He figured it out himself one day. “Mama?” he said, and I glanced up to see that look on his face, the one when he’s thinking about something important: if human-sized bugs exist, for example, or how Michael Jackson died. He looked curious and serious and a little bit scared. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Is Santa Claus real?”
I took a deep breath.
“What do you think?” I said, after a moment, even though I already knew.
Hearing what was going on, my husband came over from the kitchen. “Do you think it’s possible that someone could fly through the air on a sleigh pulled by reindeer?” he asked Son Number 1. “And deliver presents to all the kids around the world in one night?”
Now that wasn’t a loaded question. I waited to see what Son Number 1 would do.
He shook his head, smiling faintly, pleased with himself. “Noooo,” he said, under his breath, as if he knew he was being somehow transgressive.
“OK,” I said. I looked over at my husband. He gave a tiny shrug: game’s up.
“Buddy, it’s important that you don’t tell your friends at school about this,” my husband said.
“Most of them – all of them, probably – believe in Santa Claus,” I said, “and it might make them really sad if they realize… you know.”
“Brendan knows.” He reconsidered. “Maybe Brendan knows.”
“I told him the Easter Bunny isn’t real, and he said he knowed that already.”
I made sure he was looking at me. “Some people really want to believe. It makes it better for them. Let’s let them do that. OK?”
He turned back to his Legos, and I watched him. Four years old, and he’d already called bullshit on the whole Santa thing. My skeptical heart sang. Then, of course, the mom guilt kicked in. Didn’t he want to believe in magical beings? Was he already so cynical? Would his life’s dreams evaporate in the harsh chill of reality, just as Santa Claus had? Was this something I’d inflicted upon him?
A few moments went by, and he looked up at me.
“Who gives the presents, then?”
“Mom and Dad,” I admitted.
“Ah,” he said, like he’d been holding his breath, and he broke into a huge smile.