If you’ve been checking out my last couple of postings here at Good Enough Mother you’re probably aware of our ritual of having birthday cake for breakfast. You may have also heard that we read closed captioning for our reading homework, and say we love each other by stating “I almost kind of like you a little bit.”
However, not all of our traditions are so off the beaten path. We stop service men and women in the grocery store and say “thank you for all that you do”; every Friday night is family night where no phones, friends, or computers are allowed… and at Christmas time, we bake cookies for Santa, and leave carrots for the reindeer.
Christmas morning, it is always a surprise to find nibbled carrot tops outside the door and occasionally hanging from the edge of the roof. (For the record, the combination of snickerdoodles, milk and carrots as a midnight snack is an acquired taste.)
Two years ago, my son Justin had heard from a friend that (spoiler alert) parents were in fact the real Santa Claus. To prove the friend wrong, Justin tied yarn around my wrist, and his wrist. Each time I got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom he was right there with me, asking where I was going, hadn’t I already gone, and why on earth did I have to drink so much water during the day?
That year, Dominic, really stepped up. Pretending to kiss me goodnight, (because really what teenager still kisses their mom goodnight on the forehead?), Dominic said, “Don’t worry mom, I got this.” Thrilled at having the power of Christmas at his fingertips, Dominic went all out, and not only put the Santa presents out for Justin in the required brown paper wrapping, but he also dug a few pieces of charcoal out of the BBQ, put them in a brown lunch sack and wrote, “Dominic, be better next year!”
It has always been my belief that life is already hard enough without outside help. That’s why we don’t watch the evening news, we refuse to watch Lifetime network (except for How I Met Your Mother reruns), and reality TV is pretty much nonexistent for us.
So when the boys got off of the plane this past Sunday after visiting their dad for the last two months, and I noticed that Justin had two less teeth now than when he left, the first thing I asked was, “Was the tooth fairy able to find you in Georgia?”
Imagine my surprise when my baby boy looked at me with a wise and knowing expression and said, “Mom, you can stop. I know there is no Tooth Fairy… or Santa… or Easter Bunny.”
You know in movies, when the character stands still but everything in the background starts moving and swaying? That was me. I went deaf a little. My chest tightened, and my fingers went numb. I was seconds away from crying.
Here’s the thing you need to know about eleven year old Justin… he’s an old soul in every sense of the phrase. He was more excited over a back massager and BenGay than he was the Wii gaming system he got for Christmas a few years back. He does not think that farting dogs are funny, and I have gotten as many lectures from him as I have given. He eats dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon, complains relentlessly about his aching bones. This kid even has gray hair for crying out loud! That he believed in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny was one of the few youthful things about him.
As my world continued to roll around like a tilt-a-whirl, Justin headed for the baggage claim. It took me a few heartbeats, but I realized, Justin really was perfectly okay. He explained that his dad didn’t want him being laughed at as he got older, informed me that he would help keep the secret for other little kids in the world, and even asked what I did with all of the other teeth he had lost over the years.
His matter of fact shrug and smile confirmed that his world was indeed just fine. It was mine that had been altered.
When each boy started kindergarten, I called my dad and cried at the inhumanity of it all. A few years back, my attorney (and now friend) only took my custody case on after I had promised to get a hobby that did not involve the kids, and learned to be me all by myself. Last summer, I was suffocating with the need to call the boys literally every day they were gone visiting their dad. Just days ago, Santa Claus died.
As much as I’ve fought the growing process, I can’t help but realize… not a single one of those things had anything to do at all with my kids. It all had to do with me, and my need as an overbearing, obsessive parent to just… let go.
Even more shocking, is that through it all: the first days of school, the hobbies, the summer trips to their dad’s house, and the death of Santa Claus… not a single thing has changed. My kids still love me, and they know I still love them. The sun still shines each day, the dogs still knock over the trash can each night… and even though the magic of mythical men and fictional fairies has been exposed, the true gift is knowing that the real magic was always and will always be, watching the children they were, the boys they are now, and the men I know they’ll one day become.
My questions to you are, as an adult, with or without children, can you still find magic in your world, where do you find it, and do you / can you still appreciate it for what it is?
Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year.