Yes, she still believes.
She really, really believes. Without a doubt. She’s waking up an hour early these days. Borrowing against her dreams to start the day early. To find the elf. To open the advent calendar. To continue the celebration. She is all holiday, all festivity, all the time. She’s been on an emotional, tinsel-fueled high for more than a week.
And this surprises me.
You, sitting there, a bit farther up the road, you are smiling and shaking your head at me. “Oh mama,” you say, “Of course she still believes. She is five. She’s just a baby! You still have time.”
And maybe you’re right. Maybe we have time.
But I feel like we’ve been riding the roller coaster up since her first months of life. Up, up, up, building to this peak of holiday magic and spirit. First were the years when she didn’t understand but we went through all of the motions anyway, celebrating every little piece, because that is what you do when you haven’t really had to parent yet. You fill the crevices with tradition and sentimentality. Someday, you believe, you’ll want to tell her that you’ve been doing things this way since her very first Christmas.
Then were the years when she started to get it. By the time the day arrived, she understood what was happening. But it was all so ephemeral. Her understanding lasted only a season. By the following year, we’d start all over again.
Then came last year. The year when she remembered. She remembered the ornaments and the way the advent calendar counts us down to the day. She remembered decorating and buying gifts and her eyes truly began to sparkle with the awe of it all. We locked in some traditions last year, because now she carries them along with us. The holidays her own making as much as they are what we try to make for her.
Last year, I felt sure we were safe. Four is young. Four is barely beyond toddlerhood.You can still see the babyfat on four if you look hard enough (and I did). Four is small enough to be lifted up by the magic but big enough to create a little too. I felt safe with four.
But five? Well I wasn’t so sure. I wondered, as I hung our elf in his normal opening night spot last Sunday night. Would this be the year? Surely it couldn’t be. Surely I’ll know when we’re on the cusp. Surely I’ll see it coming down the road carried on the backs of questions about how? And when? And really? But she surprises me all the time and so, as I place the elf, I wondered.
That same night, emails swirled among the group of us and one mother shared the woes of her seven-year-old’s questions. Still a believer but asking questions. Such a shaky place, a place I’m not at all ready for. I don’t have my answers yet. The ones that will be honest and forthcoming but still leave a little mystery. The ones that will encourage her to, just this once, abandon her love of reason and logic and just believe… Or not.
We’ve been riding the roller coaster up. And I don’t want to miss the peak. I don’t want to only know it by looking back. Remember that year? That was it. The peak of her belief. The peak of the magic. The last year when they both believed without question or doubt, both so in it that you couldn’t help getting lost in the sparkles in their eyes.
That’s the part of all of this that I just haven’t quite grasped yet. How do you do it? How do you let thoughts of the future and all that you’ll miss keep you firmly planted in today without mourning today before it’s gone? How do you recognize the inevitability of the end only to the point where it’s useful? How do you just enjoy today for what it is, still magical, still steeped in belief in elves and fairies and magical flying reindeer, and ignore that we’re probably at or near the peak now and will soon begin the swift coast down?
This is on my mind a lot these days. Because oh she’s in it. And I’m loving it. I’m loving this place where I live with two little people who say good morning and goodnight to a doll made of felt and plastic as if he were real. I’m loving the moments when I overhear them as they play, calling Santa and talking about reindeer. I’m loving making gingerbread houses (even if they fall apart) and wrapping gifts together (even if the names get misspelled) and preparing for a magical evening of friends and hot cocoa and reindeer food cocktails. I’m loving it and I don’t want it to end.
But maybe you’re right. Maybe we have time. After all, she is five and, right now, she still believes.