Gone are the days of enchanting storytelling, the candid and uncomplicated wishes that could only be made by a child, the unknowable moments of trust she put into this man and his elves to bring to her what she asked for each year.
Gone are the innocent yet mischievous eyes twinkling back at me as she whispered in Santa’s ear, the early Christmas mornings that left her both delighted and astonished by so many ribbons and bows. Gone are the illusions of a land called the North Pole.
She knows now.
I’ve made Elle promise to not tell any of the little kids she knows. She’s promised to not even tell her friends or her enemies. With a good heart, Elle is to let them have as many years as they wish to have so long as they believe. They will all find out soon enough, maybe in a more devastating fashion or maybe not, but it will be just as much a vulnerable moment for them as it was for her.
When the words left my tongue – no, he’s not real – I stopped for a moment and waited for her to react with sadness, disbelief, some tears, something…I don’t know. I’m not sure what I expected, to be honest with you. I thought for sure this revelation would leave her stunned, given that she asked the question – is he real? – with some doubt in her voice, a shakiness that begged me to tell her what she already knew wasn’t true.
And, of course, as she is ever so curious, Elle keeps raising new questions as though she’s trying to understand how she was fooled for so many years. She doesn’t feel slighted, by any means, but she is trying to gain a sound perspective on what is real and what isn’t.
Eventually, Elle will settle in to this new kind of childhood, the kind that lets her be privy to the information only grown-ups are supposed to know. She will become accustomed to playing along and being the holder of enchanting, magical stories to tell the littlest ones when they begin to doubt it all.
Elle is part of the bigger picture from this moment on. I only hope she finds it to be as enjoyable and rewarding as it was when she was on the other side of the truth, where Santa was the only one in the world who could make real the possibilities in all of her wishes. She will finally see that it’s the people around her that love her the most – family, friends, and caring strangers, all the same – who really made all of her wishes come true.
She isn’t the only one missing a piece of what was once known and unknown. Even I felt a little bit of my heart breaking as I struggled with the truth, trusting that my words wouldn’t cause too much harm and more than halfway hoping she would choose to walk away in disbelief at what I had to say. But it was time to say it out loud and deep inside my core, I knew this. All this means is that the minutes, hours, days, oh my goodness, the years of her life are going by much faster than I anticipated.
Just as Elle seemed so intensely ready to hear the truth, I was just as unprepared. The inevitable moment would have come to pass either way and as much as it hurts to not have just one more year of her believing, that moment has passed and is over and done.
She knows now.
(pictured below: Santa with my mother in 1956, me in 1980, Elle in 2010)