Last night at dinner, my younger son who is nearly two weeks away from turning 9, declared, in his usual snide and sarcastic way that he no longer believes in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny (and likely other mythical creatures that he could not remember to rattle off at that moment). My husband and 12-year old son took great joy in this proclamation while I sat, head hung low, realizing that yet another milestone had been crossed in my child’s life journey. One that, with him being my baby, I certainly was not ready for.
“Who do you think brings all those presents every year?” I asked defiantly. I was determined to disprove this and console myself that there was still a faint glimpse of fairy dust floating around in his brain.
He smiled so wide that his eyes were squinting and he tried mightily to hold back the giggles. “Um, uh, I don’t know,” he stammered, surely seeing in my eyes that I simply wanted some evidence that he was not growing up rapidly right before my eyes. “Just kidding! I believe! Of course it’s Santa!” He laughed through the words and I knew he was just humoring me, understanding on some level of my irrational maternal need to keep my child young and innocent. Or, just maybe, there was still some wonder in his mind as to whether or not that chubby, red-suited, bearded fellow shoved himself down our narrow chimney each Christmas eve. Yeah, not likely.
“Who do you think eats the cookies and drinks the milk we leave out?” I jabbed back at him. He grinned again, realizing that his mommy was not about to give up the good fight. “Well, maybe it’s Buddy!” He was assigning blame to our beloved dog who steals food off his plate every morning as he dawdles through breakfast not swallowing up his english muffin or waffles fast enough while the dog stands guard waiting, hoping for a merciful bite. “But,” he sighed dramatically. “It probably is Santa! Don’t worry, I believe!”
He went on to share, however, that he did witness, one Easter eve, as he mistakenly wandered into the kitchen after bedtime, two baskets and some candy laying out on the table. “I know Daddy was making those baskets up for us.” And when I challenged him further on the Tooth Fairy, my beloved husband could not resist but to sarcastically point out that my son invariably ends up with the exact same amount of cash that resides in my wallet each time he safely and securely tucks his newly displaced tooth under his pillow. Both my children laughed hysterically at his comment and I knew, right there, that the jig was up. I wondered, however, why my young son still carried on, with such painstaking effort, the rituals that we had taught and replayed time and again with the Tooth Fairy or with Santa or the myriad other false icons that we suggested brought magic into our home. Why was it that, just last week, he spent five minutes finding the perfect spot to place his tooth so that the “Tooth Fairy” would find it? Did he realize it was me sneaking into his room, after he had fallen asleep (and before I had fallen off and forgotten to replace his tooth with the required cash that lay waiting in my wallet) and wanted to ensure I had an easy extraction of the tooth so as not to have to move his head around too much and risk waking and blowing my cover? Was he, in fact, carrying on this tradition to make me feel better to ensure that his position as mommy’s baby and devoted child was not tarnished as he watched me struggle through the transition to having a teenage son with his older brother? Was he that masterful?
Knowing him, perhaps.
Quite simply, his superpowers of being a child who wants to protect his mother’s innocence may very well have trumped my efforts to be a mother who wants to protect her child’s innocence.
This morning, as I was dropping my kids off at school, I was reflecting on the conversation from last night and the subsequent conversations I had with my younger son trying mercifully to break him down and find out what he really believed. I realized that, right there, at the dinner table last night, we took a giant step forward. We moved from being a family with young children with whom we had to devise elaborate fantasies to protect from the truthful realities of grown-up life to a family with nearly adolescents who were beginning to understand the ways of the world. They had vocabularies that explained their feelings and ours in ways that surprised me on a regular basis. They had developed a sophistication that I equally loved and dreaded. They were growing up. While I relish the fact that my older son still asks me on a nightly basis to tuck him in (despite the fact that the request comes from a voice that is getting lower and lower each night), I realize that in four years he will be getting his learner’s permit and the next big declaration – if I am lucky enough to be clued in – might be that he has kissed a girl or, heaven forbid, that he has had sex. We are entering a new frontier, friends and I am hanging on by my fingernails to the old one.
Several nights ago, before my younger son burst my bubble, he and I were in my bedroom reading and having our nightly chit chat. “Mommy, this is my favorite time of the day,” he casually mentioned in between sharing stories of the other kids in his third grade class. “I hope we do this always.”
Me too, pal.