The three-year age difference between my children is never more apparent than at the holidays.
In many ways, six Christmases have made Emma an expert. She knows what to expect, that the space under the tree will be filled with presents when she wakes up that magical morning. That the days before will be filled with cookies, parties and singing. I can almost see lights shining in her eyes when she talks about what’s on her list. Snowmen with Santa hats decorate her drawings.
But with just three Christmases under his belt, Benny is still a novice. “When it snows, Santa will be here!” he says hopefully. This is the same child who cannot understand that trick-or-treating isn’t an option any night of the year (“It’s dark out! Let’s go get candy!”).
When we talk about putting up the tree, he looks utterly confused. A tree in the living room? When I don’t even let him bring the occasional stick inside? Truly, I can’t imagine how he processes overheard snippets about stuffing stockings, flying reindeer and exchanging names.
Emma tries to help out. “What are you going to tell Santa you want for Christmas, Benny?” she asked him recently.
Benny was quiet for a few seconds. “A rock,” he finally answered.
Emma looked at him with her mouth agape. “You can ask for anything, Benny. Anything for Christmas.”
“I want a very small rock,” he qualified.
“No, Benny. I’m going to ask for a D.S., and a stuffed dog, and clothes, and lots of stuff. You can ask for toys. Don’t you want a choo-choo train?”
“I have a choo-choo train at my home,” Benny said. “I want a rock.”
“No, Benny, you can’t ask for a rock.”
“I WANT A ROCK!”
“I’m sure Santa can get a rock for you, Benny,” I threw in as Emma shook her head at her little brother.
But Benny isn’t the only mystery to Emma. “If Santa’s reindeer actually flew in the sky on Christmas Eve, why hasn’t anyone seen it?” she asked me. “If he’s got so much magic, why doesn’t he just walk super fast?”
During moments like this, I feel like the sands of wonder are slipping through the hourglass of Emma’s life. Are the days of leaving cookies for Rudolph and being extra nice in December — just in case you-know-who is watching — about to end? Will she soon roll her eyes when the tag on her presents is signed “From Mr. S”?
Maybe I don’t need to worry.
A friend told me that her teenage daughter still holds up her just-unwrapped gifts on Christmas morning and squeals, “Look what I got, Mom!” as though the new shirt really did show up without her mother’s involvement.
Other moms told me they’re sure their children know the truth, but both parties are afraid to say it. Maybe everyone wants the magic to continue.
“Is Santa my friend?” Benny asks.
“Absolutely,” I answer.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3. You can read more Smart Mama columns here.