It started with a round of questions.
"Is Santa real?" my 7-year-old asked when I picked her up from school one day in early December.
"Of course," I answered, instantly riddled with guilt that I had just lied to my daughter. "Why do you ask?"
Apparently, kids at school had been talking. Some of her classmates said they didn't believe in Santa, that it was really their parents who bought the presents. My daughter didn't seem shocked or upset, but she wanted confirmation of her beliefs.
"What do you think about what they said?" I asked my daughter, who is in second grade.
"I think if they don't believe in Santa, he may stop coming to their house," she replied.
"I think you are right," I told her.
It occurred to me recently that it might be our last Christmas where all three of my children believe in Santa. The realization was a bit of a shock -- we still have a baby in the house and it doesn't seem like that long ago that my oldest child was a baby herself. It doesn't seem like we've had all that many Christmases playing Santa, putting together toys late at night on Christmas Eve or spending Christmas mornings when our kids woke up while it was still dark out.
I mentally counted the years -- I was 8 when my mom told me the Santa truth, only a year older than my daughter is now.
While I value being truthful to my kids as much as possible, I want the Santa "magic" of Christmas to continue. I hope to extend the "magic" as long as possible because my daughter cannot keep a secret and will inevitably tell her younger brother and younger cousins.
So, for now, I have to keep the magic alive. Which is why I did something last week that I swore I would never, ever do: I introduced my kids to an "Elf on the Shelf."
I've had a long-held aversion to the elf for a lot of reasons: I want my kids to focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas. So much of the time, Christmas is about the presents, leaving the celebration of Jesus' birth overshadowed or forgotten.
As a working mom of three kids, I also felt like I had enough to worry about each night just trying to make sure that homework was done, kids were bathed, teeth brushed and kids in bed without the added pressure of remembering to move an elf around the house each night, or create crazy antics for the elf to "do."
But for two years, our kids have begged for an elf on the shelf. And for two years, I've stood my ground. Until now.
On a whim, I bought the elf recently, put it up on our mantle and left out the "Elf on the Shelf" book one night along with a note "from" the elf himself, explaining why he was there.
When our two oldest kids woke up the next morning and found their surprise, they screamed. Our 7-year-old daughter was on the verge of tears she was so happy. She has since written the elf notes, including a list to take back to Santa. She made a necklace for the elf, out of plastic beads, and leaves out "treats" for the elf to eat while she is at school.
While it does take a few extra minutes at the end of our day to remember to move the elf before bedtime -- it has helped extend the "magic" of Santa for one more year.
Watching the excitement on my 7-year-old's face is worth the effort. I only wish I had done it sooner.
-- Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.