DEAR PARENTS, THIS COLUMN IS NOT FOR THE SENSITIVE EYES OF CHILDREN...
This week I had, what shall forever more be known, as the conversation of doom with my eight year-old.
No, it wasn’t the bird and the bees. I didn’t field any awkward questions about where babies come from or what certain rude words meant.
He didn’t ask me any deep theological questions which would have necessitated me trying to explain to him my complicated beliefs about faith versus organised religion.
No, he simply said, as we drove to school on Wednesday morning: “Mammy, I really don’t think that Santa exists.”
I nearly crashed the car as the words caused me to suck air into my lungs so quickly to try and jolt my still asleep brain into a reasonable (not emotional) response.
“Really?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” he said, glancing at me trying, no doubt, to see if I flinched at his words. “I think you and daddy put the presents out after we go to bed on Christmas Eve.”
I feigned horror, then disbelief. “But Joseph,” I said. “When I go to bed there are never any toys out. How do you explain that?”
He did pause for a second, but just a second, before he answered: “Because daddy puts them out before he goes to bed.” This all seemed fairly rational to him and I was torn if truth be told.
He is in primary five. I’m told some of his friends no longer believe in the big man in the red suit. I don’t know whether lying outright in these circumstances is right or holding him up to ridicule in front of his friends and yet, I’m just not ready to let Santa and all his wonder go from my child’s life just yet.
I told him that his daddy goes to bed at the same time as me on Christmas Eve and perhaps he bought it - although when he went on to point out the physical impossibility of a fat man in a red suit delivering presents all around the world in just one day I felt myself losing the will to paddle my way out of it.
“Sure Santa is magic,” I told him. “And sure it would hardly be me, would it? I’d never fit back up the chimney,” I laughed before changing the conversation to something less explosive - like maybe dodgy theological issues or where babies come from.
We may get this year out of it, I realise but I know when the jig is up and by next year I’m sure Joseph will be invested into the league of guardians of the secret - keeping the magic alive for his wee sister.
I’m surprised at how sad this makes me.
I’ve been aware that my son is growing up. Quite often he adopts the demeanour of a pre-teen - sulking around the house and pushing his luck whenever he can. He has grown his hair to that shaggy dog style which was once famous with footballers in the ‘70s. He is permanently dressed in football gear and has an obsession with his XBox.
But there is still a little boy in there - one who loves cuddles, who needs to be reassured, who has the best and most contagious laugh on the planet and likes to believe in the magic of the world around him. He is, as his own teacher has said to me, a “real character” who sees the world in a way that only he does.
I have loved that his world has been a world of wonder even if, technically some of it is not real and it pains me as a parent to see those small, last vestiges of childhood being stripped away little by little.
I took Joseph and my niece to see Rise of the Guardians last week.
It’s a gorgeous wee film - not too dissimilar to The Neverending Story in that it is basically the fight of good against evil and a call for children to be allowed to believe in all things magical and wonderful.
I loved the movie and as it came to its conclusion I had to fight back tears - as the message of keeping hope, love and innocence alive for our children was brought to life.
We may have been lucky to have had eight Santa Christmases with Joseph so far but you can’t deny something magical goes when Santa’s true identity is revealed.
He’ll still get the same presents. He will still be showered with love. Santa will still be visiting our house for another few years yet thanks to also being the parents of a three year-old but something will have shifted.
I will try to hang on to the Santa belief for a bit longer, even if it is means blatantly lying. Sure it’s only a white one and unlikely to cause much harm. Childhood passes quickly enough without me hurrying it along but actually answering his questions like a responsible adult.
I’ll fob him off with tales of flying reindeer and magical fairy dust and how Santa watches over you if you don’t go to bed or misbehave and I’ll tell him that such things are very, very important. What else should a mammy do?