As if the thought of my younger son turning ten (TEN! How could that be?) were not enough to make me feel as aged as the jolly old fellow in the red suit… As if the chilly winter mornings of Beijing were not enough to jolt my brittle bones and middle age paunch and cause me to say "oh oh" rather than "ho ho"… As if the mere idea of drawing up a Christmas shopping list didn’t wear me out the way the elves are wiped out the morning after they’ve pulled an all nighter in the gift workshop…
My son bounded in to my room at seven a.m. on a December Sunday morning. And before I could open my mouth to wish him Happy Birthday, he says, "I knew it. Santa isn’t real."
I pretended to wipe the sleep from my eyes to buy myself a nanosecond to come up with a reason for why I hadn’t come clean before. Yes, he’s THAT type of kid. He would have easily pinned the blame on me for destroying his life by hiding behind a lie. We like to say our son is "all heart." Every single emotion is lived out 101%. Happiness and excitement; anger and despair. I was afraid those were coming and as I have learned to do since the moment he was born a decade ago, I tiptoed around the issue.
Step one, fact-finding. "What makes you say that?" Apparently he and my husband had convened an early morning caucus – one where son asked father to tell him the truth. We have never sugarcoated anything for either of our sons. We have merely selected what angles of the answer to present at any one moment. Had I been the parent of choice for the inquisition that morning, I would have said the same thing my husband said.
Step two, hedge a bit to buy more time. "Why did you want to know?" The answer: "So that I would know if I could still ask for a Christmas gift." I had told him after his birthday party two days before the Santa discussion that he had received enough presents to last two birthdays AND two Christmases. He learned well from our example, no need for sugarcoating.
Step three, give the mother’s touch. Since I didn’t know the exact conversation that transpired between father and son, I don’t know if he had received enough reassurance that we weren’t meaning to deceive him. I had just read a beautiful account, written by a mother, of how to break the news to your children, and I vowed to learn it by heart for when the inevitable came. But the inevitable came before I had memorized my script. I had to rely on my own words. I hugged him and said "Yes, Santa isn’t real, but it’s a tradition some parents choose to do at Christmas because they want their children to believe in magic. And they don’t tell the truth because they want to keep the magic longer. And you can still ask for a gift, even if you know the truth."
And as he bounded off to play with his new birthday presents, I had to keep from feeling that the magic hadn’t already begun to fade a little.
As if I needed any more help in having to admit that my son was growing up way too fast… As if I needed any more reminding that my son has always known what he needs to know, at his own pace and in his own time… As if I ever needed to doubt that his life is about creating and recreating the magic for himself, I tiptoed about in my head and whispered a prayer that he will never be too old to come talk to his parents.
Happy birthday, my boy. Don’t grow up too fast.
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Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado