The tears were different this time. Silent. Each one rolled down Kelel's cheek like something deep inside broke again for the first time.
It all started innocent enough. We sat around the dinner table eating God knows what. 4 kids giggled and squirmed. I reminded each and every one that yes, you do need to eat it all if you want dessert. No, PB&J was not an option. Dad was traveling for work. I'm fairly certain I let out an audible sigh after each redirect.
And then the little one said, "Hey guys, I lost a tooth today!"
"Wow, that's the second one this week!" I mused. "I know what you're going to want for Christmas. Looks like Santa and the tooth fairy will be quite busy."
She smiled a wide toothy grin as she explored each new vacancy in her mouth with the tip of her finger. Her eyes widened. She stared at me for a second and decided the question worth asking...
"Come on, Mom. We all know you and Dad are the tooth fairy. Right?"
I smiled and shrugged.
"Humph. Well, I know you're the tooth fairy. And I also know that reindeer can't fly." Pause. "Is Santa real?"
All eyes were firmly on me.
Again, I shrugged and playfully raised my eyebrows. "Honey, what makes you say that?" I turned the proof of evidence back on her.
Apparently that was the cue for the other three to burst onto the scene.
"Senait! What are you saying?? Of course Santa is real!!" they protested.
I hadn't noticed Kelel up until that point. I was just trying to stay one step ahead of the Santa Inquisition. I wasn't sure where this whole dialogue was headed, but I wished my trusty partner had been seated in his chair next to me. I don't love navigating these tenuous conversations alone. Should I keep up the charade? Should I relent and just "tell the truth?" My mind raced on the inside while my eyes attempted to remain playful and calm on the outside.
Why did my heart beat like we were talking about the birds and the bees? I mean, this was only about the possible existence of Santa. Or was it?
Kelel's eyes shifted back and forth between me and the others like an anchor seeking a place to land.
"Senait," he said. "Santa IS real....He really is."
"Yes!" another affirmed. "You're right. Santa IS real. He really, really is! Right, Kelel? RIIIIGHT, Kelel?" (Wink. Wink.)
Senait was looking at me. Crisis averted. But Kelel sat squarely in the line of fire. The overly playful voice clicked off the safety. And the wink pulled the trigger.
All of a sudden the mood shifted. Kelel's bright face dropped. "Mom... IS Santa real? I mean he is, isn't he? Mom, she winked at me..."
All eyes returned to me. Oh man. It's all fun and games until someone asks you to tell them the truth.
I inhaled. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
"Yes." Kelel answered resolutely. "I want to know. I need to know." Senait agreed.
And that was it. The emotional dam that a magical, fictitious Santa had once held strong burst wide open. Kelel excused himself from the table without uttering another word. He slipped his dishes in the sink and proceeded to lay down next to the dog by the sliding patio door.
"It's not fair," Reese whispered. "Most kids have what? A good 6 or 7 years of believing in the magic of Santa? And he's only had two. Two good years of believing in Santa with us. It's not fair..."
Not fair. Ain't that the truth. On so many levels. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free..." Really? Jesus' words in John 8:32 didn't feel like truth or freedom to me in that moment. Had I done the right thing?
Shoot, I don't know. I think so. But it sure didn't feel like it. I reached in my back pocket and pulled out the only words that came to me in that moment.
"Kelel, you know, it doesn't surprise me one bit that you would love Santa so much -- because -- you're a lot like him. You have a big heart and you love people well. You are always thinking about others and making them gifts. And THAT is a gift to us."
Hopefully this truth will one day really set him free....
What do you tell your kids about Santa? How do you navigate the "truth" of life and the desire to protect and preserve their innocence?
Why does that story feel so sad? It is the truth, after all. I think that when a kid from a hard place finds any wonder and excitement in anything, you just want to cheer that on. I mean, if it were Reese at the same age, I'd be like, "It's time to grow up, buddy." But Kelel . . . it's a different story. It's a little leftover piece of innocence that is tough watch float to the ground.
I gotta say that the truth really does set you ALL free.
Ultimately, Kelel finds you to be more credible and the rose colored glasses of the Santa myth, albeit a delightful one, should be clear lenses - lenses on life that say to Kelel: "This family will always shoot straight with you. And you can always count on us. AND there will ALSO be magical moments to always remember."
This is a big moment for your family, in my view. Every member of your family watched you tell the truth when it wasn't easy.- that is something even the wisest, most mature adult has a hard time doing at work, with friends, and just generally in the world. Kudos to you for setting a standard of reliability with your kids.
Now if someone would just give me the straight scoop on that Easter Bunny....