. And that is where the real magic is.