I fold the newspaper and place it on the end table next to where I am sitting. It is Christmas night. Our living room is in comfortable chaos. Half-opened boxes litter the living room floor. Strawberry Shortcake and her friends sit upright on the couch, having remained in that position since my daughter arranged them there hours ago before moving on to Barbie and her Dream Van. My son Jon lies underneath the colored lights of the Christmas tree using his Spirograph, his tongue dangling out of the side of his mouth, a variety of markers outlining his body as Radley the Bear watches silently next to him. Familiar Christmas carols hang in the air for one more night. One more time before the magic of Christmas fades.
I sit there and see it all slipping away so quickly. Many times after Christmas, people are always so quick to say, “It goes so fast,” and it does. The weeks of shopping and wrapping and baking come to such a quick end. When I was a child, Christmas night was always bittersweet. There was the wonderful calm that came from playing with my new toys underneath our family Christmas tree, yet it is was always coupled with that sadness that the excitement was now over. My mom would try to make the magic last, but as the toys were slowly moved out from under the tree into their new homes in closets and bedrooms, it was time to move on.
And that is what I feel as I sit in my chair by the tree today watching my children play. This is the first year since my children were born that I have a sense that Christmas will be moving on. That next year will be dramatically different from this year, and not in a good way. The reason? This is the year my son began to question. Little questions at first: How can Santa make it all around the world in one night? Which Santa is the real Santa - the mall Santa or the parade Santa? If Santa brought us the gifts, what did you and mommy buy? I was quick to deflect these questions or to change the topic, and you could see that the question did not burn in him enough fir him follow up. Instead, as much as I wanted him to forget the question and move on, he would. Yet I could tell. I could tell he was beginning to see through the magic and into the reality of it all.
And so it begins.
The irony of looking through the newspaper on Christmas day is difficult to avoid. The paper today - or any day - is filled with so much of reality, it can often be unbearable. Daily reminders of a faltering economy, never-ending tensions around the world and the pain and suffering we bring upon each other stand in stark contrast to the hope of a Christmas tree and the magic of a little girl and boy who believe today with all their hearts and souls that someone as magnificent as Santa does exist and the evil of the world - well, for them, that is the myth. As my son begins to see through the illusion of Santa, I know it will not be long before he begins to see so many of the other things that my wife and I have tried to shield from him during his first seven years of life. The newspaper next to me reminds me of that. And as much as I want this moment right now - a moment of great peace that washes over all parents when they see their children safe and warm and happy - to last, I know that not only will this moment end, more will end as well.
So once again, I feel the bittersweetness of Christmas. Now, instead of toys being moved into new homes, for me it is time which is moving. I realize something more as well. I realize that, for parents, a child’s growth perhaps is not measured in years and inches. After all, if that were really true, such growth would be impossible to measure because there are too many milestones during those first seven years. They all, in retrospect, seem to lump one upon another. Instead, perhaps the truth is that the growth of a child is best measured in Christmases. Those are easier to chunk together and they have a greater sense of stability for a parent. Newborn baby? Teach him about Santa. Sleeping in a bed? Understands about Santa. Rides a bike? Knows there is a Santa. First and second grade? Still a fan of Santa. Santa is the one constant throughout all those years. That constant allows us as parents to catch our breath and not be overwhelmed by the speed of our children’s changes. Yet more importantly, it was the one thing that allowed me not to grow any older. Because as long as my son still believed, he was still a child. And as long as he was a child, I remained the same. If I did not get older, then my parents would not get older. And if they did not get any older, then ... well, then they would be here for many more Christmases. We would all just remain the same as we are now. Today. Healthy. Strong. Happy. Safe. As long as Santa came down our chimney for my son or daughter, then everyone would still be safe. And I could still be in control.
Yet my son is starting to question. Time is passing. Things are changing. And for the first time in a long time, I see that both he and I and everyone else are getting older.
So I sit in my chair watching my son and daughter savoring the remnants of another Christmas. I glance over at the newspaper ... and then my son. And I try to hold onto the moment in my own heart for as along as I can.
I get on the floor and try out the Spirograph as well.
And I too am seven again.