Joseph: Mom, I have something I need to ask you. It's really stressing me out.
Mom: Go ahead.
Joseph: It's really weird.. I mean how do you get to know Santa Claus' phone number? And... is there really a Santa Claus?
Mom: Well... what do you think?
We've been through and around and under this question for the last couple of years now. I have always skirted the issue because I really wanted the "magic" to last as long as possible. But then there comes a time, when you are in the Y parking lot, and your ten and a half year old son is staring you down, asking:
"Are you just lying to us? (that hurt) Is he really a guy or what? I just need to know."
What would you do? Do I start telling more elaborate "lies" to cover up the last ten years of stories I told about this wonder guy who flies around the world overnight, delivering Hot Wheels and Barbie campers to all the good little boys and girls? Conflicted. That's what I was. Here's a kid who so badly wanted to believe... as you will soon find out.
Mom: Okay. Do you really want to know the truth? And if I tell you, you have to promise not to tell your sister. Do you understand?
Joseph: (Anxious and nervous) Yes... I understand.
Mom: Are you reeeeeeeally sure? (Taking a tremendous deep breath)
Joseph: MOM! Just tell me!
I then proceeded to unload the awful truth. When I was finished, he just looked down at his feet and didn't say anything.
Mom: Are you okay?
Joseph: Yeah. I'm just disappointed. I mean... for ten and a half years... that's a really long time... I totally believed in that guy. Of course you know his phone number... wow... I guess I know it too now... because it's our phone number. This is big, Mom... I really wanted to meet him and stuff. I just feel sad. I kind of want to cry. Do you think there's a guy that lives in the North Pole anyway? Was Santa Claus ever living? When did he die? How did you get those emails sent to me from the PNP (Portable North Pole website)? I suppose there's and app for that (very glumly). I mean, how did you get that reindeer to walk by the window? (hoof prints I made with a play dough cookie cutter in the snow six years ago) What about when the elves dropped off a present, and I saw you and dad putting it together... because... Santa... didn't... have time... oh man, this is big. I'm just really blown away. (I must have done a pretty good job with my Santa stories) Mom, I think I'm going to have to write a paragraph about this. (Whaddyuknow?) When did you find out about all of this?
Mom: Well, Nana and Papa told me when I was in 3rd grade.
Joseph: Wow... that must have stinked for you.
Mom: The word is "stunk" and yeah it did... but I kind of already knew. Did you kind of suspect it was us?
At this point, my heart is being ripped from my chest, and I am welling up with tears. I wanted to take it all back and say, "Just kidding! He's a real guy!" But I knew I couldn't go back. It had been done. It was out there. My mind was spinning, trying to figure out how to make this all better, so I launched into my "It's the Spirit of Santa We Want To Keep Believing In" story. I dug deep for that one. We talked about generosity and caring and how the story of Santa teaches us how important those personal characteristics are... but it was too late. He was just staring off into the night. I had to sweeten the pot.
Mom: Okay, here's the deal. I didn't want to tell you this right away, but you are now officially a member of the Secret Santa Circle. (Where do I get this stuff?)
Mom: Well, now that you know the secret, you get to help mom and dad make it really special for your sister.
Joseph: Like, do I have to wear a Santa Suit? I don't really want to do that. That looks too hot and mustache-y.
Mom: No, you, my friend, get to... wait for it...get to eat-
Joseph: ... EAT THE COOKIES????? YES! I knew it! And can I make clues like a scavenger hunt for Maya so she has to find her presents?? And maybe I can hide something extra special... like a cool ornament in the tree? And can I drink the milk before it gets warm? Are you going to wake me up at midnight? Do we do this with the lights on or off? I think we should turn at least one on right? So we don't trip over stuff. I want to be in the Secret Santa Circle... it sounds fun... but, man, that was some heavy stuff. .. hard news to hear tonight. Let's not talk about the Easter Bunny, okay? I don't think I can take it.
Mom: Fine by me.
We finally left the car and walked into the Y to work out for a bit. Periodically, he'd stop his work on the elliptical, look at me and just shake his head. He took this news far harder than I thought he would. It was a tough night. When we got home, we quietly ate supper and then I had to take few phone calls. He asked if he could watch "Home Alone" on ON DEMAND. I don't usually let the kids watch a movie on a school night, but I could see he needed to work through this Santa thing. When I put the kids to bed, and went downstairs to catch the news, I noticed the DVR blinking. Upon further investigation, I found that Joseph had set up the DVR to record all the Tim Allen "Santa Claus" movies and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." This must be I Can't Believe There's No Santa therapy.
I was feeling sad. I knew the magic of Santa had come to an end for Joseph. But as I was going through the events of the night, I realized something. For the last ten years, he's been all in... not a shred of unbelief. It was a good, magical ride.
Somewhere around 3 am, I heard someone breathing by me, and I woke up with a startle to see Joseph standing by my bed, looking very urgent and concerned.
Joseph: (whispering) One more question.
Joseph: Would you have ever really given me coal?