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I'm going to miss Santa when my kids grow up

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The jig is up. My nine-year-old son and my seven-year-old daughter are finally on to me. In separate conversations this month, each asked me, point-blank, whether Santa Claus is real or not.

I froze for a moment. This was the first time either of them had asked, so I was desperately trying to decipher whether it was a genuine, age-appropriate necessity for the truth or a tactical ploy to guilt me into buying more stuff to put under the tree.

I proceeded cautiously on both counts, noting their distinctly different investigative styles.

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From my gentle-natured boy came this: "It's okay Mum, you can tell me. All the kids at school say it's the parents who put the toys under the tree, so I lie and say I know, even though I don't believe them. 'Cause you know what they say," he said with a Cheshire grin, "if you don't believe, you don't receive!"

Oh, he's good. Dripping in maternal sincerity, I smiled and offered my patented Yuletide platitude: "Santa has always been alive and well in our home, honey." And with that, he smiled and gave me a big hug. I love that kid.

By contrast, my feisty, clever and equally well-loved little girl went with the "take no prisoners" approach, flame-throwing her position thusly: "If I find out you've been LYING all this time about Santa, you are in BIG TROUBLE!"

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Who in their right mind would choose that moment to throw themselves under the bus? And when exactly is the right time to destroy your child's innocence with the slaying of their beloved Christmas idol?

I have been grappling with this dilemma since the summer, when my daughter's left front tooth fell out. This momentous occasion prompted a gruelling cross-examination over the existence of the tooth fairy. Having narrowly escaped her notice at the pillow drop zone that night, I began to experience "fairy fatigue," the repressed resentment over the pressure to maintain this periodontal parody. It's similar to "bunny breakdown" at Easter, although I find then that excessive chocolate consumption helps to take the edge off the symptoms.

I'm attempting to come to terms with the fact that Christmas will be different once the inevitable big admission is out on the table. And, I'll admit, I'm going to miss it.

Let's face it, who doesn't get a bit sentimental watching their children's faces light up over the magic and wonder of Christmas morning? Their wide eyes at seeing previously limp stockings now bulging with goodies, the noticeable swelling of presents under the tree, the half-eaten cookies and empty glass of milk left on the mantel the night before? Some years, Santa has even left a note for the kids, usually explaining some North Pole policy regarding the delivery of an "even better toy" than the one they had asked for (a.k.a. retail availability on Dec. 24).

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But maybe this looming confession won't have to be made as soon as I had imagined. The other morning, my son threw me a real curveball when, from the other side of the bathroom door, he shout-asked if I had an envelope. (This while I was otherwise occupied in the washroom, as if our household stationery supplies should be stored alongside the toilet paper.)

"There are some on daddy's dresser," I shout-replied, and with that, he was gone. When I entered the kitchen, there in plain view on the counter was the reason for his query. It was his letter to Santa, written in pencil and addressed to the North Pole. And he had licked it closed.

Was this just a test to see if I'd panic over not having seen his wish list before he'd sealed it (which I already had, in fact – we elves have our ways)? Or was it a genuine, last-ditch appeal to some benevolent patriarch in hope that the magic really is real? In all honesty, it broke my heart a little.

I remember asking my own father whether Santa was real or not. I was 8 when it happened and it was not a good time for our family. My mother's health was failing and my father's business was spiralling toward bankruptcy. Needless to say, he was in a foul mood for most of that miserable year.

One afternoon in December, I found him upstairs in the den, just sitting by himself. I wanted to say something to cheer him up, maybe even to make things better. But I didn't know what to say. So I thought I'd ask him a question instead, an easy icebreaker that would surely lead to a tender, father-daughter moment. I really needed one.

Looking back, I don't think I was asking as much for a truthful answer as I simply wanted to know whether he'd protect me, whether he still thought of me as his little girl. Understandably now, he shrugged his shoulders and told me there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I grew up more that day than I'd ever intended.

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They say some lies will get you into heaven. While I'm not convinced this act of duplicity will earn me any favour at the Pearly Gates, I'm willing to risk all for the sake of my kids' short-lived childhood fantasies. In the end, I suspect it won't be my children who will suffer most from the loss of this long-cherished charade anyway. It will be me.

Andie Duncan lives in Toronto.

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