Keeping Santa Alive in the Suburbs

How do you preserve your kids' innocence—and recapture some of your own—when they begin to suspect the guy in the red suit is a big fat lie?

Photo by Vicki Glembocki.

Photo by Clint Blowers.

I had no idea that my daughter was watching me, that she’d followed me into the attic, that she was standing right there.

I’d gone up last fall to wrap a gift for a birthday party she’d been invited to. Without thinking, I dragged out the tall plastic container where I store rolls of wrapping paper, lifted off the top, casually thumbed through the various options the way any mother would—any mother who assumed she was alone, and safe, and in no danger at all of crushing the one great mystery of her daughter’s seven-and-a-half-year life.

“Mommy!” came a voice from behind me. It was firm. And desperate.

“Aaaahhh!” I screamed, also firm and desperate, and a little bit scared-out-of-my-cords. I immediately recognized the voice as Blair’s. My body instinctively whipped around to face her as I held the top of the container in front of my chest like a shield.

“Mommy!” she said again, pointing at the plastic bin. “How did Santa’s paper get in there?”

I looked inside, but I didn’t need to. I knew exactly the roll of wrapping paper she was referring to—white background, red swirlies, little cartoon Santas dotted all over. It was unmistakable—the paper my husband and I had used to wrap the presents from Santa that appeared under the tree on Christmas morning. It was the special-est of special paper. Exclusive. Straight from the North Pole. Able to tolerate high winds. Proof that you, dear child, had truly been nice. To Blair, this was what magic was all about. This was Santa’s paper. It proved he was real.

“Mommy?” Blair said again. This time it was a question. She didn’t know what the question was—I doubt she’d ever even considered it before—but I understood exactly what that lilt in her tone was on the verge of asking. And I couldn’t let it happen. Not yet.

At such a crucial parenting crossroad, there were many strategies I could have used to smooth this bump in the new-fallen snow. I could’ve tried the old Answer the Question With a Question: “What do you think it’s doing here?” I could’ve even pulled out a Lie Through Your Teeth, since that’s my general mode d’emploi for all things Clausal: “Didn’t I tell you? Santa dropped that off last week. He was running out of space in the workshop and asked if we could keep it for him until Christmas Eve.”

Instead, I resorted to the panicked-parent default: Yell Very Loudly.

“Blair!” I yelled very loudly. “Get out of here right now!”

It worked. Being banished so hostilely from the attic made Blair completely forget about the Santa paper. Ah. The comfort and joy of lying to my children about a big fat stranger sneaking into our house in the black of night to eat some of our food and leave presents wrapped in special paper under a dead Fraser fir would go on for another year.

“I’m not so sure about that,” said a second-grade mom when I gave her the rundown on Papergate. “A couple boys in the class just told Jeannie there is no Santa.”

Our class?” I asked.


I could feel the blood drain from my face, which would have been an appropriate reaction if, say, she’d told me a couple of boys in second grade had taught her daughter to twerk. This was just Santa. And this was how it happened. Kids find out from other kids. It’s how the Christmas cookie crumbles.

Except for one small problem.

I’d decided long ago that whenever possible, I wanted my kids to learn about the big stuff from me. I didn’t want Blair to be on the bus to the Please Touch Museum when she found out where babies come from, or to learn what “flipping the bird” means while waiting in line for the Nacho Fun Lunch at school. Following that pact with myself, I had no choice: I needed to tell her the truth about Santa. Now.

Only I didn’t want to. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d be more comfortable informing her that a little down the road, she’d begin to bleed from her body for one week every month for the next 40 years. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how invested I was in preserving the Santa Lie. And I certainly didn’t anticipate that as I faced this second-grade mom, these words would come out of my mouth:

“I … want … names.”