“Dad, I know the Santa Alarm isn’t real.”
The alarm my 6-year-old references is a tool we use to keep him upstairs on Christmas morning until he wakes us up and we’re all able to go down together. It’s something my father did to my brother and I for years (more than I’m willing to admit here). I’ve never actually specified what happens if the Santa Alarm is tripped, but years ago Will chose to believe all of his presents would disappear. I never confirmed that fear, but I didn’t exactly refute it either.
But apparently he broached the topic with kids at school, who told him they’ve been downstairs before their parents woke up. Heck, they even opened a gift or two. Lo and behold, none of Santa’s gifts self-destructed or magically transported themselves back to the North Pole.
“It just doesn’t make sense, dad. It’s impossible for the presents to just disappear. That’s how I know you’re lying about the Santa Alarm.”
First of all, never underestimate the ability of small children to start huge and complex discussions just before bedtime. Second, uh oh!
This is the first brick removed from the wall. The initial pinprick leak in the dam. The chink in the armor that will one day spiderweb across the magical innocence of my son’s youth until it finally shatters into a million pieces and disintegrates upon impact.
And honestly, I’m torn on how to feel.
I have walked the Santa tightrope ever since becoming a parent. Before Will was born, I swore I wouldn’t perpetuate the Santa Myth. I was going to be that parent who didn’t unnecessarily lie to his kids. I was going to promote logical thinking and watch with pride as my son used deductive reasoning to summarily disprove and dismiss Santa. And if that upset the parents of his school friends, too bad. They shouldn’t have lied to their kids.
But then I actually became a parent and witnessed firsthand the magic that comes with Santa. Because it is real.
I loved his excitement at the thought of a larger than life figure coming to visit him in the dead of night to deliver gifts. How he longed to feed the reindeer and make sure they’re hydrated enough to continue the journey. I envied the complete glee and wonder he displayed when one of Santa’s sleigh bells found its way into his stocking. Say what you want, but there truly is magic in it.
When he started putting two and two together about the Santa Alarm being fake, I was surprised my first emotion wasn’t fear, panic, and loathing the impending loss of youthful naivete. It was pride. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I was proud of him for checking with sources, applying reason, and coming to a common sense conclusion. The correct conclusion, I might add.
In that moment, I couldn’t lie to him. Yet I also didn’t come out and tell him the truth. Instead, I applauded his efforts and told him we all need to gather information and use it to determine what we do and do not believe in. I was like a shrink, turning it around on him and asking “Well what do YOU believe?” I felt like a government official at a press conference in that I would neither confirm nor deny the reality of the Santa Alarm.
Is it a cop-out? Yeah, kinda. But I also think it’s best right now.
He still believes in Santa. I like that. But I also know today it’s the Santa Alarm, but next year (or the year after or the year after that) it’s going to be doubting flying reindeer. And then the mathematical impossibility of Santa visiting every kid’s house in one night the world over. And eventually, the existence of the Big Man himself.
I think too many parents mourn the loss of youthful innocence, while forgetting to simultaneously celebrate the intellectual advancements maturity brings with it. Both have a place in our house, and neither one is better or worse than the other.
One day Santa will be gone, but there’s still magic to be had as your children grow and learn to think for themselves.