Sitting at a work table in the back of Mrs. Colleto's classroom, a group of boys were talking about the Santa myth and the smallest girl in our class spoke up to say, "Santa is real!" She backed up her statement with some pretty weak proof of having a note or been assured by her parents, which prompted the boys to pounce, telling her it wasn't true. I don't think they said anything worse than that, but I remember the girl's posture, hunched over her paper, head angled downward, clearly sad. I didn't say anything because while I felt bad for her, I was also thinking the third grade equivalent of "what the hell?" How did she not know about Santa? This was third grade, after all, we weren't little second graders.
My parents never told me that Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy did not exist. Still to this day, we've never had that talk. I'm sure it's coming some day, right about the time they talk to me about sex. I learned about Santa (and probably sex) from the older kids on the street. The closest we came to having a discussion about Santa was when the next door neighbor was talking to my mom and the neighbor asked me if I believed in Santa. I stood there for an eternity - probably five seconds - wondering how to respond. Was it a trap? Would the good times come to a halt? Was I wrong? Finally I said no, and one of the mom's said, "Just don't tell Justin. He still believes." Justin was the kid next door who was a year or two younger than me. He also had a big playroom and a lot of toys, which I still think about today. When people ask if I had a certain toy growing up, usually I didn't have the toy, but Justin did, which was almost as good as owning it myself.
Clover has been trying to figure out the Santa thing for quite some time. She may have told people she didn't believe, but there was a part of her that did. When she lost her tooth last week, she left a note to the tooth fairy that asked if she was real. It also said, "If I'm still up can we play? I promise I won't tell anyone...P.S. Please take me to your house sometime." (Yes, we have worked with her on stranger danger...) She's in the place straddling young childhood and tweendom, and it can be a sad transition. For me. Because the next day when we had an honest talk about the Easter Bunny, I kept trying to get her to back off her question of reality, while she pressed ahead. "You can't unknow this!" I said, confusing her more with unclear language. When we told her the truth, she was elated. "I knew it! I knew it!" Her proof was a slip up I made on Christmas morning about a stocking item and how I had ordered it two months prior. (Angry Birds shirts, FTW!)
She's promised not to share her knowledge with anyone younger than her or anyone who says they still believe, but I cannot imagine Rocket will believe for as long as Clover did. Already at the table last night, the kids were thankful for the Easter Bunny, and Clover said, "Thanks Easter Bunny, right dad?" while doing air quotes around Easter Bunny. She may as well have winked because it was that obvious.
Instead of losing magic, she's clearly joyous from learning some of the mysteries of the adult world. I was ready for a tearful talk where I exposed everything ("Mickey is not a real mouse!"), but she took the small nugget and extrapolated. I didn't want to lose this piece of childhood, but also I didn't want her to be the sad girl in third grade made to feel bad by her classmates. There was relief too. She said this way she no longer had to work out complicated strategies to try to catch the the bunny, witch or Claus. She didn't have to try to stay awake all night, hoping to catch a sign or build a trap to catch them in the act. The upside for us is that we didn't have to sneak around on Saturday night. Once she went to bed, we were able to get everything out, without fear of her walking out of her room to get water.
Something special was left behind for certain, but it's an inevitable part of the slow shedding of childhood where some of the milestones as more bittersweet than others. Until Rocket begins losing teeth, Kevin's happy to hang up his tooth fairy wings.