Prior to relocating to Pleasanton, I worked for four years as a Disneyland Character in Anaheim. Disney instilled in me the belief that "dreams really do come true." During my daily strolls down Main Street as Mickey or Minnie Mouse, I learned one could never be too old to love their favorite character.
It was only recently I was forced to revisit these beliefs when my 9-year-old son, Keaton, asked Santa for a gift that exceeded our family budget. I considered that maybe it was time to break the truth to him. But first I needed to get a feel from other parents on what age was the best age to tell the Santa truth.
Many of my friends suggested it was time to fess up and let my son know there was no Santa. Several pointed out my indulgence of the Santa story with my children was a "white lie" and it was time to come clean. Although a twinge of guilt crept up in me, I was unsettled about annihilating his belief in Santa.
Another friend suggested I teach Keaton large words like "recession" and continued on conjuring up an amusing story of Santa making personnel layoffs within the elf factory.
Kim Stemplinger, mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, told me her children still believe in Santa Claus and she has no intention of forcing them to believe otherwise in the near future.
"Blake asked me straight out about a month ago. I had to come clean. The tooth fairy is out, too," said Miriam Bettoncourt of her 10-year-old son.
Cathy Melin had another perspective bringing in the meaning of Christmas.
"They can know the truth but still hold on to the belief that the spirit of Santa brings; the joy, the fun, the memories," she said.
Still not convinced that Keaton was ready, or maybe it was me that was not ready to see him through this rite of passage, I conferred with my dear friend Guy de la Cruz.
Guy was also a Disneyland cast member and still is today. During our years together at Disneyland, Guy was cast as Peter Pan. He brought the essence of every young boy to life with his talk of pixies and refusal to grow up. Surely he would have some insight on this delicate quandary I found myself in.
"Would you tell anyone that Mickey isn't real?" he asked me. "It's much more fun to keep the illusion. My mother always told me if I stopped believing in Santa he may stop believing in me."
My children are aware of my multiple identities of my past because of old photos I have kept during my costumed days at Disneyland. However, I would never squelch another child's belief in the princes and princesses of Disney whom they regard as heroes. It is qualities that these icons possess that can develop valuable characteristics in our own children.
Belle taught us to look beyond appearances and find the good within others in the movie "Beauty and the Beast." Mulan taught us women can possess courage and fight for their country. And Peter Pan told us it was alright to believe in faith, trust, and pixie dust.
Santa teaches us there is magic in giving to one another and that it's OK to believe in the impossible such as reindeer flying through a snowy night sky.
I was able to convince Keaton the spirit of Christmas was about sharing with others, especially those who have less than us. Together, we went online to pick a fun (and more reasonably priced) toy for himself. He also chose another toy for a less fortunate child. He wrote Santa a letter letting him know he had changed his mind about his gift choice. Instead of the $250 Star Wars tank he originally requested, he wanted Santa to spend some of his Christmas money on a child who had no toys.
I am certain Santa will oblige and a local shelter will receive a new toy on behalf of Keaton bringing a little Christmas magic into another child's life.
As for Keaton, he will continue to believe in Santa and his entourage of elves this year. I am not sure when he will learn the Santa truth but I intend to keep the magic alive as long as he is willing to believe.