We were walking the dog when my son said, “Why does it feel like my childhood is over? Does this mean I’m … a man?”
I thought about it for, oh, half a second, and said, “In a way I guess it does.”
I tried not to laugh, but it was nearly impossible. A man. My nine year old was not a man. He was a boy who had stopped believing in Santa Claus.
Our road to “manhood” began when I heard him rummaging around in the closet.
“Mom, get over here!”
The urgency in his voice could only mean one thing: Elf on a Shelf. He’d found the Elf on a Shelf. Only on this day, the Elf wasn’t on a shelf … it was smushed inside a box shoved in the back of the closet behind a tub of board games. (I knew I should have hidden it somewhere else.)
“I have something very important to show you,” he said.
I took a deep breath. I decided to go there. “The Elf on the Shelf?”
My question was met with silence. Followed by a meek, “Yes.”
I could have kept it going if I had really wanted to. I could have told him the Elf on the Shelf was a fake but Santa was real — as long as he continued to believe. But at that moment, I was ready for him to stop believing.
Why? For one, I didn’t want to end up going to my son’s middle school in a few years to ask a bunch of eighth graders not to tell him Santa isn’t real. And in the more immediate future, I didn’t really want to go wait in line at the mall for him to sit on a big man’s lap. The time had come.
“There’s something I’m going to tell you that you’re not going to like,” I said to my son, who stood before me clutching the Elf on the Shelf. I looked him square in the eye and ruined his childhood. “Santa isn’t real.”
That’s when it hit me — a feeling I wasn’t expecting. It felt a lot like relief.
Now if anyone had told me I’d feel this way about what was happening, I would have said they were crazy. He is my only child, and it’s only natural I’d want to keep him my little baby for as long as possible. And yet I felt not just relief, I felt exhilarated. Exhilarated … and guilty, at the same time. Guilty about feeling exhilarated. Why the extreme emotions? My job.
Before this very adult conversation, I had been on my computer working on my schedule for this month. I’m a flight attendant. Airports don’t close for the holidays.
The weight of trying to make Christmas happen on Christmas — or as close to Christmas as possible — had been lifted. I had no idea it had affected me so much, but it did.
Now I wouldn’t have to call Santa’s Factory, within convenient earshot of my son, to “schedule a new delivery day.” Ever again. Not that I wasn’t proud of my acting skills …
I’ve been a flight attendant 20 years, so I can do things most people can’t. Take for instance smiling.
Who else can smile when they absolutely, positively do not feel like smiling for 10 hours a day? Even at the crack of dawn? When Starbucks isn’t open? After an eight hour layover?
Who else do you know who can keep their mouth shut while someone freaks out over nothing? Like that time a passenger accused me of ruining her family vacation … because we ran out of scrambled eggs in business class.
Who else can keep calm and continue serving drinks during a potential emergency situation? Like that time, after getting a whiff of a plastic burning smell, I slipped off my navy blue shoes in the middle of the beverage service and padded up and down the aisle in stockings to check if the floor was hot?
So let’s just say that when, year after year, I had to convince my son that Santa was going to reschedule the delivery of his presents to the 23rd, or the 26th, I did an excellent job.
Our conversation about Santa lasted off and on for a good 24 hours. He said he found the whole thing disturbing. At one point, he was accusing me of lying — lying about lying — when he looked at me very seriously and asked, “Are you telling me the news lied?”
He was talking about Norad’s Santa tracker, which broadcasts Santa’s whereabouts each Christmas.
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” I said. “The news lied.”
“Why would they do that?!”
“For you. To make it special.”
“Wait a minute” — it looked like his eyes might pop out of his head — “Who were you talking to when you called Santa’s Factory?”
“Nobody?! You were just talking to yourself?”
It’s basically the same as greeting non-responsive passengers at the boarding door. Besides rescheduling Christmas day, talking to myself is another one of my special gifts. When I ask passengers if they’d like a refill on their drink, nine of out 10 times they’ll stare at me blankly, not bothering to turn the volume down on their headphones. Sometimes I take it upon myself to answer for them.
“Would you care for something else to drink? No? You’re done? Okay.” And then I’ll whisk the glass away. And everyone’s happy.