Last year, Behr asked me the question I had been dreading. I had picked him up early for an orthodontist appointment and he was telling me about his day. He told me that some of his friends were talking crazy about how Santa was not real.
I asked, “What did you think about that?”
“I told them they were crazy.” He also rationalized that maybe their parents are buying gifts from their kids’ lists, but Santa was in charge of the surprises.
I told him that sounded perfectly logical, hoping we were done.
And then he asked, “Mom. Is Santa real?”
I needed to make sure he was ready for the answer. I hypothesized a few scenarios for him. I asked if he was told that Santa was not real would he think anything would change. If we would all of a sudden shutdown Christmas? He said he was certain that no matter what I said, we would still celebrate Christmas and nothing would change. And I believed him. I should not have.
So I told him.
And then he cried.
And then I cried with him.
Here we are, sitting in my truck outside of the orthodontist crying and I don’t know how to shut it down in the two minutes before he is expected to walk into the office to have his mouth device adjusted.
I wish my memory could do that moment justice, but I know it won’t. Whatever I said that day can’t be recounted exactly, so please bear with me. What I recall was when I was talking to him, I had one of those parenting moments where my brain was telling me, “Look out! You are parenting now, lady!”
I told him that it was true that Santa was not actually coming to his house and putting out presents, but what was real was actually way cooler. What’s actually happening is for many generations, people have taken on the role of Santa and have all agreed to keep that secret until their kids were ready to be a part of the team. And getting that many grown-ups to agree to something of that magnitude is way more impressive than a guy in a suit who hands out gifts.
He considered it, and then he had questions.
“Who puts out the presents at our house?”
“Me and dad.”
“Where do you keep them all?”
“All over the house. I’ve had three presents on the shelf for two weeks in my studio and you never noticed.”
And then he started to laugh. He laughed over the fact that he never noticed; that it was actually all so simple. He also told me that if I had told him that Santa was real, then he planned to set up a surveillance system to catch him. I believed him because he once set up a digital camera to record W. eating his peanut butter and crackers behind his back.
We hugged it out and he was finally able to go to his orthodontist appointment.
But we weren’t done. He came out of the appointment with more questions and recollections. It was the only thing he wanted to talk about that day.
He asked, “Do you remember that one time you told me that you had to email Santa if I made changes to my list?”
“Yes. I do remember telling you that.”
“Sometimes we get things that aren’t on our lists. Who picks those things out?”
“Dad picks out some and I pick out some.”
I explained to it how hard it was to keep a secret, how hard it was to sneak around to buy gifts and hide them. And then he started putting some other things together.
“What about Elf on the Shelf? My friends have those in their house, what’s up with the elf?”
“The parents do that, too,” I said. “And I’m telling you, do you know how many times Miss Slone has texted me because she forgot to do the Elf that night? Y’all don’t even realize how hard it is to come up with clever ideas to do with that elf. That elf is a pain in the ass That’s why we don’t do it.”
And then he got sad. He told me he was a little disappointed. The magic was over.
I told him, “Sure. You could look at it that way. Or you could consider that you are now responsible for making sure the magic stays alive for others.”
“What do you mean?”
“Fine. There is no one person ‘Santa’ because everyone is Santa. I’m Santa. Dad’s Santa. And now you are also Santa.”
He was awestruck for a moment. “I’m Santa.”
“It’s a team effort. Me and dad are Team Santa, and now you can also be part of the team. Your job is to not ruin the magic for others.”
And since then, we’ve had many discussions about Team Santa. The rules are that we will never tell him what he is getting from Team Santa, but he can help coordinate surprises for other family members, to know where the gifts are hidden, pick out the candy, and be the wingman for any gift pick-ups.
This year, ever since Thanksgiving, he’s been watching me and Hubs like a hawk. Any parental conversation we’ve attempted in private has been interrupted by a curious little Behr. He was determined to make sure he was not going to be cut out of any Team Santa conversations. He also keeps reminding me that I am doing a lousy job hiding gifts.
After he and I had our first Team Santa conversation, I became kind of fixated on how other parents told their kids.
When I was a kid, I learned from reading Judy Blume’s Superfudge, and then asked my mom for confirmation. It was the same scenario as with Behr, we were in her truck and I asked her about it. She told me that we would always do Santa at our house as long as we had people who believed. My job was not to ruin it for my little sister.
I started texting friends and asking them how they told their kids and how they learned about Team Santa.
My friend L. told me that her kids caught her sneaking around the attic getting the gifts.
My sister told me, “I believed a lot longer than my friends. They would argue about if Santa was real and I would just listen to them and was too scared to ‘not believe’ like them because I was not about to miss out on Santa goodies because I didn’t believe anymore. At some point around middle school, I realized the truth but never said a word to mom about it – just kept playing along and sticking to that today.”
My cousin told me that she never had the Santa talk with anyone, but she caught my mom putting out gifts. She also said she hates her Elf on the Shelf. “I almost got caught moving ours a couple of times this year.”
Now that Slone’s kids are grown, they have taken over Elf on the Shelf duties. Slone sent me a photo of a hallway in her house lined with her kids’ baby pictures hanging in frames, now with green dry-erase marker mustaches drawn on their tiny faces, an elf sitting on the ledge of one of the frames.
I couldn’t wait to show Behr.