'Tis the season to tell your fourth-grader that Santa is a big fat fake.
Harrison is such a loyal follower. He was born to believe in Santa Clause, claims to have seen the sleigh and Rudolph, routinely hears hoofs clacking around on Christmas Eve and takes his Christmas list and seasonal behavior very seriously.
But he's in the fourth grade. Nine- and 10-year-olds are brutal, especially when it comes to personal beliefs. For the first time his friends are questioning everything from presidential candidates to the Big Man Upstairs. We had no idea what a toll it was taking on our sensitive child's self-esteem.
Last week was particularly hard. For days he stomped around the house pushing his siblings and being blatantly disobedient to just about every request and directive from Mom and Dad. On Sunday after church he threw a fit about having to hang up his church clothes and I knew it was time; something had to give or we were calling the Zoo to see if they had any cages available.
I sat down on the bed and watched him kick things in his room around.
"So," I started, "What's up? Rough week at school?"
"No!" he yelled at me, "I'm just stupid!"
Not really the response I was expecting but very telling.
"Ah," I said, "Stupid. So why do you think you're stupid?"
"Because!" then a long pause during which I sat and picked at my nails. He slumped down in his chair and finally looked at me.
"It's just ... no one believes anything that I believe and they say I'm stupid!"
These seemed like big issues for someone who is 4-foot tall.
"Really? Like what?"
"Like everything. All my friends voted for someone different than me, and most of them don't even believe in God. And ... they all say that Santa Claus isn't real!"
And there it was. The quintessential fourth-grade question and man's first step on the road to universal truth. My son sat there with his head in his hands, wracked with the torment of the unknown.
"What do you think about Santa Claus?" I asked.
"I don't know! I mean, I know he's real ... at least I think he's real. I used to know he was real ..."
Oh the agony! My mind was racing a million miles a minute. It would be so easy to just tell him, right there right then that the entire thing is a big hoax and he's old enough to know the truth.
What could it hurt? He's going to be 10, isn't it time?
I held my breath thinking.
Every year at my family's big Christmas party, Santa Claus (played by the world's scariest and therefore most unexpected uncle) stops by and brings all the grandkids gifts. And every year like clockwork someone figures out that it's Uncle Bruce. They all respond differently to the He's Not Real information.
I remember about 10 years ago when then 9-year-old Dustin was told the horrible awful truth on Christmas Eve. I've never seen a kid take it so hard, he sat at the top of the stairs the rest of the night mumbling to himself, "I can't believe they lied to me! They lied! I'll never trust them again, they're all liars!"
Every kid handles it differently.
After hearing Harrison out with his Santa woes (apparently the other stuff was mild in comparison) and fighting the urge to bring him into the light, I checked myself from blurting out the truth and instead asked him what he wanted.
"So help me out here. Are you asking me if there's a Santa Claus? Because if you want to know I will tell you."
The silence in the room was tangible and I swear I saw sweat bead up on the bridge of his nose. Would he ask? Did he really want to give up the dream? Was he ready to be part of the Bigger Set and in on the secret?
I should just tell him, he's almost 10, in today's world ...
"No. I'm not asking."
He's been in a good mood ever since. Looks like Santa will be making a pit stop after all.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Contact her at email@example.com, or vist her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.