Raines and I had a rare minute alone. We were together, casually talking about nothing, and I knew it was time. I took a deep breath before I lost my nerve. “Raines,” I said, “we need to talk about Santa.” He froze — his whole body going still, heartbreakingly still — and then his shoulders slumped. He finally made eye contact. And it felt like the end of an era.
We’ve had a few of these, uh, life-defining moments this year. My Dad passed away last January, Mike and I are going through the (very depressing but necessary) process of making a real will, I’m almost done with my 5 years of Tamoxifen, and then this conversation with Raines. For the first time in my life, I am actually feeling like an adult. Not a very good one, mind you, but an adult nonetheless.
My conversation with Raines, though…it was hard. I knew it was time. Raines and Pax had cornered Mike over Thanksgiving and asked directly about Santa. I always thought if the kids ever asked directly, we would tell them. Or at the very least employ one of the Parent NInja-Conversation Answers: “What do you think?” “What makes you ask?”, “How would one…define…real?“, or if all else fails…the classic,”Do you really want to know?”
Mike, instead, panicked. And then lied. Once he fessed up, “Babe!! They had me cornered!! What was I supposed to do???,” we weren’t really sure where to go from there. We never lie to our kids — not about the little stuff (“We need to go home because if Mommy spends one more second at this playground SHE WILL FREAK OUT”) nor about the big stuff (oh hey, cancer diagnosis). So this one was tough. But once I overheard Raines and his friends arguing: “RAINES! SANTA IS YOUR PARENTS!!” to which he replied, “My Dad said [somethingsomething I couldn’t hear]— AND MY DAD WOULD NEVER LIE TO ME,” I knew it was time.
So my giant baby, (which is how I see him — his body too big for his little self) sat there with his shoulders slumped, thinking. He looked back up at me. “OK” he said. “I know the Easter Bunny isn’t real then either, but Mom? Remember when Sophia lost her tooth? Her Mom had a picture of the tooth fairy!” He looked at me, his eyes hopeful. “How would she get a picture if the tooth fairy wasn’t real?”
“It was an app, Baby. Her Mom used an app that adds the tooth fairy into the photo.” Oh, God. This was going badly.
“So you and Dad and everyone IN THE WORLD just…lies??” Suddenly he straightened up and looked directly in my eyes. “Mom?” he said, so quietly that I almost missed it. “Leprechauns?”
My heart stopped for what felt like a whole minute. Raines and his brother, for years, have built these elaborate leprechaun traps. They’ve lain in wait, they’ve checked them daily — they’ve even convinced themselves (most years) that they had one that got away! I had forgotten about the leprechauns. Not able to speak, I just shook my head.
He turned away from me then. I went over and put my arms around my boy, my sweet baby boy. I rubbed his back, and started whispering about how this….This is one of the world’s greatest secrets. And how he is now a part of that secret. And his job, just like ours, is to help make magic for other little kids.
Raines lifted his head off my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. “I’m OK, Mom” he said, pushing my hair off my face, like he often does in these weird role-reversal moments he’s been doing his whole life. Like he’s comforting me. “It’s just…it was really cool to think there was magic like that in this world.”
And that’s kind of the thing, isn’t it? In this world that is ultimately so tough, so full of sadness and hardship and injustice…it’s comforting to think that it also holds a little magic, too. Leave it to Raines to cut right to the heart of the matter.
“Raines,” I said. “The magic is there. It’s just a different kind of magic. It’s the kind of magic I feel when I look at you. I have no idea how I got so lucky, buddy, how I got so lucky to be your mom. But it feels…magical.”
He gave me a small grin. “Or like when we’re doing something and it feels like Bapa is there?” he asked. Bapa is his name for my Dad. “Because I think sometimes he’s there, Mom.”
“Yes baby,” I said. Sometimes I feel him, too. Real magic is exactly like that.
So we’re wishing you all a little magic today. May yours come in the form of a giant snuggle, or a cup of piping hot coffee, the kind with the steam curling up. Personally, I’m hoping for fresh snow, a good book, and a long walk with the boys where they jump and run and breathe and laugh and live. And then we’ll come inside, and call my mom and sister and talk a little about Dad, and then we’ll call my brother and not talk about Dad, but in both cases there will be sweetness and joy and laughter and sadness, all mixed up together.
And that? Feels like magic.
Merry Christmas, Everyone.