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I Believe

December 16, 2013

I stood at the kitchen sink with the usual school morning mayhem unfolding around me. Washing, drying, packing, fielding, answering, signing Important Things, reminding. Oh, and, of course, mitigating the seemingly endless bickering. But that’s a post for another time.

Henry sat down on the kitchen floor to put on and tie his shoes. I continued my buzzing about and then he asked,


“Yea, Henry?”

“Is Santa real?” Pause, pause, pause… “Is Santa really the one who comes and puts all the presents under the tree?”

Everything stopped. I stopped. All the blurs of my morning stilled. I was suddenly aware of so many details: the soaked dish towel that hung dejectedly over my hand; the crumbs on the counter, which multiply like little rabbits; the tilt of Henry’s head as it held his jaunty Santa hat.

And the avoidance of his eyes to mine.

Without not-looking back at him, I thwopped the dish towel on the counter and refilled my coffee mug.

“I believe in Santa, H.”

“Me too!” He beamed. And then, “but those kids on the bus said that he wasn’t real and that moms and dads put the presents under the tree.”

“Why would they say THAT?” I bantered back.

“I don’t know.” He answered quietly.


In this moment, I LOATHE THE BUS*.  Children like to be The One Who Knows. Especially when they can clue someone else into something that they know first. I get it. But oh I really, really don’t like it. Unfortunately, this drive forces The Ones Who Know to then usher others into the realm of non-believers. When Abby graduated from being an innocent believer in Santa, I asked her to take a sacred pledge, promising to be a perpetual spreader of wonder and belief to preserve the magic of Christmas for other children.


Although the edges of this last Christmas of innocence are slightly tarnished, I will soak up every gift which unfolds. Each one–especially the ones I know will become hazy-edged memories: the way his mittened hand still reflexively reaches up and grabs for mine. The way he runs out of school and tackles me with hugs, no matter who is watching. The ease with which he shares his most important thoughts–from the number of diamond swords he’s found in Minecraft to the specifics of an uncomfortable situation with a friend. The feeling of his body, heavy with sleep, on my chest.  The way his Santa hat always adorns his head, even while he sleeps.

I am keenly aware that this may be the last year I have an unabashed Santa believer under my roof. If I’m really honest, he may have already passed to the other side. But let me be clear: I am doing everything in my power to make this a Christmas in which he believes. I brainstorm ideas that will wow him and make his Christmas Spirit meter tip over into burning faith. At least for the next fourteen days.


Abby is my faithful spirit wingman in this quest. When she hears Henry say something that wraps his belief in Santa in question marks, Abby reports to me.

The latest one: “Mom, Henry said that you and Dad are the elves. That you do the work. I told him that was silly, that OF COURSE you and Dad couldn’t do all that stuff.”

I looked at her and my shiny eyes met hers.

“Mom? Why are you so sad?” she queried through inquisitive eyes.

How do I answer her? That this is a profound stage of childhood that I’m not ready for him to leave? That her desire to sprinkle this season with mystery and magic slays me? That their faith and belief infuse my days with a pureness that sparks my soul? That ever since I figured out that my parents were arm-in-arm with Santa, that I extinguished my anguish by making Christmas magical for my baby brother? And that then, when I got older, I realized that if I had children I would get to relive this time with them? And that now, half of my children don’t believe in Santa and the other half almost don’t? UGH. That I vicariously view the world through Henry’s reverent belief? That this milestone marks the clear, bold swath of time’s passage?

I wipe the tears away. My answer to her comes starts in a hug. I wrap her solidly in my arms and say,

“I just want him to get all the time he should to believe in Santa. I don’t want anyone to take that away from him.”

Or, as it turns out, from me.


* I love Sixteen Candles and can still see Sam’s (a.k.a. Molly Ringwald’s) disdainful face  as she spits out this line.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Brook Behn permalink
    December 16, 2013 1:08 pm

    Damnit Denise! Tears, always tears when I read your words! You have a gift! I am facing a similar dilemma in my household. Do I make my 12 year old sit on Santa’s lap yet again (totes embarrassing!)to prolong the younger ones belief?
    And also, love your Sixteen Candle reference! I got it right away!
    I miss your face!

  2. December 16, 2013 1:21 pm

    Darn you. Bless you. Love you. He’ll have it, and the vestiges of his belief will last longer than most for your love and elfin ministrations. And your girl, she’s working her way into my heart, just like you.

  3. Diana Day permalink
    December 16, 2013 2:05 pm

    Beautiful, Denise. As always. But remember- just because one KNOWS does not mean one cannot believe. It is just pretend belief. I still fill stockings for the girls and husbands. And they always say “Thank you, Santa”. This is a family of true believers!!

  4. Mary Martin permalink
    December 16, 2013 6:24 pm

    Wow! A long, long way from the days of “being Orange!” Love this. Reading it reminds me again what a blessed childhood I had with my parents – and how much I miss them at this time of the year. Hope you guys have a glorious holiday. We’ll be traveling this summer. Let’s re-connect then! Keep writing – you’re as wonderful as always. xoxox Mary & Bill

  5. December 16, 2013 8:24 pm

    Oh Denise, you explained so well what families everywhere must be going through now. Or if not this year then the next. I work VERY HARD to make sure that my Jewish kids do not ruin the story. I maintain that it’s all real–denying it even when their older friends at school tell them otherwise.

    This was a beautiful post.

  6. December 16, 2013 9:39 pm

    While two out of our three in the house know how things work, we have managed to build up the I Believe traditions so well that not a one of them will really talk to us about it. They aren’t deluded, they simply embrace the “magic” of this time of year. The youngest–the one who still believes with all his heart–has heard the “truth” at school but refuses to buy their tale. He just assumes they don’t WANT to believe and he feels a little sad for them.

    (Glad to be a new reader)

  7. Meg ferron permalink
    December 17, 2013 6:37 am

    So many emotions surrounded this piece for me but none as strongly as the idea that the older sibling becomes a steward of the magical secret. I am grateful to have three believers but I know the tide is about to turn for one, and I will grieve.

  8. December 17, 2013 11:02 am

    As one who found out on the God-forsaken bus in first grade, told by a sixth grader who I still hope karmically pays (no one said I was perfect:) ), I get it. I so get it. Wishing him another Xmas to believe.

  9. December 17, 2013 2:03 pm

    I didn’t grow up here so I wasn’t raised celebrating Christmas, but maybe because I miss my own holiday traditions that I am determined to make my girls’ as magical as possible, which, of course, includes Santa. I know I will be sad the day this magic disappears for them as it doesn’t just mark the passing of the years, but also the loss of the innocent wonder and simple delights found only in childhood.

    I hope Henry does, indeed, retain this for one last year – for him and for you, dear mama.

  10. December 19, 2013 9:47 am

    Covered in chills. I agree with you. This is such a magical time, one that I am not ready to let go of either. I remember as a child, years after I didn’t “believe,” watching Santa Claus the Movie, and retaining some of that magic for myself. My son also sleeps in a Santa hat. 🙂

  11. December 20, 2013 9:57 pm

    This is so beautiful and tender. I am rapidly approaching these days and am savoring the last year or so of belief. Gus still earnestly (at 4) in the magic of Santa. How beautifully you capture both the belief and its gritty underbelly, not really doubt, but not faith either.

  12. January 28, 2014 7:25 pm

    Tears. And Beauty. This is parenting. My children are 20 and 17. Everyone in my family knows I am the biggest believer. This was a big Christmas for us because my husband didn’t work on the “real” Christmas eve. The kids got out the Santa tracking website for me while we did our Christmas eve traditions. I noticed how some things have changed from when they were little and…other things are similar. That feeling of family is deeply lodged inside me. I planted it there with all this mothering. It’s a pretty grand harvest.

Give me your grit.

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