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In our home we celebrate Christmas. For many years I struggled with the “Santa” tradition. A part of me enjoyed that my kids believed in Santa and all the magic that came along with it. But another part of me didn’t want to lie to them. I had no problem finding out the truth about Christmas when I was young, but a friend of mine was deeply scarred by it and it took a long time for her to trust her parents again. She vowed to never mislead her future children. I wondered what it would look like when my kids found out. Not only did they believe in Santa, but they also believed the magical Elf on the Shelf moves around the house and travels to the North Pole every evening.
Would they feel betrayed? Would they stop trusting us? Will they be devastated?
Nonetheless I played along, postponing the inevitable. Until January of this year. We were attending my oldest son’s developmental workshop in the University of Miami. (Click here if you haven’t read that inspiring series)
Justin, my middle child who had just turned seven, told me he needed to speak to me in private.
We went off to the side, and I knelt down to meet my son at eye level.
“Mommy” he looked away. “I don’t think I believe in Santa or God.” My heart stopped. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation. I needed to buy some time.
“What does your heart tell you, Justy?”
“My heart tells me to believe Mommy, but my brain is interfering with my heart.” Stay calm, Caro, I told myself. We were in the middle of an event and I didn’t want to have this conversation without my husband there. But I knew it was time to tell Justin the truth.
“Justy, we’ll talk about this today but we need to wait until we get home so we can speak in private. Is that okay?”
“I don’t want you to talk to your brothers about this, either. This is between you, mommy and daddy.”
I kissed his cheek and stroked his sweet, innocent face. I almost cried.
I found Orlando in the crowd and told him what had happened. “We have to tell him tonight,” I said. Orlando agreed.
Justin, true to his promise, didn’t mention anything for the rest of the evening. When we finally arrived home, we put the other boys to bed. Justin, his dad and I locked ourselves in my bedroom and sat on the bed.
We had a beautiful conversation about Santa and the elves. We told Justin that now that he knew the truth, he had become one of Santa’s helpers, and it was his job to pass the magic on to his brothers who still believed. We explained the difference between Santa and God and our thoughts on both. (I will not share the God conversation in this post for brevity, but if you are interested in knowing what that conversation looked like, let me know in the comments and I will write a separate blog about it.)
In August of this year, Orly started a new school. Because he was entering the fourth grade, we were afraid that the kids in the new school would spoil Christmas for him and we wanted him to hear the news from us, not anyone else. So a few days before his first day of school, we sat down with him and had the same conversation we’d had in January with Justin. Orly was dumbfounded. Unlike his brother, he was unsuspecting. What hurt him the most was discovering that the elf wasn’t real. He loved his elf. It had become his friend, and he trusted it. He was crushed to learn that it wasn’t magical. I wondered if we had made the right decision in creating this fantasy for our kids only to shatter their reality later.
On Thanksgiving morning, I was busy preparing for our dinner when Orly called me over to his room. “Mom!” He whispered. “Where are the elves?”
“Oh, Um, they’re put away.” I had forgotten that the elves arrive on Thanksgiving Day.
“Well, you need to go get them mom. Ryan will be waiting for them!”
I sneaked over to their secret hiding spot, took them out of the box and handed them to my son. Orly called out for Justin and together they ran off to conspire on what they would do with the elves to surprise their baby brother. A new season had begun in our home.
For weeks I’ve seen the big brothers create the same magical experience for their little brother as we created for them. They’ve been intentional about the words they use and the actions they take. Orly has been particularly mindful about helping me with the elves. I am amazed at how fun it’s been to team up with my kids this year.
I was talking with Justin the other day and I asked him how he felt about all that had happened.
Justin shrugged his shoulders as he confessed, “At first I felt a little betrayed that you guys had lied. But mom, now that I’ve seen the look on Ryan’s face when he wakes up to those elves, I understand why you did it for us.”
“Are you enjoying the year as much now that you’re in the know?” I asked.
“I’m actually enjoying it even more!” He smiled.
It still pains Orly that his elf isn’t what he thought he was. But even so I’ve been so proud of how gracefully he’s behaved. His disappointment has not affected the excitement he’s had in making this time special for his little brother. He found a new way to experience the joy of Christmas.
I no longer question whether what we did was right or wrong. I realized that because my boys lived the magic, they can now create that magic for someone else.
The magical moments they experienced growing up were very much real to them in the moment. And that is how we should all live, isn’t it? In the moment. Change doesn’t take away the experience, it creates the space for new experiences. We may believe something to be true for us today that isn’t true for us tomorrow. That’s okay. It’s part of our journey. We evolve, we learn, and we adapt to our new reality. If you look back, you‘ll realize that each experience and every belief is training you for what’s coming next in your life. It will help you lead others and serve others in a new capacity. It stops being about you, and it becomes about them. I learned this lesson as a parent, and my boys learned it as big brothers. No matter how many things change, we can find the beauty, the joy, and the magic in the next stage of our journey. Life is all about how you choose to look at it. It can be wonderful, even if it’s different from what you once knew.
First you live the magic, then you create it.