I’m pretty sure something is going on here. I think my daughter, nine, might be onto the fact that Santa Claus is, you know …
In keeping with innocent traditions, her mother and I have never mentioned this to her. We’ve been waiting for her to mention it to us. Like many parents, I’ve actually dreaded the day for some time now. But she has maintained her allegiance. In fact, her allegiance has recently become—almost too sure. There were moments a few years ago when she questioned everything and we had to make sure the handwriting and the color of the wrapping paper, etc., matched up in the right way.
But that questioning is absent this year. And I find it interesting that she has started to use our built-in excuses whenever the idea of St. Nick is challenged.
Like, the other day, my son, six, was talking about how he could ask Santa for anything and it didn’t matter how much it cost.
And before I could cut in and explain budgetary limitations, my daughter said to him, in a tone that seemed oddly friendly and loving, “Actually, Santa still has to pay for the stuff, even though he’s making it at the North Pole. He also sometimes orders stuff from stores. That’s why the packaging will look like it’s from Target.”
It was an odd moment. This wasn’t one sweetly believing child conferring with another—my daughter seemed almost maternal in her explanation.
In short, I think my daughter might have stopped believing. I mean, kids at her school shout it out in the halls, and she’s fascinated with the practices of Hanukkah. But the interesting thing is that my daughter doesn’t seem to want her parents to know that she has altered her beliefs. It’s a game of collusion—we all seem to be acknowledging, without officially acknowledging, that we know. A psychiatrist would have a field day with us.
Or maybe she’s on the verge of not believing, and she’s still holding on to it, even more tightly—the way many adults do, in fact, with relationships they know they shouldn’t be in. It’s something that she’s working out in her head. No amount of parental myths or trite advice can help her.
She’s becoming very independent lately. She started playing basketball; she always wants to run off with friends. In fact, she admittedly excels when she’s not under the watchful eye of her parents.
“Dad,” she said to me the other day, “you’re so protective.” She said it as though she felt sorry for me.
And then there was our annual trip to the mall—once the holidays hit, we bask in the consumer spirit, buying nothing except eggnog lattes, listening to the kids call out all the things they want. On this trip, we happened upon Santa. My daughter casually related to my son that this Santa was the authentic one, as opposed to the Santa at the mall next door (not to mention the redneck Santa at that suburban mall we’ve been to).
So there was Santa, and there was my son, eyes wide, wanting to move closer but seemingly singed by the heat of Santa’s fame. I held his hand and moved him to an area where Santa could see him. Santa spotted us and waved. My son waved, face flushing. It’s really cruel, when you think about it—such an innocent thing to do to a child, show them the magic of the season, and yet there will inevitably come that time when your child realizes you’ve been flatly lying to them.
And at that exact moment with my son, that’s when I caught her—my daughter was standing back, next to her mom, and the look on her face was not the look of a child seeing Santa. She was watching her little brother with the same smile that her mother had.
“Do you want to …?” I asked her, meaning, do you want to wave at that old dude in the red suit?
“No,” she said.
My son asked her why not.
My daughter said, “I’ve seen him.”
And I think I know exactly what she meant.