It happened. My inquisitive 9 year old asked me one of the most dreaded questions a mother could answer (other than the birds and bees of course), "Is Santa real?"
When he was much younger, like many families, we fed his holiday spirit with trips to see "Mall Santa." Then there was "Zoo Santa," and hell, there was even "Salvation Army Santa,"
We left food out for Santa and his reindeer along with a glass of wine or beer. I happily drank the wine and nibbled on the cookies. Come Christmas morning, Santa got all the credit for the fun toys - the toys he wanted. I, on the other hand, filled his stocking with socks and underwear, while Santa got credit for his pet rats or that really expensive marble run.
So when he asked on the car ride home, then asked again after I pretended to not hear him as I desperately sang off tune to the song on the radio, I was relieved when he simply answered his own question.
"Mom, it's ok." he said. "I know he's not real, like real life real. He lives in our hearts. He's part of Christmas spirit." He then proceeded to tell me the story about finding his pet rats, hidden in my closet (in a cage of course!), while he was looking for a hair brush - LAST Christmas!
The days maybe long, but the years are short when raising children. Just as much as he believed in Santa the past 9 years, I realized I wanted to believe in him just as much because that meant that for one more holiday season, he would write his letter to the North Pole, we would get him dressed up to take pictures with Mall Santa, and we'd leave cookies and wine for him on Christmas Eve. And as much as I complained that Santa got more kudos than me, I relished sneaking out at night to buy him the presents he wanted, wrapping them in gift wrap from Santa's workshop, which looked completely different from my own.
Just as is any rite of passage, accepting Santa lives in our hearts and not in our world is one every child must go through. Little did I know, as a parent, I'd be going through it as well. So this Christmas, rather than write a letter to the North Pole listing the things he wants, Riley will be writing a list of things he can donate to our local shelter. Instead of photos with Mall Santa, I'll make more of an effort to do more cheesy family photos to fill my holiday frames. Our traditions may look a little different than years past, but they will not be any less special. In fact, I think I'll still have my glass of wine and cookies this Christmas Eve.