The new swimming season is in full swing. That means I am spending a good portion of my day sitting on a hard bench as my three children take turns swimming laps and practicing dives.
Tonight, Eden is in the stands besides me. My seven year old has recently made a new friend with one of the other little girls who sits on the sidelines, which is great. Eden makes friends extremely carefully, at an almost glacial pace, so it is a relief to see her get on so quickly and well with someone.
Eden is waiting for her new friend and busy setting up her toys along the long bench to create either some sort Barbie bungalow or a My Little Pony pasture o’dreams for tonight’s entertainment. But then she stops what she is doing and looks at me with worry on her face.
“Ellie next door says there is no Santa, Mom, and that there is no tooth fairy. She says the parents do all the work.”
For the last few months, our third grade neighbor has been on a mission to destroy my daughter’s belief in Santa. I take a moment and imagine wringing the neck of this particular little girl, after all dead men tell no tales, but Eden is watching and waiting for me to somehow shore up her faith in these mythical creatures.
“Well,” I start slowly, careful to keep all murderous thoughts out of my facial expression, “That is quite a claim.”
Eden nods her head miserably and whispers, “I think…I think that maybe she might be right, but I just don’t know what is true or not anymore.”
There is silence for a moment. In the background I can hear the middle school coach shout something to the kids in the pool about streamlining their position.
I don’t know quite what to say. Eden is no longer looking for reassurance, she wants the truth about Santa. Basically, my youngest child, my baby is asking for permission to grow up.
I stare at her fearful but expectant face and try to formulate the kindest explanation possible, one that won’t leave her disillusioned or bitter. Not for the first time this evening, I mentally curse that my husband is not here to do this job in my place.
“Well,” I begin again, “It seems to me that you have two choices. You can either go on having faith in Santa, no matter what Ellie says or you can tell me that you want to know the truth.”
Eden, her voice wavering slightly but with a thread of steel in her answer says quickly, “I want the truth.”
“Well,” (apparently tonight I am incapable of beginning any conversation with a different word) “A long time ago there really was a good man who was very kind and loved to do things for other people. He was very, very good at giving others things that they needed or wanted.
So after he died, many people wanted a way to remember him and his kindness, so they began secretly giving presents like he did. And giving presents feels really, really good. More and more people started doing this and being part of the secret.
The secret grew and grew so that now, on Christmas Eve, parents and grandparents and big brothers and sisters everywhere leave out presents for little boys and girls. That way we can all remember St. Nicholas and the best present of all, Jesus.”
Eden’s face looks like she is three seconds away from crying. I feel exactly the same inside. Growing up is hard and watching someone you love grow up is even harder.
“So Santa really was real, once. I was right to believe in him. Right?” Eden questions me, unsure.
I pull her close to me and hug her tight. I whisper into her hair, “You were absolutely right to believe in him. Absolutely.”
My daughter hugs me back quickly but then stands on her own. “Now I know the secret, so I can help you know,” she tells me proudly.
I nod my head, “You will be a great help. And the best way you can help is by keeping the secret. Don’t ruin the surprise for someone else.” I’m thinking ahead to this Christmas, “Like your cousins. Aunt Jen doesn’t want them to know the secret quite yet.”
Eden nods solemnly, feeling pleased and grown up at being in on the secret. “I won’t say a single word!” she promises and I know she’ll keep her word. “But if they’re sixteen and they still don’t know the truth about Santa, I’m going to tell them then. You can’t drive a car without knowing the truth about Santa.”
Wise words, wise words indeed.