Show me a parent who’s a little wigged out by the inevitable birds & bees talk with their child and I’ll show you a parent who hasn’t even thought about – let alone attempted – the Santa Claus talk. Heads up: nothing – nothing – prepares you for that ambush while innocently watching a sitcom. Give me reproduction or Heather Has Two Daddies any day of the week, thankyouverymuch.
“You guys buy the stuff, right?” It came from my oldest, an 11-year-old who is blissfully naïve, heartwarmingly immature, and constantly questioning why he can’t use words like crap. Sixth grade rocks. He held his newly formed Christmas list.
“Why do you ask?” my husband’s panicked eyes pleaded for me to jump right in at any time. I was too busy weighing the odds. I was sensing that the question held an honest desire for truth, yet I couldn’t be certain a bluff wasn’t involved.
Last year I was confident the belief was still there. I knew because my wide eyed middle schooler dutifully wrote his letter to Santa without question. Sure, there was talk on the school bus and there were kids with older siblings and yes, there was a slight wane in his interest in gathering around to watch those goofy Christmas shows from the 70s (aw, c’mon, can’t you pause the game - it’s Heat Miser!!!!). Still, I knew the dreamlike image of a man in a red suit rousing him from sleep (at what – five years old?) was embedded in his memory. I could tell there was something in his eyes that wasn’t quite sure he wanted to know.
My husband’s cough seemed forced. “Well what have you heard?” (good deflection, pops).
It was as we’d expected. Damn those kids on the bus with older brothers. Ugh, what to do? First, we had to consider the sibling factor. We’ve got three more littles coming around the curve and I love my household full of innocence and wonder. It’s so truly magical primarily because it’s well, fleeting. Could it be over already? Second, I wasn’t entirely sure he could pull off a covert mission of betrayal to the brothers he still chased around with swords and the sister he lived to torment. This could not be a good thing.
Sensing our concern, he pointed out that he already stopped believing in the Easter Bunny a long time ago (because really, a bunny?) and he still keeps that from his siblings. And that he’d gotten the “other” talk almost two years ago and never spills on that, either. Good points.
Why was this so much harder?
It’s simply a door that closes on childhood that just simply makes us sad. It’s a milestone that isn’t measured in pencil marks on a doorframe, can’t be captured on film and doesn’t exactly make our lives easier like some other benchmarks. Honestly, sometimes we can’t wait for them to get just a little bit older. We anxiously await the first hot dog that is eaten on a bun. We secretly rejoice when swing pumping is officially mastered, allowing us a few more quiet minutes on a playground bench instead of in a sandpit wearing sandals. Some might even want to dance naked when their youngest FINALLY starts to toilet train (oh, just me?). These are milestones indeed and we look forward to them. But some rites of passage sure do stink.
While we openly dread learner’s permits and after-prom parties, we tend to forget about the smaller life moments that affect our kids –and us -- before acne: Their first order off the adult menu that is actually eaten in its entirety; the way their new big teeth completely change the look of their faces, quietly erasing the baby-ness from their features; the first time you notice – really notice – their legs are so much longer since the last time you looked. It’s these times that grip our hearts and keep us frozen just for a moment. Just slight, inconspicuous reminders that calendar pages keep turning and candles on cakes keep taking up more space on the frosting.
“Yes, it’s us” my husband blurts out. Subtlety clearly isn’t his strong suit. I probably would’ve gone a softer route but I admired his zeal. The last thing you want in life is your kid being made fun of by a bunch of punks on a school bus.
“And it was me in the Santa suit” he spat. (Whoa, easy there, Tonto, give the kid a minute to digest….)
It was a nod and a matter-of-fact shrug that acknowledged the news. He handed me his Christmas list and looked spy-like over both shoulders, “Mom, I really don’t need #8 on my list. You can cross it off.” Another check of the perimeter and then a wink and a whisper, “It’s kind of expensive.”
Well break my heart in half and bring on the acne. I’ll be dammed if that kid doesn’t get #8 this year. He might even get two.
Prologue: this story originated in 2004.
Epilogue: that 11-year-old, now 29, never did tell.
Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and recently was featured in HuffPost. She appeared in the Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone,” which featured her essay The Thinking Girl's Thong. Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements. (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore). A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook & @Eyerollingmom on Instagram. Her collection of essays, A Momoir, can be found here