Will the REAL Santa please stand up?

“What are you looking at?” Rudy asked her angrily. He was in a mood. And not a good one.

Elizabeth continued to look at him. Her mouth hung open. She said not a word in answer to what seemed a ridiculous question.

Ten minutes before Rudy’s interruption, Elizabeth held up a receipt she had found while milling in my things. “Aren’t these the toys I got for Christmas? And Roberto’s, too?” she inquired.

She was 5 years old. And wise beyond her years.

Uh oh I thought.

“Um. Well,” I tried. “It’s just that it looks like everything we got.” Elizabeth had a knack for decoding and understanding written language. “Is DAD Santa?” she asked. She just wanted an honest answer. “Well,” I attempted again. I knew the value of telling the truth. I hated to take the magic away from her, but I also knew she trusted me to be honest with her. “Yes. Dad is Santa. We bought, wrapped, and surprised you and Roberto with your Christmas gifts.”

That’s when Rudy forced the bedroom door open. His angry face was nowhere near the image of white bearded Santa. He stormed back out. Elizabeth’s mouth continued to hang open.

I hugged her small frame.

A piece of innocence lost. For a little girl.

Roberto hung on to Santa until he was 10 years old. He refused to believe the other kids at school claiming, “Santa is fake!”. Roberto just knew Santa was real. There was no way he wasn’t. Yet, the more he heard kids shouting “fake!” the more he wondered if they were right and he was wrong.

“Mom, is Santa real?” he asked me one day. “What do you think?” I quizzed. “I still believe he is real, but a lot of kids are saying he’s not.” “Follow your heart,” I encouraged him.

Days, weeks, or months later, the kids and I were at the mall. Shopping for nothing in particular. Just an average day. Probably a day in the spring. “Humph. I didn’t get the makeup I wanted from the Easter Bunny,” Elizabeth began. “Well, I didn’t have time…. I mean, the Easter Bunny didn’t – ,” I started, trying to cover my mistake. “What!” Roberto yelled. “I knew it! There is no Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or even the Tooth-Fairy, is there?”

An open conversation ensued as we continued to walk around the mall. Like Elizabeth, Roberto appreciated being told the truth.

Another piece of innocence lost. For the middle child. Our oldest boy.

Years later, as I was relaxing reading on the bed in my room, Bradford slowly walked in. He was 6 or 7 years old.

“Mom, just tell me the truth. Don’t lie to me. Is Santa Claus real?” He was looking down at his hands, wringing them together. “You sure you want to know?” I asked, knowing he already knew the answer.

He looked at me. A single tear rolled down his cheek. “Yes. I want to know.” “Santa is not real. He is the spirit of Christmas. The magic,” I said. I didn’t want him to lose the joy of the holiday. The excitement.

He ran out of my room, back to his own room. To cry. To let the tears wash away his sadness. Not long after, he ran back into my room, plopped his upper body onto my bed, legs dangling off the edge, and looked directly into my eyes. “Does that mean the Easter Bunny isn’t real either?!”

“Yeah, sorry. Not real,” is all I could think to say.

“Elizabeth and Roberto know?” he questioned. “Yep. They didn’t want to spoil it for you. Wanted you to enjoy the idea,” I told him. “So, now I will have to keep it a secret? So little kids can still have fun,” he quietly mumbled. “Uh huh,” I answered, knowing he didn’t want to be treated like a baby.

A piece of innocence lost. For the last child in our family.

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