His big sister, as it happens, is exactly 3 and 2/3 as of tomorrow. She is whipsmart and opinionated but also fairly shy, so her natural tendency to speak out in complete sentences that demonstrate a capability for logical abstract thinking still feels like a recent development, as her confidence in her own voice has gradually caught up with her interior thoughts. The upshot of this is that she and her big brother can now engage in long conversations which involve actual give and take and the exchange of ideas, and not just the little guy in dominating monologue and the little girl parroting every third thing he says (when he lets her get a word in edgewise). So there's a newly emergent dynamic, because like any set of siblings sometimes they agree and sometimes they pugnaciously do not, but they are making progress in figuring out how to navigate those particular waters without too much crying and screaming. I mean, sure, there's some crying and screaming. But not too much.
The little guy is 6-and-change, a first grader, and by my reckoning is in a very tricky transitional area of childhood. These days (at least for my UMC cohort with the helicopter parents and the ultra-competitive overscheduled kids and whatnot) high school might as well be college, middle school might as well be high school, and fourth grade might as well be middle school, and it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that fourth grade is less than three years away. I'm expecting any day now for my oldest child to cross a boundary between being a "little kid" and just a regular "kid". Arguably, one of the signposts for that threshold would be whether or not he still believes in Santa Claus.
Self-deprecating jokes about helicoptering aside, I try to take a hands-off approach, at least somewhat, to when and how my children deal with the gradual diminishment of innocence. Santa is a case in point. I do not have a plan per se for making sure that my children believe in Santa for as long as humanly possible, nor do I have a deadline in mind by which they need to have gotten over said belief. It will happen when it happens. If a kid on the school bus gives away the game tomorrow, I'll be a little bummed but life will go on. If the little guy is still writing letters to the North Pole at age eleven, I won't really have a problem with it. I admit the stakes here are pretty low, for me to be patting myself on the back for being supremely chill about it, but there it is.
Still, the truly bedeviling considerations arise not from when exactly the little guy stops believing, but when the little girl does, or the bino. As I mentioned, my two older children carry on their own dialogue pretty freely, and the bino hears and understands more often than not. All well and good to say, "Well, he had a good run, but first/second/____ grade is probably about the right time to realize how it really works," but if that in turn spills over onto the younger ones, that seems to be a shame. If I worry over anything, it's whether or not I should take the little guy aside and say "I'm going to tell you something because you're the oldest, and you can't tell your sister or brother." Is it worth it to shield the other two, if that means being the one to personally disillusion the eldest?
But it's looking like I won't necessarily have to worry about that this year, at least. A few nights ago the kids were all sitting at the dinner table waiting for me to fix their plates, and the little guy opened a conversation with his sister with a question: "Did you know there are some people who think Santa isn't real?" He said this with the same scoffing bemusement that I would employ to convey my discovery of a real live person who thinks the moon landing was faked by the reptilian shapeshifters who secretly run the One World Government. The little girl, for her part, didn't really know what to make of anyone not believing in Santa, and had no follow-up questions along the lines of why they might doubt his existence, just a determined "Of course he's real!" Duh.
So that's how it is in our house this Christmas. And I'd be a great big coal-deserving liar if I said it didn't make me distinctly happy deep in my heart.