I Know That You Know (And When You Know That I Know, Still There Will Be Magic)

I love this season of innocence. Even when it’s not so jolly. This weekend we cut down our Christmas tree and I was reminded of the look on Owen’s face in a picture I took last December, a picture I now love.

I was reminded of how hard things were mid-December, last year. How un-jolly it all was, during that particular week. And nothing tragic or life-altering happened. Rather, life happened. Sickness. Deadlines. Tantrums. Rejections. And then I was reminded how Christmas, still, ended up being magical.

This week a friend and I briefly chatted over email about the difficulties that come with parenting when so much in the world seems wrong. Bigger wrongs than colds that will end. Deadlines that will result in paychecks. Tantrums that exist because we’re lucky enough to have a child. Rejections that happen because I was able to write some words on a page. But it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the holidays when beauty is so very much lacking elsewhere. So many elsewheres.

But kids, they make it easy. Easier.

They make it harder, too, yes, but mostly easier.

This week we decorated our too-big Christmas tree (if you turn sideways you can walk from our entry into our living room). And when we were nearly done, I looked over to see Owen sitting on the bottom step of our staircase, staring at the tree with the most content smile on his face. His eyes reflected the tree lights like something out of a Hallmark special. All was right in his world. All was bright. Despite.

I know Sophie knows about Santa. She doesn’t know I know. She’s not ready. She’s guarding the knowledge tight in her fists, much like she does when she hunts for fairies. She’s unwilling to let go.

At first, this bothered me, She’s 7. I had it all figured out at 5. In one fell swoop I learned about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. The sadness was slight, that of a soft sigh. And then I relished in knowing a secret my siblings did not. I felt grown-up.

The boys drill me about Santa constantly. “How does he get down our chimney if it’s closed up?” “How does he sneak around the hallways of apartment buildings and hotels?” “What about kids who don’t have a fireplace?” “If books say Santa goes all over the world then what about people who don’t celebrate Christmas? How is he going all around the world if many people in other parts of the world don’t celebrate Christmas?”

I half-answer. Change the subject. Wish they would just come out and ask, “Is Santa real?” And when they do I plan to answer as my parents did. “What do you think?” I’ve learned that coming to conclusions on one’s own always softens the blow.

But no one asks. Not the boys. Not Sophie. Sophie doesn’t even ask questions about the Big Man anymore. She answers the boys’ questions. She has an answer for everything. She’d scream his reality from the rooftops if she could. And so I let her. That is her realization to come to. Not mine to take. At least, I hope that’s the right thing to do.

And when they know, they all know, and they know that I know they know, I’ve learned this: I’ll still find magic. Because even with all of our life’s little wrongs and the world’s big wrongs, there’s so much magic, and innocence, during the holidays.

There’s the taste of bacon-wrapped chestnuts and buckeye candies and fancy cheeses we don’t normally buy and champagne. There are candles and white lights and colored lights and twinkly lights and just so much light. There are thoughtful gifts, homemade gifts, the gift of time spent with those we love. There are three kids singing the wrong words to Christmas songs while I play on our out-of-tune piano, rusty in my memory, missing notes. There are messes. So many big, beautiful messes. Christmas cookie-making messes. The mess of pine needles everywhere, always, no matter how often we water the tree. The mess of wrapping gifts in brown paper and decorating them with stickers and markers and glitter pens. The mess of making a quadruple recipe of Chex Mix and the mess of addressing too many Christmas cards and the mess of extra coffee cups in the morning when family comes in from out of town. And with those messes come the hugs. So many hugs. Great-grandmother hugs. Grandparent hugs. Sibling hugs. Aunt and uncle hugs. Parent hugs. Cousin hugs. Niece hugs. Husband hugs.

So during the holidays, I let in cheeriness and maybe even a little cheesiness. I let in some make-believe. I let in some sappy moments despite the realities both at home and out in the hard, beautiful, cold and light-filled world. I let myself soften while watching a little guy sit on the steps and stare with a small smile at a decorated tree. I let another little guy question me incessantly about the logistics of Santa’s big night. I let a 7-year-old think that I think she still believes.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
—Norman Vincent Pe

A Visiting Santa First


We tried to visit Santa earlier in December, but the wait was too long. So we left.We didn’t get back to Santa until December 23—when the wait was three hours. Thankfully we were able to give Santa’s elves our cell phone number. So we spent three hours lunching at Dewey’s, visiting Joseph-Beth Booksellers and shopping at Trader Joe’s. The elves texted us when they were ready for us (times have changed).


Sophie had a lot of questions about Santa this year. She wanted to know how he stayed awake all night. (“Doesn’t he get tired?”) And where he went for a new coat when his got old. And where did he use the bathroom? (I told her I’m sure people didn’t mind if he used theirs—that we wouldn’t mind if he used ours.) One afternoon I found her in our fireplace, banging on its walls and ceiling. Our fireplace is a non-venting gas one, so there’s no opening to the chimney. She was quite upset by this. “Magic,” I said. The response satisfied her.

She was so excited to meet Santa this year. And this worried me. The first two years she cried when we sat her on his lap. Last year, she so wanted to tell him she wanted a butterfly net. And she did, but only barely, while clinging to me.

It reminded me of the summer, when all she wanted to do was go down the orange, curvy tunnel slide at the park. The entire walk there she would say how brave she was going to be, that this was the day she was going to do it. And for many weeks, she didn’t go through with it, even though she tried. She sat at the top of that slide, scooted around on her bottom and walked, defeated, the other direction. And the entire walk home she talked about how next time, she was going to do it. It broke my heart, but I knew it was something she had to do on her time, when she was ready. And, eventually, she did.

But the slide is available always. Santa, only once a year. My mom suggested a picture. We had Sophie draw a picture for Santa and on it we wrote him a note: “Dear Santa, I want a scooter. Love, Sophie.” It was a brilliant idea. If she freaked and cried or couldn’t speak, he’d have the note. She would know that he knew she wanted a scooter.

I watched her in line, head titled down, mouth set. I knew she was nervous. But I also knew she was trying—so hard—to be brave. It’s been a long time since I’ve had butterflies in my stomach but I had them all the time when I was kid. I imagined her, having them. Standing there, waiting, waiting, waiting.

We happened to be there during a snow time. It actually snowed, inside the mall. There was music and Santa came out to wave hello to children. I knew how nervous she was when she hardly acknowledged the snow—head tilted down, mouth set. She wanted to see Santa, but she wanted it all to be over with it. I felt for her, so much then.


We all agreed ahead of time on a plan—everyone would go up to see Santa together. The boys would sit on his lap (which they loved, can’t you tell?) and Sophie would stand next to him (and that she did, at a distance). She gave him the letter. She asked for the scooter. He told her to always wear a helmet (for which we were thankful). And she did.not.cry.

I was so proud of her. I hope she was just as proud of herself.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.” —Francis Pharcellus Church