When your kid is too old to visit Santa

When your kid is too old to visit Santa

Parenting a tween means trying to figure out when to hold your offspring close and when to let them fly, and determining what you should insist upon and what you should let go.

It's the "letting go" part that I find to be hardest, and that's especially true at the holidays. There are so many reminders of those sweet moments from Christmas Past, and I'd like to relive them here in Christmas Present. My daughter, however, has other ideas.

I have a photo of her visiting Santa for each year she's been alive. I put them out every Christmas and I love displaying those memories every year.

The photo from when she was four months old get me every single time I see it. Taking it out of the box each year guarantees a lump in my throat.

Where did that sweet baby go?

And then there's the picture from last year. The one she took solely to humor me, begrudgingly so, and it's pretty obvious from her forced smile that she's hoping no one she knows walks past. Don't get me wrong, I adore that smile, forced or otherwise.

Forced smiles and the need for bribery and/or coercion haven't stopped me in the past. There may be a few more forced smiles among the collection than I care to admit.

But. But. Santa! The cuteness!

"I know I say every year that I'm done with the picture with Santa. And I do mean it when I say that. But when I take the pictures out, I want another one," I said to my husband tonight.

He paused and then asked with a wee bit of concern, "Do you want her to be like those kids who took an annual picture with Santa for 30 years or something just for their mom?"

"Yes! Yes, I do," I informed him without hesitation. "Those were model children, I tell you. I'm sure their mother didn't ask for much. In fact, she probably didn't have to ask, they just knew that one quick pic with Santa would make her really happy. How great would that be?"

"Uh....."

So yeah, Santa and my girl had a good run together (I have the photos to prove it!), but if I'm following her lead, the tradition has run its course. She'd go happily only if there was a Santa visitor protection program. And if that's where we're at, perhaps it's time to move on.

I went to the words of Francis Church, editor of The Sun in 1897 who wrote "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" to find something to give me a reason to keep taking the photos, but sadly, I found the opposite. He concludes the famous piece with these lines:

"No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

And it hit me. My almost teenager is at the end of childhood.

I've been trying hard to deny that fact, but I can't coerce or bribe my way out of the march of time or human development. That my baby is exiting childhood is thrilling to her, and also to me, most days. Other days, like now, it's bittersweet and, well, sad.

We will make new memories, and there will be other fabulous holiday photos.

But for now I'll study those old pictures and say goodbye to Santa and to her childhood. I'll wish that I could trace my finger over the chubby cheek of that rather concerned baby's face, feel the incredible excitement and the pure glee of the preschool years, capture the serious questioning of the elementary period, and recall the chat with Santa about One Direction tickets that produced the forced smile of last year. (Yeah, Santa and boy bands don't always mix. I get it.)

Those years have been my greatest gifts. At the top of my Christmas list for Santa this year is the hope that even if she's too old to visit Santa that she never stops wishing and hoping for great things, and putting those wishes out into the world where people can help make her dreams come true.

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