He walked into my room as I was just finishing getting dressed this morning.
"I saw you with the balloons."
I froze, momentarily, before turning to face him, my firstborn, my nearly 9-year old. My Evan.
I met his eye as I sat on the bed, motioning for him to join me.
"Tell me the truth," he said, not breaking eye contact.
The truth? The truth is, last night, I got lazy. St. Patrick's Day is a gimme holiday. A few leprechaun pranks, a few treats in the shoes, and done. But even for a true Irish girl like myself, I've lowered my once-relatively-high bar. No more green shamrock-shaped pancakes, no more leprechaun footprints all over the house. No upturned furniture. For God's sake no leprechaun pee in the toilets. Last night, I filled their shoes with little treats, colored their milk green, and blew up a few green balloons for them to find in their rooms when they woke up. That was it.
Until it became so much more.
I listened for the younger two, who were playing happily downstairs, before I began. This was it: The Conversation that had been on the tip of my tongue for the past year, waiting, knowing its time was near. I didn't think it would be like this...not in the few moments before the mad-dash of Getting Ready For School was to begin...not alone with him in my room, while Sam was out taking the dog for a walk...not on St. Patrick's Day of all holidays, this one is supposed to be the easy one!
But ready or not, I was about to begin and, once I started, the words just spilled out:
"The truth is, buddy, that holiday magic is real.
That excitement you feel as a holiday gets closer, that happiness you feel when you first wake up on a special day...those feelings are real. That magic is real. But you did see me with the balloons last night because I was helping the St. Patrick's Day magic happen. That's one of the best parts of being a mom or dad...you get to help make magic for your kids."
I paused, not knowing how he was going to take this news.
"So, there's magic for all of the holidays? And you and Daddy help make all of that magic?"
"Yup. We help make All of the magic. And now that you know the Secret of the Magic, you get to help us make the magic."
At this, his eyes flashed wide and a grin crept into the corners of his mouth. "Like how?"
"Well, next year on the night before St. Patrick's Day, you can help me and Daddy set up some leprechaun pranks for Max and Molly. And that reminds me: With Great Knowledge Comes Great Responsibility, buddy.
Now that you're a Keeper of the Magic, it's your job to help spread the magic, but it's also your job to protect it. You are old enough and clever enough that you figured out the Secret of the Magic all on your own. You were ready for the truth. But if you were to give the secret away to someone who hadn't yet discovered it, they would feel sad. Like they didn't have the chance to figure it out by themselves. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Eyes wide, head nodding.
I had to make sure.
"You have to protect the Magic for Max and Molly. Let them discover the secret on their own. It's not your job to tell them the truth, it's your job to keep the magic alive."
"So, do you and Daddy do Easter Magic?"
"And do you do Christmas Magic?"
"Yup. Christmas Magic, too."
His sly grin continued to grow until he was practically SMILING.
"I'm proud of you, Ev. We're going to have a lot of fun, now, creating holiday magic together. Do you have any more questions?"
"Nope!" he sang, before bounding down the stairs.
I listened closely, fingers crossed that he wouldn't go downstairs and blow the whole damn thing for his brother and sister.
I heard Max's voice first: "What were you doing up there, Evan?"
Then, without missing a beat: "Cleaning bathrooms."
Smooth, Evan. Real smooth.
I had been dreading this conversation almost as much (maybe more than?) the Where Do Babies Come From? conversation. Creating Magic is one of the best perks of this parenting gig and I didn't want that magic to be tarnished by a negative reaction to the truth from him. I didn't want him to feel played. I didn't want him to feel as though the joke was on him. I wanted him to feel as though Magic is Good and Fun and Special and Worth Sharing and REAL. Because it is, by the way. You can see it in the twinkle in your kids' eyes...and it doesn't have to be in the form of leprechauns and Santa. Parents, teachers, and caregivers make magic for kids every day.
He handled the conversation well because he was ready for the truth...but only so much truth. He didn't ask any questions deeper than those which would glean surface-level information before I sent him off to school. I kissed him goodbye, exhaled, and added another Milestone Badge to my Mom File.
Tonight, after we had read and turned out the light, I sat next to him tickling his back for a few minutes.
"Mommy? Like, what kind of Easter Magic is there?"
(Now, we're not Christians, so our Easter is purely a Welcome Spring celebration. There is no Resurrection, but there are eggs and bunnies.)
"Well, you know when you wake up on Easter morning and there are eggs hidden all over the house?"
"You hide them!"
"And this year, you'll help us."
"Mommy? How do you help with Christmas Magic?"
I wanted to tread lightly here. This is the Big One.
"So, Bear Ticklish [Our Elf on the Shelf]? Well, we make the Elf Magic. We move him around from place to place each night."
"Did YOU toilet paper the bathroom that one time?!"
"And the zipline in our old house?!"
"Why didn't you do any of that crazy stuff this year?"
"Daddy and I have been making Elf Magic for a long time. We were kind of running out of ideas!"
"Oh, well, I have a TON of great Elf Magic ideas for this year!"
"I'm sure you do! I can't wait to see them all."
"Mommy? I know you move Bear Ticklish...but is he real?"
"You mean does he fly to the North Pole each night? No. He's a symbol; a reminder to all of us to work extra hard during the Christmas season to be kind and helpful and generous and to think of others. Seeing him each morning reminds us to be our best. He's a real symbol, but he doesn't come to life."
"Mommy? What about the presents?"
"Well, buddy. What do YOU think about the presents?"
"I think that's Santa's Magic."
"I love you, buddy. Good night."
We are peeling back the layers and discovering, little by little, the truth. But the Magic? The Magic remains.