Mom, is Mrs. Santa real?
Those words stopped me in my proverbial tracks, sucked the very breath from my lungs, and ended the childhood of my first born.
I mean, it would have ended her childhood, except that I lied.
"Of course she's real, baby. Why do you ask?"
She shrugged. I dunno. Are you sure she's real?
"Yep. She's real."
And then we stared each other down, both waiting for the other to blink, both giving the hairy eyeball.
I'm pretty sure she knows.
Earlier this week, I told my mom that I was afraid this would be her last year for Santa, the last year she would believe.
I've seen Grace eying me suspiciously. She'd found a couple of gifts that I'd tried to hide in the shopping cart at Target, and I think I've asked one too many questions about the gifts she's hoping Mrs. Santa will bring.
It's been a long time since she's cried No Santa! No Santa!
But then, I think she still wants to believe.
She talks about Mrs. Santa every day. She wants to go see Mr. Santa and have her picture taken. She thinks about reindeer and elves and presents. Every day, she looks under the Christmas tree to see if Mrs. Santa has come.
I'm not sure if she really believes or if she really knows the truth or if her little brilliant brain is even complex enough to understand the difference.
The whole thing makes me sad. I want her to be young and innocent and unaware.
I'm sad that she's growing up too fast. I'm sad that there are things she doesn't tell me because she wants me to be happy. I'm sad that she's reading and writing and that some day, she will know for sure.
For now, I'm leaving presents out now and then, pretending that Mrs. Santa stopped by unexpectedly. I'm being as stealthy as possible.
And I'm lying as convincingly as I can manage.