Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Falling from Grace

In other Christmas news, Fred came up to me the other day when Una was at the other end of the room and hissed 'Just tell me quickly, is Santa real or is it just parents?'
I said 'what do you think?'
She said: 'Santa?' (doubtfully). I raised my eyebrows in a way that I hoped was non-commital.
She said, 'Just tell me.'
We went down to the bedroom. And it emerged, that yes, Santa was parents. And she was cool with that, really. She'd figured as much, probably ages ago.

And then - tragic that I am - I went and looked myself in the bathroom and cried for about 20 minutes. I don't know why it affected me so much. And I'm okay about it now. But it was like, all of a sudden, some of the magic of Christmas, the magic that you wait so long to return after your own fall from grace, so you can experience it through your children, was sucked away again. It was like I fell all over again (though I honestly have no memory of the transition from belief to non-belief). Honesty was always my policy, but also it was convenient for us for Fred to know the truth, that we can't afford big presents this year - we'd said as much only earlier that day, how it would be a relief when it was all out in the open. 'Did I sell out Fred's childhood,' I asked Martin, 'for our convenience?' No, no. Of course we didn't. She asked. She wanted to know the truth*.

Don't tell Una, we said. You mustn't tell Una. And she hasn't.
But she did come home from school and say to me mystified, 'I tried to tell some of the other kids at school and they wouldn't believe me!'
Oh my god. We clutch her and plead - we're doing some serious facetalking now: 'Don't tell ANYONE. It's not for you to tell.'
'But they wouldn't believe me!' And I can tell she's tried - really tried - to convince them. I'm gutted that it's our kid who's the whistle blower. Me! How could this happen?

Strangely enough we still managed to get Fred to sit with Santa.
I wonder if it will be the last time? She was very shy, and obviously felt like a bit of a dill. Not so Una, she told Santa all about the walking talking blinking pony she wants and the doll who can really ride it and really hold on all by itself and say anything Una wants it to say. We didn't get an official shot this year, Martin's card wouldn't scan when it came time to pay. Luckily Martin had got a few snapshots with the phone. And this photo is much more natural than the pose they called for - seriously, let the kids talk to Santa for thirty seconds before getting them to switch on the fake smiles for the camera!

*I am a little ashamed to tell you that a few days later when she asked about the tooth fairy as I was looking at her teeth (quick Mum, come downstairs for a minute), I looked her in the eye and said 'Oh no, the tooth fairy's real.' I just couldn't face that fall too, not before she's even lost a single tooth.


  1. It's a strange thing. Our lot just didn't ever ask. Not to this day, and they're 22, 20, 18 and 15. Actually, one did ask, once. And the response from a sibling was: "of course, Santa's real, do you think Mum and Kate could afford all that". Noice.
    I also know that once one in our lot did know, no one let on. They were super protective of the younger ones and kept the dream alive. Some kind of sibling growing up and taking part in the care and raising of that younger child. Interesting. I suspect it's the case in other families. And yes, we also kept the tooth fairy going for a lot longer, it seems. I used to print out tiny little messages (in about 6pt) and tear the paper into a little scroll, dip it in tea and tie it with a piece of hair and leave it where the tooth had been laid out for collection. It worked a charm for YEARS. Often it was a receipt for payment, or a letter thanking the child and what would happen to the tooth. I wish I'd kept some of the stories. They were good.

  2. Pen, what a classic anecdote. God I love your kids. I love their honesty, and yours. And what is it about the tooth fairy? I believed in her a lot longer than stupid Santa. Mum and Dad used to write teeny letters with eensy footprints and I loved it! Fred won't lose out by suspending her disbelief a little longer. All of these myths are a two-way act of faith and love between the teller and the hearer, don't you think? At some point, on some level, just like with Santa, she'll realise that her belief is as important to you as it was to her, even as she decries the falseness of it all.

    I've been drinking wine, so this might seem more eloquent to me than it does to you. Perhaps I should have sent a private email instead!

  3. I love reading about Fred, and your interaction with her. From the time she was in utero until now, I feel like you have always nurtured her imagination and curiosity. And in this case, I guess it's her curiosity that has cornered her imagination! :) It's better than being cornered by the kids in the neighbourhood to break the news (which happened to me, at my dismay.)
    Now that J is 7, sometimes I wonder if we should let him off the hook too.
    You have a very special little girl there Penni! I think she is beautiful :) I hope this Christmas is more special and full of wonder than ever for her!

  4. She probably doesn't fully believe you. Part of her is on the side of the kids at school who know you're wrong. Even when she says she knows it's not true, she can still hear the sleighbells and reindeers on the roof.

    What you know to be true and yet believe in your heart are two quite different things. So the magic is still there. It won't start to dissipate until she's a teenager and even then, she'll still want to pretend.

  5. I did a similar thing when Son #1 was 10. He found out about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny in one traumatic week and when he asked me ... tremblingly ... several days later if the Advent Fairy was real I grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye and said OMG yes child, of COURSE the Advent Fairy is real! Of course!

    I just knew he couldn't take any more.

    (The Advent Fairy is a big deal in our house, as she brings little trinkets and treasures to the advent table throughout December).

  6. ps. Katiecrackernuts tooth fairy efforts thrill me to bits.

  7. We've had this same conversation with First Born recently. We told him he had stumbled on to a very grown up secret and he had to be very grown up and not tell ANY kids at all. He was tickled to bits with the responsibility. I've noticed (happily) that he seems to have decided to lapse back into believing. He hasn't questioned the tooth fairy yet.

  8. It's fascinating that belief isn't one way or the other but a continuum, and their position on it is in constant flux. When I told Fred that the tooth fairy was real the first thing she sais was 'so that means Santa is real too!'

  9. Mieke has quizzed me about the tooth fairy more than once but never Santa. Which kind of puzzles me because there's freaking Santas everywhere. I'm not ready for her to know the truth yet so I will continue to be vague and turn the question back to her when she asks. They learn everything so early now don't they? Or perhaps I was just totally naive...

  10. Oh God, I hope my children never ask this.

  11. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Maybe Fred could tell my Mum about Santa? Santa kept leaving presents for me, overnight, under my stocking at my parents' house, until the Christmas I was in hospital having my own baby. A good twenty years after I stopped believing.

    I always wondered why Santa didn't wrap presents for us, when he did for my friends, and then my best friend noticed that Santa's handwriting was the same as her Mum's. Then there was the year all the Best Friend's presents got stolen on Christmas Eve and they had to break it to her little sister that Santa wouldn't be coming after all. Naturally she already knew, and was just playing along to make sure "Santa" kept coughing up.