I had just taken a shower and was ready to call it a night but my nine-year-old Juliana had other things on her mind. She has this devotional for little girls that we read every now and then alternately with her other books but this time around she had it firmly in her hands. Bedtime story. But over and above that I could sense she was on to something more, I just could not quite figure out what. I was guessing it had to be one of three things: one, she was going to negotiate a marathon bedtime reading session (by that I mean I have to read her story upon story upon story until she herself says “stop,” which can take really long and dry my throat especially when she wants me to change my voice to fit the different characters); two, she wanted to process issues about some bully; or three, she will once again try to convince me to take her to Amsterdam to buy this plant called the Venus Flytrap that supposedly catches flies. She probably feels Amsterdam is right beside Boracay. She is fixated on finding a beautiful enemy for flies, especially when she hears me calling the Red Cross for blood that some dengue patient needs. She does not understand, though, how insane that idea sounds. I was ready with my standard answer: I will just get her insect repellant from Ilog Maria.
But I was wrong on all three counts. First, she regaled me with stories and impressions of people in her little world (she has a real talent for impersonating people), and when I was laughing and laughing and totally relaxed already, she just shot out, from of nowhere, “Mom, is Daddy Santa?” It was a statement, not a question. She was looking at me intently, not blinking. I hesitated for more than just a second, although it felt very much longer than that because my mind was working fast, very fast. Should I tell the truth? Or not? Put a new spin on the whole Santa story?
“Mmmmmoooooooooom….” she drags out that word through her breath very slowly, as if trying very hard to be patient with me. I said the thing that felt right for the heart at that very moment.
She rolled her eyes and said, “I knew it.”
“For how long now?”
“Since I was Grade 2.” (She is in Grade 3 now. She played us for a year!)
Here’s a little back story: I remember about a year or two ago she asked me if Santa was real. I was doing something and without missing a beat I answered ever-so-nonchalantly that Santa is only as real as she thinks he is, and that the moment she stops believing, the gifts stop coming, too.
“Oh, but I really believe in Santa, Mom,” she said then, her eyes wide and her lashes batting like the window of a slot machine. And that was that.
I dwelt on the wisdom of my spontaneous disclosure for a bit, while she got up from bed, all charged up now, only to come back with a box that held some of her little treasures. She opened it and explained she had kept in this one box most of the little gifts from Santa that she really liked: cubes of stationery that had cute illustrations of pretty Japanese girls, stickers, notebooks, a necklace I got that she loved when she was in her “rock star” phase.
I was bombarded with questions that went from “Where did you get this or that?” to “Where did you hide it and why did I not see it?” She made me promise to bring her to Edeng’s at Market! Market!, my favorite place to buy stocking stuffers. I told her she might like Saizen and Daiso, too. She has a very sharp memory and also asked if we ate the cookies and the milk she left for Santa and if I kept the letters and drawings and magazines she stuffed into her giant stocking in exchange for all the gifts he always left her.
I admitted everything, my heart breaking just a little bit more each time because she did not seem so little anymore, especially with that part of her innocence now completely gone. Once you know the truth about fairies and mermaids, frogs and beasts that a kiss and love alone can transform into handsome princes, something shifts. It does not mean it’s bad, it’s not exactly good also, it’s just okay — part of the unraveling of realities that growing up entails. That’s life.
When she was already satisfied with my answers she looked at me seriously and said, “It’s really okay, Mom. I’ll be okay.” Then with a twinkle in her eyes she said she could not wait to go to school the following day because she was already part of that elite group that knew Santa was just either Daddy or Mommy, or both.
We let the subject rest after a few more minutes, but not without me promising her that the gifts would still come, and she promising me that she would not spoil the fun for all her younger classmates who still believe Santa is real. I explained to her that part of the magic of childhood is the concept of Santa and that once the secret is out, it cannot be taken back. It is like a rite of passage of sorts, a little knowledge that settles into place naturally when the time is right. It happens sooner for some, later for others. I asked if Mattie, one of her good friends from school, still believed in Santa. Her eyes grew wide in disbelief as she told me “Of course not, Mom. She is in Grade 6!”
We settled into bed, hugging each other face to face, both of us a little bit quiet. We were lost in our own thoughts. We said our evening prayers, and right after I kissed her goodnight she again decided to pop a question from out of nowhere.
“Are you the Tooth Fairy, Mom?”
“Yes,” I answered very simply, and almost just as quickly. Again, it felt like the right thing to say.
She took a deep breath and her chubby little hand patted me on my back. “It’s really okay, Mom, I also knew that a long time ago.”
I tried to suppress my laughter.
“Can you show me tomorrow where you keep all my teeth?”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you more.”
“I’m still excited about Christmas.”
“Of course, we always have to be excited about Christmas.”
“Bring me to Edeng’s, okay?”
We never got to read that night, not one story from her devotional, but we touched a milestone in the “growing up” department. My little girl can handle the truth, without losing the sense of magic that truth once upon a time came wrapped in.