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The Santa Talk

Photograph by Getty Images

The other day, my son said to my husband and me, “Oh, I need to take some time today and write a list for Santa.” Now that could be a pretty cute thing for your son to say if it were 2008, when your son was 6 years old. But being that my son is now 11, what he said was not so much cute as it was perplexing.

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I shot him a look that was part, “Are you serious?” (Raised eyebrow, slight worried smile.) And part, “Are YOU serious.” (Chin dangling, eyes narrowed, generally annoyed face.) “What,” my son answered, “I haven’t written him a letter, yet.”

I looked away to mask the weirded out expression on my face. Duuuude. He has got to be playing me right now. I started thinking about how I’ve tried my hardest to keep up the ruse of Santa through the years. And although I was certain he was just playing along last year, I kept going with the Santa thing for him, mostly because I knew it made him feel special at a time when his new baby sister was getting a lot of attention.

But this year? What the hell? He’s a very smart and perceptive kid; nothing gets past him. For sure, he’s just putting on. But, weirdly enough, we’d never had the Santa talk. And I just don’t want to have the Santa talk, even now, and he’s 11. Come on, I know that he knows the truth, and I’m pretty sure that he knows that I know that. But it’s like some strange, magic spell is broken if I come right out and say it. If I say, “Santa doesn’t exist,” then we’ve both acknowledged that my little boy is growing up and will never, ever be young enough to believe in Santa again. I know. What I’m saying is challenging my gag reflex, too. But here we are. I had no problem having the puberty and sex talk with the kid. And I don’t know how to have the Santa talk.

I’m OK with pretending that he doesn’t know I’m pretending to know he’s pretending to still believe in Santa Claus.

My son feigning this prolonged belief in Santa is all too familiar. I did the exact same thing when I was his age. I remember lying awake on Christmas eve but pretending to be asleep when my dad came in to check to see if they had the green light to get their Santa act on. I remember feeling way too old to be pretending about Santa. But I also remember loving the idea of it all, and feeling special knowing that my parents were going to all this trouble to keep us believing. And I remember pretending for them, because I saw the joy they got out of it, and because it made them happy that we were still “young enough” to believe.

They stopped at nothing to keep us drinking that Santa Kool-Aid. My parents would hire the same guy every year to come to our house dressed like Santa Claus. He would leave us astounded every time because, thanks to an earlier call to him by mom and dad, Santa already knew what we wanted for Christmas, like magic. And then they took it next level on Christmas Eve when they galloped back and forth with sleigh bells on the deck outside our bedroom simulating the reindeer hooves that had just landed. My parents went all out with that Santa thing, and damn straight we believed.

But that year, when I was just the age my son is now, as I sat listening to them prep, I was pretty sure my parents knew I was pretending. But it was then just as it is today with my son and me—we were all in denial. Just like me now, my parents didn’t want that phase to end. They didn’t want to acknowledge that their child was growing up.

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I could have said to my son, “Evan, I think we both know who Santa really is.” Because there’s no question—he knows. I’m OK with pretending that he doesn’t know I’m pretending to know he’s pretending to still believe in Santa Claus. I pretended for a few years, and it didn’t do me any harm. He can be my little boy for one more year. We don’t have to move on to the “know it all,” “too cool for school and Santa” phase yet. I don’t mind playing Santa for him another year to make him feel special, because, frankly, it makes me feel special, too.

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