This morning as Dave was getting the girls out the door to school, I heard a loud groan and then Georgia's unmistakable "mmmoo" sound that she makes when she is trying to stifle her sobs. I raced down to see what was going on, and Dave motioned for me to go with Millie to get her coat on while he talked to Georgie.
Millie was in tears at this point. "Georgia's crying and she won't tell me why!" she almost shouted her betrayal. These two are 22 months apart and function as a pair, Laverne and Shirley, Ernie and Bert, Frodo and Sam, Thelma and Louise. I snuck back into the dining room and asked Dave what was up. Apparently Georgia went into the garage hunting for a scooter and came upon the giant cardboard box that contained the dollhouse they got for Christmas. From Santa.
My 9 year old looked me in the eyes and whispered in horror, "I know the truth. There is no Santa." This is the little girl that spent the better part of Christmas Eve writing a letter to Santa, asking thoughtful questions about his middle name, when his birthday was, and what were the reindeers' favorite treats. I hugged her fiercely and told her that Santa is part of the spirit of Christmas and that it's okay to choose to believe. Dave said there's magic on both sides of it: that now she could be part of the fun of helping with stockings. It felt so rushed, trying to assuage this loss of childhood.
It happened for Jonah much earlier. He was 6 or 7 and it was spring time and I had bought some plastic eggs. He stopped on the stairs and said, "There's no way a giant rabbit goes around taking baskets of candy to kids... And if the Easter Bunny isn't real, there's no way there's a tooth fairy... Oh no. Santa..." I just stood there watching these wonderful mythic icons of childhood fall like dominoes as he processed the logic of it all. For the next year whenever he said the name Santa, he'd make air quotes with his fingers. Jonah needed no comfort, just threatening. "If you tell your sisters, or even talk about this with ANY kid under the age of 12, you'll never get a single thing from 'Santa' again!" And Jonah has enjoyed the shift in role. He loves to help pick out trinkets for Easter Baskets and hide eggs. He seemed relieved in a way. He's logical, like Dave. Needs things to make sense. Be tangible.
But Georgia...ouch. She clearly needs some yuletide talk therapy that could not happen at 8:17 this morning. I watched her dry her eyes as they raced to the bus, Millie still puzzled and hurt at her other half's refusal to share her pain. During the day I imagined the dominoes falling in Georgia's mind. Santa gone. Mmmoo. Tooth Fairy? Mmmoo. The Giggling Leprechauns? Mmmoo (she even believes in the mythic holiday creatures our Irish neighbors dream up).
She had a friend over after school and then violin, homework, etc. We never had a second alone to talk. But at 9pm she snuck out of her room to find me. "Mom, Millie wants to know why I was crying this morning. I can't tell her. I can't. What do I say?" Our friend Rachel is visiting, and we just looked at each other. I had no idea what to tell her. She doesn't want to erase the sugarplums that dance in Millie's head. But this is her SISTER. Her BFF. She has to tell her something. So I handed Georgia a lie to give to her sister. "Tell her you were thinking about Emma, [Georgia's gerbil that died last month] that made you cry, but you don't want to talk about it." "But..." she stammered, knowing this was false. "It does make you cry when you talk about Emma. Just tell her." How do you explain that honesty is not always the best policy?
I kissed her off to bed and wanted to cry a little myself. I should have made time to have a private talk with her. I should have had a better response this morning. Dave and I have a pretty good standardized spiel for the sex talk, but not for Santa. I hate seeing them lose their faith in the magical, mystical aspects of childhood. I want my kids to believe in stuff, stuff that can't be seen or touched or proven but stuff that gives them hope and faith in things bigger and better than us. Because I want to. Sometimes I respond like Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street when it comes to the metaphysical: "I believe. I believe. It's silly, but I believe." Faith is fragile.
When I go upstairs to check on the kids before I go to bed, I know what I'll find. Jonah will be sprawled across his bed and if too much light leaks in as I open the door, he'll grumble until I restore the dark. Bea will be in her room, closet light on, waiting another hour or so to sneak into my bed, hoping Dave is too zonked to notice. And I'll bet that tonite Georgia will have left her bed to sleep with Millie, legs and arms entwined so that I can never separate one girl's limbs from another, just like the gerbil sisters sleeping in a furry pile in their cage. I'm sure of it. But I'm not sure what's going to be harder for Georgia, knowing St. Nick's secret, or having to keep it from her other half.