Kate turned 10 this summer. In honor of the double-digit milestone, Pete and I proceeded to charge ourselves into the sixth circle of credit hell, and took her to Disney World. We rented a car. We stayed in a hotel. We ate out every meal. We ignored the fact that we'd probably pay off the mortgage before we managed to pay off this trip...
Because, dammit, Kate turned 10! And Disney theme parks turned 50! And Pete and I haven't had a vacation since I took him to Vegas for his 21st birthday.(Which so doesn't count because I was 2 months pregnant, and spent the entire time praying to the porcelain goddess that I would not hork up my spleen).
Somewhere between Kate's haunted-eyed refusal to ride Space Mountain and her gently reminding us for the 173rd time that the golden anniversary ears were really cool, it dawned on us, old Pete and me, that Kate really is still a little girl.
The moment came for me when we were in Ariel's Grotto, watching the laser and live-action presentation of The Little Mermaid story. It was stick-your-head-in-the-broiler hot outside, but the Grotto theater was dark and cool and fine mist drifted down on us from the ceiling. I was just stifling a yawn and thinking I could totally drift off listening to the voice of Prince Eric, The Too Hot for Disney Live Action Edition, when I felt a bump against my shoulder. I looked down to find my girl snuggled against me.
She must have felt my eyes on her, because she looked up. And she smiled. It wasn't the crap-eating "Yeah, I'm caught, but you are too distracted by my adoreableness to punish me" smile. It wasn't the sly "You know you want to let me stay up five more minutes" smile, either. It wasn't a big smile. Not the one, like, in the movies where the hero and the heroine are finally together and the music swells and your heart is so full that you either grin like a big dumb goofus or blubber right into your popcorn bag. No, this was that smile that I hadn't seen in so long, I almost didn't recognize it. It's the one where I can see...
The baby who giggled "Momomomomom" while I blew zrrrrbts on her tummy.
The toddler who pulled up all my pansies and announced, "I bring you sours! Pretty sours!"
The pre-schooler who got the largest, messiest ice cream on a real, actual cone of her own after braving it through getting stitches.
The Kindergartner who forgot her lines in the Christmas play, so she twirled in her poofy holiday dress instead.
The little girl who declared that her best friend in the whole wide world is the boy next door.
And the young lady in a training bra, hipster jeans, and a punk-rock ponytail elastic with the hot pink braids sewn on it nuzzling against me in the cool dark of a theater and forgetting, for just a second, that the people on stage are actors, that the creatures bouncing around are puppets, and that Mom is "O-M-G weird."
Fast forward to the other day, when Kate presented me with her Christmas list. I looked it over, noting a few items in particular that I thought I could wrangle without much trouble. And don't think I overlooked the numerous Bratz dolls and accessories. I didn't overlook them so much as studiously ignore their existence.
Kate fluttered all around me while I tried to read. She was really working that whole kid-cacophony. You know, the one I've basically tuned out to the point that it sounds something like the adults in Charlie Brown coming through on a radio station you can't quite get because your car radio antenna bites it.(Who had the brain trust moment and thought building the antenna into the rear window defroster was a stunner of an idea? Jack Ass, that's who).
And then, strangely, Kate made to relieve me of possession of the list! The great and wonderous list! She cannot take it away from me! Someone, quick, stop her! What in the name of all that is sweet and holy does she think she's doing? If she takes the list away from me, I swear, I'll buy her socks for Christmas. Don't make me do it! I totally will, man.
Finally, she wrenched the paper from my death grip, smoothed it out, and gave me the look of Brain Damage Would Improve Your Intellect, MoTHER. "I need it for when we go see Santa," she told me.
"Er," I said. Caution! Danger! Warning!
"I... Wasn't... Sure..." Kiddie Defcon 3! Alert! Alert!
"You, uh... Wanted to see..." All hands on deck! This is not a drill!
"Santa this year... ?"
Kate blinked at me a couple times. "Why wouldn't I?" she asked after a moment.
"Well, I, uh..." Think! Think!
"You see, it's like..." Think, dammit! Think!
"I just thought that maybe, you know..."
Kate cocked her head and knit her brows together. It was the same face she made when...
Where have I seen that face...?
Ah, I remember. Oh. Oh! Oh, dear. That's the same bittersweet expression she wore at 9PM on our last day at Disney World. She stood there in the middle of Main Street USA, staring back at Cinderella's Castle and wishing the fireworks to come back on, please, just for a minute more.
And so I did what any good parent would do: I made some shit up.
I told her about older kids passing on the whole Santa tradition to the younger kids. About how, you know, Santa's a busy dude, and the older kids eventually understand that and are cool with letting the little kids have him all to themselves. Cuz, you know, they realize they can't hog him up forever. I mean, dude, can you imagine? He probably wouldn't be able to do his job at all if everyone
got stuff from him forever
. Like, me and Daddy and all the other grown ups, you know? We don't get presents from Santa anymore. We had our time with him. And then, one day, maybe when we were 9 or 10 or 11 or whatever, we were ready to let him go.
"But, Katie, honey, if you're not ready? That's totally ok."