At 9, William is well past the stage of believing in Santa Claus, but he is loathe to give up the illusion. I don't get it really, but he's the same boy that wants to believe in UFOs and Sasquatch and Aliens. I try to approach things with him scientifically.
For the longest time, he was afraid of ghosts. He countered with 'science' gleaned from numerous You-tube videos. He talked about ectoplasm and about their electrical fields, and about how you could take pictures of them, or hear them in recordings.
At that time, he wore light up sneakers. (It was back in the day before he began to worry that his shoes might lead an active shooter to him if he was trying to hide from one at school. Sad story but true.) I showed him a video to demonstrate how electricity in the air can activate light up sneakers. "So, I pondered out loud "if ghosts generate electrical fields, your shoes should go nuts if there are ghosts in the area."
He decided that I was right.
So we jumped on our bikes one night and headed down the bike trail to an historical cemetery. We walked around looking for signs of ghosts. We stood still and watched his shoes. They did not light up. There was, much to his disappointment, no eerie phenomena to record.
So we headed home discussing the fact that based on the evidence, we had to draw the conclusion that ghosts do not exist.
(I know, I know. Every person has their story to tell. I do too, for that matter, but there was a six year old boy who was afraid of ghosts.)
Not long afterwards, the big thing was zombies.
Another walk through the cemetery across the road from the retirement property. We were looking for signs of disturbed earth. Did it look like anything had clawed its way out of a grave?
We walked through the whole thing, and once again, we found no evidence to support his fear that there was such creatures as zombies.
He has a sasquatch detection kit. He has looked and disappointingly found no evidence of sasquatch.
And so it goes.
But now it is Christmas. He is in 4th grade now. In the hierarchy of elementary school, I know that kids can be ruthless to those they perceive to be 'babies', so it's important to wean him from childish things. Last year, we broached the subject by not broaching it.
He was given $50 for his wallet, and he went Christmas shopping. He bought gifts for his mother and Don, for his grandpa, for his aunts and uncles. He stretched that money to the point that he was able to buy Christmas pencils for the kids in his classroom, and a gift for his teacher. As he was partaking of this joy, we discussed, casually, how much fun it was to BE Santa. "That's how it works, I explained, "we grow up and we become the magic!"
He digested this and didn't say much.
This year, we went Christmas shopping once again. He brought everything home and we wrapped it. He labeled them and put bows on everything. He hid the things here. He will take them home when they get their tree up.
I was washing dishes and he was at the table, painting some details on his cinnamon/applesauce ornaments we made a few weeks back. He said, "I still believe in Santa Claus."
He looked at me, to see what I would say.
"I do." A bit of defiance.
"I just like to."
I said, "Pretending is fine. Telling yourself stories is fine. But when you can't tell the difference between your pretending and real life, it becomes a problem."
He got a little quavery.
"Does it matter if your gifts come from your Mom and Don, or your grandparents or your aunts and uncles? Do you think you will receive more gifts if you insist that Santa is real?"
And he said, "No."
I said, "It doesn't sound like you're quite ready to set this aside, but the thing I want you to understand is that Christmas is no less exciting when you stop believing in Santa."
I talked again about how we step from believing in Santa to actually being Santa. "Wasn't shopping fun today?"
He kept painting his ornaments and said nothing.
"Want to be Santa right this very minute?" I asked.
He looked surprised. "It's dark outside."
"Santa comes at night. If you're going to play the game, you've got to play it right. Go get your boots on."
By the door, there is a basket of gifts and cards. I've spent extra time looking for quiet people doing kind things. I pulled out two packages.
He was well and truly curious by that point. "This is for the neighbors across the street, the people who have been so kind to the little stray cat. This is a treat for the cat, and this is a card and a gift for the nice people." He got a shopping bag as instructed and we deposited the gifts inside. We slipped out the side door and walked down the driveway.
We whispered even though there was no need to. Whispering makes everything far more exciting, don't you think? "Okay, duck across the street and run up on the porch. Don't clunk. Walk softly. We're on a secret mission. You sneak up on the porch and hang this on their doorknob and then scoot back here as quick as you can."
He whispered back: 'What if they open the door?"
"Well then we go to plan b. You call out Merry Christmas!"
And he sneaked off to do Santa's work.
He was not caught.
He streaked across the street and we both ran like the wind up the driveway and darted into the house.
He'll give up his childish beliefs. On some level, I think he already has, but he has to do it in his own time. My job is to make sure that he never feels as if something has been lost.