Photo by Kevin Dooley (kevindooley; Flickr CC)
A couple of months back, I was cooking my son, Rico, dinner, when he came into the kitchen and sat himself down at the dinner table.
"Mum," he said, "can I ask you something?"
"Sure, hon," I said, but the truth is I wasn't really listening. I kind of really have to concentrate while chopping onions.
"You know the Christmas man? Is he really alive or are you it?"
Normally I'm pretty good at understanding what Rico's getting at, but I needed a coupla seconds here. What Rico meant to say was: "You know Father Christmas? Does he really exist or is it you?"
I blinked. And then I processed. And then I did a really stupid high-pitched squeal thing.
"I knew it was you," Rico growled. "Sammy said it me, that it's just the mums that do that. Why did you lie?"
I put my vegetable knife down. I went over to him. I felt racked with guilt, not for having lied to him, but for having let the cat out of the bag so early on.
"I had to lie," I wailed, melodramatically. "Everyone else's parents were doing it!"
"So Nikolaus isn't really alive either?"
I shook my head, sadly.
"Oh, well," he said philosophically. "At least I know the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are real."
He looked at me skeptically for a second. "They are real, aren't they?"
"Yes," I said.
"Yeah," he said. "They are a lot more believable, too."
He walked out of the room and I returned to chopping onions, feeling like just about the worst mother in the entire world ever – one step up on the food chain from that one who buried them all in flower pots full of concrete on the balcony. Not only did my son no longer believe in Santa – but he still believed in the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny, meaning I could've (and should've) styled it out for at least a year longer, easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.
And now I have to face the sad, bleak, miserable and harsh reality. My son is a cynic – a major cynic. He's the six-year-old version of Richard Dawkins.
"What do you want for Christmas, Rico?" I asked him one day about a week ago.
"Money," he said, sniffing nonchalantly.
"Money?" I asked, outraged.
"Well, yeah. If Father Christmas isn't really alive, you might as well give me some money and then I can buy myself what I want to have."
"Rico, you are not getting money for Christmas! Money!"
He looked at me and shrugged. Or yesterday, at the Christmas market, when a Santa gave him a chocolate coin with a "5" in it. Rico looked at it and grinned.
"Yahoo!" He called. "I got a fiver!" He put the chocolate in his mouth. "And he's not even alive." He swallowed the chocolate and looked at me thoughtfully. "Mum, does the government know about this?"
He still put his shoes out last night, though. "Mum, I don't really need to clean them, though, do I, if he's not really alive." But I made him anyway. And then I filled them up with little chocolate snowmen, and tiny Smurfs, and those little cane things, feeling simultaneously guilty that he a) was getting too much sugar this December and b) didn't even believe in Santa, Father Christmas and/or Nikolaus. Still, at least he still believes in the tooth fairy. And it's just as well, really, the amount of chocolate he's been consuming lately.