I knew it was going to happen eventually, but when the moment came, I was completely unprepared.

Mom? said my nine-year old as we whizzed through the aisles at Target right before Thanksgiving.  I dont think I really believe in Santa Claus anymore.

I was rushing, but I took the time to stop and look my youngest in the eye.

Aidan, why would you say that?

I just dont.

Honey, I want to talk to you about this, but not right now, okay? We will have this conversation later.

I was stalling, because I wanted to know what he knew, and why he thought he knew it.
But for all practical purposes, I realized it was too late, that he had already come to the end of Santa all on his own.  Because the second a kid that age starts questioning Santa is the second its over.

I mean, once a kid starts thinking about it REALLY thinking about it the reality of an actual person named Santa Claus, who delivers toys in one night to every child in the world, makes no sense.

Over the next few weeks, my thoughtful, logical little guy gave me an earful.

Mom! Hes never sick? Hes been alive for hundreds of years? He goes around the whole world in one night?

And it sort of breaks my heart. Because I know, even if he doesnt, that the cold-eyed rationalism hes so proud to show me signals the beginning of the end of his childhood.

Even though I still remember exactly when and how I figured out Santa wasnt real (Santa uses the same wrapping paper as my parents???) Im the mom now, Im the grown-up, and I know whats coming tuition and jobs and car payments and mortgages and worryinglots of worrying.

And Aidan hes my baby. Im not having another one. This is my last shot at Santa too.

So I tell him, Dont be in such a hurry to grow up, and  Relax, just be a kid and enjoy it. But I cant bring myself to tell my little brainiac that Santa Claus is real.

Thank goodness for my husband, whose attitude about Christmas and Santa I have, up to now, found kind of annoying.

But now I think Im finally getting it.

Believe in this wonderful idea called Santa, he tells the kids, and it will be better for everyone. Not just for them Santa brings wonderful presents but for him, too. Because he actually BECOMES Santa (and he makes me do it too),  planning out elaborate schemes and giving the kids things that their regular old mom and dad never would.

Without Santa there would be no whispered conversations between mom and dad, no secret late night toy assembly sessions, no surprises all around on Dec. 25.

I think our oldest son Gabriel gets it, too. I know he doesnt believe in Santa anymore, but he keeps quiet.

So I think Santa will come anyway this year. And if were lucky and smart and happy and all those things families should be, Im pretty sure hell keep right on coming.