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December 2009 Archives


Helping Kids Grow in Confidence

Posted by Jen on December 30, 2009 at 7:00 AM in Kid problems
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Wishing your kids could be more confident and self-sufficient in 2010? Confidence is something I hope I'm building into my kids everyday. Here are some things I know that work, along with some ways I know that my kids need to grow in this area in 2010.

Celebrate tiny accomplishments.  Make it a point to notice when your kids are making an effort to tackle a new task like pouring a drink or (as in happening in the next room as I type!) learning how to use a can opener.  These little risks add up to big confidence when your child can claim mastery.  Madeleine is ready for some more grown-up tasks in the house and I know my acknowledgement of that will improve her sense of self.

Let your kids grow in their own time.  Nothing hurts confidence more than being pushed to do something you aren't quite ready to tackle just yet.  It's okay to follow your kid's cues when making decisions about what's next on the learning agenda--don't let anyone else's timetable sway you. I know for me, I tend to push my kids harder than they're capable of going. This year in some arenas, at least, I know I need to step back.

Trust your own intuition.  If you're full of self-doubt, your kids will be too.  Practice trusting your intuition and following it wisely.  Your example can make a powerful difference--even if you can only trust yourself a little bit at a time.  The point is to model for your kids that confidence in your own point of view. I worked on this hard in 2009 and I still have a long way to go.

Sample new foods. Fear is a major factor that keeps all of us back from new experiences. The restaurant table is a perfect place to learn the art of taking risks, trying new things and finding out it won't hurt you to find out what works for you and what doesn't. Carter needs the nudge of confidence in the food department and this year, he's going to get it!

Let your kids cook with you more.  My kids are old enough now to make simple snacks, but I haven't been willing to teach them how to do it. I think by allowing them more space (and instruction) in the kitchen we'll build confidence in both directions--my ability to trust them and their ability to trust themselves. Which brings me to this next point.

Trust them.  Nothing communicates confidence more than trust.  I'll be looking for ways to demonstrate my trust--can you bring in the mail, please?  I'm waiting for an important bill--and act on it.  When we monitor our own fear and let our children be as capable as they really are, deep confidence will follow.

What one focus would you pick for your kids this year? Is confidence the thing or something else? Do you have tips on how to help confidence grow? I'd like to hear it all in the comments below.


I Miss His Nap

Posted by Kristen on December 28, 2009 at 7:00 AM in Sleep
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While all children are different, the time does come when your child will no longer want to take her nap. You will lay her down, she will sit back up, and you may even get a resounding "NO!" The one thing a parent learns about their child early on is whether or not she is a good sleeper and how much sleep she really needs. For some, it can be a painfully small amount of sleep and for others, the child seems to cling to that last long nap.

For us, it appears that 2 years old is going to be the magic age for the loss of the last nap. For the last few months, my son's sleepiness that descended at approximately 11:00 am every day seemed to get more inconsistent. Some days he was tired at 11, some days he wasn't tired until 3. It was very frustrating to me because I never knew when he was going to just curl up and go to sleep. If I tried to keep it consistent, he was out of bed in a flash.

The one thing I did notice was that his very consistent night sleeping of 10 hours would change in relation to whether or not he would take a nap. If he didn't take a nap that day, he would sleep for closer to 12 hours. It was then that I realized that he was getting the sleep he needed but he no longer needed it in the middle of the day in order to make it THROUGH the day. Here are some suggestions for determining if your child has outgrown her nap and what to do if that has happened.

Gauge your child's behavior because every child is different. If your child is fighting that nap but you find that he is practically roaring like a bear in the early evening, he clearly needs more sleep. You can either try getting him up earlier in the morning so that he is more tired by nap time or you can put him to sleep at least 30 minutes earlier than he may normally go. But really, who wants to wake up a toddler early in the morning?

Try out a gradual change in sleep routine for a few days and see how it goes. Some toddlers may gravitate toward a transition to an earlier bedtime but may still want to nap every two or three days. For my son, he is now going to bed 1 1/2 hours earlier at night than he was just a few weeks ago but he still manages to sneak in a nap every third day. I'm not complaining.

There is nothing wrong with having a "quiet hour" in lieu of a nap. Everyone needs a little peace and quiet during the day and just because your toddler doesn't want to nap doesn't mean that all hope is gone for that peaceful hour. Teaching your child to play quietly alone in his room will help teach him the value of alone time, how to be restful without necessarily sleeping and how to keep mom from going crazy. My mom came up with this one and it works like a charm.

While determining if your toddler is ready to get rid of the last nap can perhaps be a difficult decision, here are just a few ideas that worked for us. What do you do?


A Girl's Life

Posted by Patience on December 23, 2009 at 5:08 AM in Raising Girls
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I remember it like it was yesterday. I stood on the playground at Lucy's preschool before she even attended there. She was playing wildly on a tire swing with Jack while I spoke to a teacher and friend. Her little self, as she was no older than two and half maybe, keeping up with kids twice her size.

I was just starting to grasp the idea of her strong personality and starting to venture into new territory of parenting a girl after two boys.

"I don't know Kirsten, sometimes it is as if the entire world revolves around her. The boys adore her, she has this sort of way of being, this magnetism where she calls whatever she wants into being, it kind of worries me actually. Am I going to raise a totally self involved kid here?" I asked.

Kirsten laughed and then said very seriously, "Oh no Patience, build her up, guide her strength but don't worry about that because as a woman the world will challenge her, even try to take her down, you can count on that. "

Ever since that day, I kept that conversation and wisdom in the back of my mind, never letting it go too far from my thoughts as I parent my girl. It was the first thing I thought of as I watched the new PBS documentary A Girl's Life, where Rachel Simmmons, explores all the challenges and opportunities for young girls in our world today. Rachel has spent a decade talking to girls and wrote the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.

I was kind of scared and inspired at the same while watching the screener. I became informed on how much more my own girls will face in their adolescence and also how much potential and opportunity awaits them. If I am honest, part of me wanted to bury my head in the sand as I have a few years to go before we are there. Yet then I felt so incredibly grateful to have watched as I realized this is the very time we should be talking and considering how we can help our girls be strong and confident individuals.

I find everytime I start to feel overwhelmed by a particular topic as a parent, gaining some knowledge seems to quiet some of my fears and gives me a small toehold for the climb ahead. I can imagine it is the same for our kids.

If you are a parent of a girl (at any age) you will want to see A Girl's Life airing on December 30th at 8pm on your local PBS station. (check local listings) You may even want to watch it with your young pre-teen, teen girl and gather her thoughts on the subject. Also, check out the Raising Girls section here on the site and the new A Girl's Life page for more information.

If you are a parent to a girl, what issues are your girls facing? Does it feel all that different from when you were growing up? Got any thoughts or advice for this mom who will be there before I know it? Please share in the comments.


Christmas Rx or How to Keep the Season Bright

Posted by Jen on December 22, 2009 at 8:05 AM in Holidays
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dear snow girls

Christmas isn't always the easiest season, despite the snowfall, Santa and all the rest. The pressure to make everyone happy, meet expectations and relax can be overwhelming--especially when you have the complication of trying to make meaningful memories when everyone involved (yourself included) won't win any awards from Dr. Phil anytime soon.

Christmas has been a very painful time for me over the last few years--between the dissolution of a marriage and strained relationships across extended family lines. Here's my Rx for getting through the holiday just in case you've been there, too.

Keep it simple. You can let go of all your grand plans. The holiday picture, the Nutcracker, perfectly thought through presents. Yesterday the kids helped me write plain old white cards for their teachers while listening to the very non-Christmas-y local pop station. No Christmas photo op there, but it made everyone happy and got the job done.

File the bad news away for another day. Now is not the time to take on major behavior issues, fix your marriage or have a family meeting about the general state of crabbiness in the house. I can see that there are some things that need to be addressed around here, but waiting until January won't make matters worse.

Allow a small indulgence. And I don't mean chocolate or Christmas cookies--you're already in deep on those points, right? I mean the indulgence of stepping out of a familiar family drama, the indulgence of passing on a painful family function, the indulgence of NOT being a bridge builder when you really want to take a nap. You can justify this by hunkering down and enjoying your children who will be thrilled to have more of you, trust me.

Invite the real. Now is not the time for tales of Christmas bliss. Let your Christmas theater be all Charlie Brown and that mean one, Mr. Grinch. These stories address the hard parts of holidays and how it's difficult for us to all get on the same page--and kids can relate. Grown up versions are The Family Stone and Elf--where family dysfunction gets mixed up with just the right mix of redemption.

Maximize your together times, no matter how they come. Right now my kids are obsessed with a show on television that deals with death, grief and the after-life. This particular show skirts the horror genre a little bit too much for my taste, but it has them riveted, as we all process the losses happening in our family at the moment. While this is not the Christmas memory to write home about, we look forward to this time together each and every night--this holiday especially.

Do something unexpected. Sometimes when you're deep in your own mire, it helps to reach out and delight someone else. I spent the day yesterday writing little wishes for the new year for people near me who aren't expecting a thing this Christmas. It didn't take that much time, but it helped me remember the best medicine is being able to offer what's most needed in your world. Today, I hope to entice my kids to do the same.

Do you struggle with this time of year? Feel free to say yes and add your own Rx in the comments below.


Fun in the Snow

Posted by Kristen on December 21, 2009 at 6:26 AM in Raising Boys
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The Weather Channel predicted snow, snow and more snow. To be honest, I didn't believe them. I mean, they predict snow and we get rain. Rain and we get snow. You never know what is going to happen here in the mid-Atlantic. It was only at 8:00 p.m. on Friday night that I began to think that maybe they might be right. I did what every other crazy person did in these parts on Friday night and headed to the grocery store for some necessities. Call me crazy but there are things you MUST have for a snow storm.

Popcorn. This is multi-faceted. We got popcorn to eat when we were watching holiday specials, popcorn to make into CARMEL popcorn and popcorn to make a strand for our Christmas tree. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like giving your children sharp needles and telling them to string popcorn. I'll admit there were some potential 911 moments but nothing that couldn't be fixed with some Bactine and a bandaid.

Hot cocoa. We went old school with the cocoa, milk and a little sugar combination. This is my personal favorite because then Mean Mom gets to control the sugar intake. Before you bash me for being a grinch, I would much rather waste my children's sugar consumption on gooey marshmallows, and lots of them.

Bacon. Okay, I have no idea why everyone decided to purchase bacon as a snowed-in emergency item but I bowed to peer pressure and bought some as well. Bacon is good for, well, just about anything.

Chocolate chips. My children have been begging to make chocolate chip cookies and luckily the power held out and we were successful in our cookie endeavors. I'm not sure how many chips actually made it into the batter but I think they take that into account in the recipe. Then there were chocolate chip pancakes too.

Beyond all the food, what can you possibly do when you can't go out for fear of sending your car over the ravine in all the snow?

Instead of making snowmen, make snow animals. It sounds a little crazy but why not make a T-Rex? All you have to do is make a sloping mound of snow and use sticks all the way down the dinosaurs back. It is much scarier than a sweet old snowman and much easier to ride if you are really a pretend kind of kid.

Make a snow cave
. We cheated on this one when Derek used a piece of cardboard for the roof. It only took about five minutes to make instead of what could have been an hour-long process for a quality job. Not surprisingly, none of the children noticed. A great time was still had by all.

Help dig a neighbor out. We walked down the street to be sure that everyone living near us was doing just fine. The boys took their shovels and helped their dad clean sidewalks and paths.

Get your emergency supplies together
. Our emergency supplies used to be in one place but with lots of little hands that love flashlights, things tend to wander away. It was only when the lights flickered that we (read "I") feared that we would be panicked in the dark. Everyone ran in different directions and got together all the candles, blankets, ect. we would want to have handy if the lights did go out. We got lucky and they stayed on, but it is nice to be prepared. The boys were happy to contribute by digging out all the stolen flashlights from under their beds. Dad was happy to have his stuff back.

So all you East Coasters, what did you do this past weekend to prepare/survive the storm in a house with kids?


The Pretty Present

Posted by Patience on December 18, 2009 at 5:12 AM in HolidaysRaising Girls
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light and joy

I sat in the car pool line at preschool waiting for Lucy; her teacher Gillian held her hand as they walk towards the car. I could tell Lucy was about to cry, holding it all in, but just barely.
"I have a pretty present for you!" she wailed the second Gillian opened the door.
"Yes, Lucy has a present for you but it isn't quite ready yet, right? It will be okay Luce." she replied with an even voice, almost no emotion.

I laughed, knowing it had been the third time that week Lucy had cried when it was time to leave school. Each day held a different reason for all the emotion of devastation that my four year old girl feels. Feelings are so big at this age and I would venture to say even bigger for Lucy whose joys are as great as her sorrows. I always wondered how this part of her would play out at school when there are lots of kids with lots of different needs.
She needed understanding, strength and guidance all at the same time.

Just days later we found ourselves at the park, playing pretend as all roads lead to this game.
"Mom, you be the girl and I'll take you to school, okay?" she instructed.
I nodded and followed along.
"Now honey, have a good day at school! Be a listening girl and Miss Brea and Gillian will take good care of you, okay?" she mimicked my speech. I smiled.
She stopped the play. "Mom, let's get my teachers a pretty present for Christmas okay?" she insists.

I agree and wish I had about a hundred pretty presents to give these women. Sometimes when you are in the trenches of parenting, you wonder if anyone can see what you see. Maybe it is that you hope they will pick up where you lack, and love all the parts of your kid the way you do, even the hard ones.

The day I found out Brea and Gillian would be Lucy's teachers I just knew they were a gift to us both. The tattoos and a tiny nose ring combined told stories of strong and yet tender women who know what it means to choose the life you want. They embraced Lucy's strength while I still struggle to know my own and learn how to parent someone so different from me. They have offered boundaries yet still held space for her delightful spirit. They have helped her wield her power and remind me to keep my compassion. They have loved her well.

I feel all kinds of grateful for the village this holiday season. It is the kind of tribe that shows you how to live by standing beside you and jumping in to invest in love on so many levels. The place where we gather together and wish pretty presents could be enough to express our gratitude and love.

Who are you feeling grateful for investing in your child this holiday season? What pretty present are you wishing for them? It's like your very own talk show dedication in our comment section today.


In Honor of Impossible Losses, Socks and What Is Still Ours to Hold

Posted by Jen on December 15, 2009 at 7:00 AM in bedtime
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jen carter self-portrait (1 of 1).jpg

Carter and I are facing each other on the little twin bed, the one he and Madeleine dragged from her room into his for reasons I still don't quite understand. He is buried under two blankets and one very toasty sleeping bag while I lie on top of the covers in my long sweater, jeans, heavy socks and boots.

"You goin' somewhere?" he asks, and I wonder. As our family morphs into a new configuration, it's not clear at the end of the day who will sleep where. For all the peace we've forged in the process, so much is still uncertain.

"I'm not sure yet," I say, imagining how well I'd sleep next door at Nick and Jess's guest bed with that down comforter and four hundred thread count sheets instead of this tiny bed. "But I'm here right now. Tell me what you're thinking."

He smiles in his own unflappable way and scans the ceiling, thinking up his answer.

"Okay. So if you were ever stranded on a desert island and you could only bring one thing, what would you take?" He says "desert" like dessert and I imagine sandy shores made out of sugar-y pixie sticks with gummy candy palm trees swaying in the wind. I don't think I'll ever say desert island properly ever again.

"That's easy. A lifetime supply of paper and pens."

"Mom, be serious."

"No, I am being serious. If I had a lifetime supply of paper I could write about everything I was thinking and experiencing and I would never be lonely or bored. What about you?"

He doesn't miss a beat. "A pair of socks," he says, and I see his eyes light up like the Christmas tree that we forget to unplug every single night.

"Socks? You've got to be kidding me," I say, but he's not.

"No, seriously," he explains. "Socks. Number one, they're really warm. Number two, you can use them for sock puppets which are really fun. Number three, you can put a rock in them and they make a really useful weapon."

"Really?" I'm positive I'm listening to a regurgitated Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, but Carter claims full authorship of this clever idea. Socks. On a desert--I mean--dessert island. Why didn't I think of that?

He has the widest grin, so completely captivated with his own brilliance, and I wish for the lifetime supply of paper right now so I can get started making myself happy by writing down all the ways he makes me glad--dessert islands and practical wishes being just about as good as it gets.

I'm reminded reading of recent losses online, that none of us really knows what the future holds. Things fall apart, the unfathomable happens. Something unexpected shows up out of nowhere and turns everything upside down in an instant. And you can't imagine how you'll ever be the same again.

Tonight, in honor of the dessert islands, brilliant moments and impossible losses, let's ask our kids a silly or heartfelt question and savor the sweetness of the answer. This is the moment we have to share. Feel free to offer up the question you'd like to ask your kids in the comments below.

dedicated with so much compassion and love to Shellie Ross who lost her son this week


Wherein I Nearly Tell Virginia There Is No Santa Claus

Posted by Kristen on December 14, 2009 at 6:13 AM in Holidays
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Santa is a dicey conversation in my house these days. Ethan asks a lot of questions and now the whole Santa story has more holes in it than cheap Swiss cheese. We have discussions about the authenticity of Santas at malls and Chick-Fil-A's ("by the beard I say 'yes' but by the face I say 'no.'") and those of the Salvation Army variety. Complex questions. "Does anyone give Santa presents? Like something for his house?"

It all started two years ago when he was nearly three. His father bought a Santa suit. On Christmas eve, he disappeared into the garage and suddenly reappeared at the front door as jolly St. Nick. He looked really, really good. Ethan sat on the couch in the corner and barely spoke a word. If his stare was a laser beam, Derek would have been dead. Ethan never called him out, but you could see the wheels in his head turning at the speed of light.

Fast forward one year later to last year. I told Derek he had to be in and out in 45 seconds. I didn't think we had much more than that before Ethan figured it out. He sat on the same couch in the corner and stared. Then he asked where his father was. I gave Derek the high sign that we were about to be busted and he was gone. We never mentioned it again.

So when the holidays started to roll around, I wondered when it would start. It didn't take long. It was the day of our scooter ride and the ride was a long one. The boys began talking about Christmas.

What are you going to ask Santa for Christmas?
I want a spark scooter.
Really? Are you sure? You have a scooter.
But I don't have a scooter that shoots sparks.
Listen, I don't think Santa is going to bring you a spark scooter.
Why not?
It's too expensive. And I read up on it. It only works for like a day and then all you have is a scooter, which is what you already have.
I really want that scooter, Mom.
Ethan, it is too expensive. Santa can't bring you one this year.
But Santa can pay for it. He's got a lot of money.
That's not how it works. Santa doesn't pay for the presents.
Santa doesn't pay for the presents?
How about the elves?

The funny thing about the slippery slope of lying? It's a slippery slope.

The elves are strictly assembly. They have no money.
So who pays for the presents?
Parents. That's why some kids get more than other kids.
So parents buy the presents and kids whose parents have more money get more presents.
Oh. And we don't have a lot of money.
Not this year, buddy.

Bless his pure heart, he nodded as if this all made sense. He wasn't upset.

And some kids don't get any presents because their parents don't have any money.
They don't?
No. Isn't that sad?
It is sad. So parents pay.
They pay for the materials. The elves put it together. Santa is in charge.
Yes? (sensing danger ahead)
Parents pay for the materials?
Yes. (because I don't know when to stop).
MOM!! I 've got it! We can take THIS scooter (and he held up his $2 yard sale scooter). We can give Santa THIS!!! He can use this (pointing to the handles) and this (pointing to the base) and this (to the wheels). MOM!!! He can use all THESE materials and then you can just give him the money for the spark box on the bottom. I don't think it cost that much. Does it cost too much?

And with that, my heart broke. My heart broke because he wasn't getting that scooter, because there is no way we are going to make it until December 26 without him figuring it out and because I felt like a total loser for lying to a four-year-old who is sharp as a tack.

Take all the Santa out of it and he's just a kid that is going to be luckier than some to get something for Christmas and not as lucky as others who will get everything on their list. Maybe I'm just wasting time trying to keep him from figuring it out. What do you think?


Kids and Bullies

Posted by Patience on December 11, 2009 at 7:01 AM in Kid problemsRaising Boys
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rock on2

He was nervous about it a few weeks ago but I didn't think too much about it.

"Mom, we are moving seats, and I have to sit by this girl, I'm a little worried. She can be kinda mean."

I went into a kindness opportunity speech, I was hopeful because Josiah is really good at making almost any friendship/ relationship work. I should have known it could be hard if he was concerned. We didn't talk about it much after that until yesterday.

I was waiting in the car pool line when the door flung open and both boys climbed in, Jack was chatty but Josiah seemed a little quiet. We got home and he sat down next to me on the couch. I knew something was wrong.

"Mom, I'm kind of having a hard time." he said.
He went on to explain how the girl was being unkind, making fun of his drawings, telling how everything was wrong with him, part by part, day by day. He looked defeated and was starting to take these lies into his heart.

"I tried to tell her I don't care....but..." he burst into tears.
"But you do care right?" I said. He nodded his head through his tears.
"Everyone cares Josiah, trust me." I replied as he released long sobs in my arms.
"Do you think there is something wrong with you?" I asked, he shook his head but cried a little harder.

There are times when you just can't protect your child and someone else's pain will hurt them. I wanted to cry myself, but I didn't and we just sat for a moment together.
I told him I thought maybe he was dealing with a bully and suggested we find out some more information so we could make a plan to help him. So we spent some time researching and found out why this might be happening to him and what we could do.

Bullying is either about power or passing on some form of mistreatment. We wondered together if that might be the cause for this girl being unkind. We talked about how sometimes when you hear negative messages repeatedly you can start to believe them.
It was time for truth to do her magic I told him, because truth is the only thing that can set you free. If he was starting to question himself, maybe his bully can't remember the truth at all.

We came up with a strategy to deal with all the problems we could come up with.

1. Try to ignore any mean or unkind words, completely. No response at all.
2. We sent an e-mail to the teacher explaining what had been going on.
3. I wrote tiny cards of truths/affirmations about him to keep in his backpack at school so he could read them if things got hard.
4. Made a plan to check-in in 2 days to see if our strategy was working.

"Do you think this will work?" I asked.
"Yeah, I feel better mom." he said.

I gathered my parenting strength and sent him off to school the next day. I realized this is probably just the beginning of various big kid problems but I think we can find our way.

Have your kids ever dealt with a bully? What did you do?


Blowing Santa's Cover (or the Truth about Magic)

Posted by Jen on December 9, 2009 at 7:00 AM
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carter at christmas

Here's Carter, just hours before a fateful conversation in the car blew Santa's cover on magic in our house forever. What do you do when your children start getting curious about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the like? Do you give it up about Santa or do whatever it takes to keep the dream alive? I asked author and friend Brené Brown to share a story about how she navigated the big reveal on Santa without giving up the magic that keeps the season bright.

Here's Brené...

I've dreaded having "the talk" with Ellen since the day she was born. How will I tell her the truth without taking away her innocence - without filling her with doubt and cynicism? How can I spare her the grief that often accompanies truth?

How will I ever be able to tell her about Santa? (Just in case you thought "the talk" referred to the sex and babies thing - that is something that we actually looked forward to, and, so far, it's unfolding pretty well).

Last November, Ellen and I were lying in bed and talking about friends. We were sharing the same pillow and both staring straight up at the ceiling when she turned toward me and blurted, "Are you the tooth fairy?"

I froze. Total paralysis set in.

"Mom, I really need to know. I really need you to tell me the truth. Hanna's mom told her that she's the tooth fairy. Please tell me. I don't want to be the only one who doesn't know."

I shot straight up. "Ellen, do you hear your dad calling me?"

She scrunched her face up. "I don't hear anything at all."

I jumped out of bed and told her I'd be right back. As I was racing out of the room, Ellen called after me, "Come back! Are you trying to avoid me?"

I didn't break stride. I walked ran into Steve's study. "It's here! It's time! She wants to know! I think this is it!"

I wish I could say that Steve looked alarmed, but this is not an entirely unique scenario in our house. He simply shuffled his feet to turn his leather work chair in my direction, raised his head and said, "Time for what, baby?"

I quickly recapped my conversation with Ellen. Steve drew a long breath and shook his head. I was overcome with a sense of dread. "Brené, it's time. We always said we'd tell her the truth when she sincerely asked."

My mind was flooded with tiny clips of her asking the same question, but rather than really wanting to know, it was obvious that she was desperate for us to defend her beliefs.

This was different and Steve and I both knew it.

I slowly returned to the room and crawled back into bed with Ellen. Within seconds we were both lying on our sides, propped up on our elbows, with our faces inches away from one another. I quietly said, "I wanted to talk to your dad about our conversation. It means a lot to both of us." Her eyes filled with tears and she sunk down. "You are the tooth fairy, aren't you?"

"Yes, your dad and I are the tooth fairy." She rolled off of her elbow and put her face directly into the pillow. A few seconds later, she lifted her head enough to grab a breath and held it over the pillow as she whispered, "Is Santa Claus real? Are parents Santa too?"

I felt deeply conflicted. To simply tell Ellen that we're Santa would be as dishonest as telling her that Santa is real. For me, it was so much more complicated than that. Yes, we're Santa, yet Steve and I are believers. We were both raised by parents who believed in magic and made plenty of it when we were growing up. We are goofy, big-hearted, unapologetic believers.

I looked into Ellen's eyes and instantly realized that there was no reason to make it less complicated than it is. "Elle, your dad and I are Santa, but that doesn't mean that there's no magic in Christmas. We believe in magic. We believe in Christmas spirit. We believe in things we can't see."

An ounce of hope returned to her face.

I told her about the special kind of magic that fills the hearts of parents and inspires them to write swirly notes in gold pen and sign the Tooth Fairy's name. I told her about the magic that compels us to decorate the house before the Thanksgiving plates are washed and to stuff stockings and build bikes at 3am. I told her about the magic of thousands of twinkle lights and decorating trees and singing songs. We talked about the magic of celebrating five Christmases in five days (she has four sets of grandparents).

By this time we were both sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce with our knees touching and our hands in a messy stack. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "But why? Why do parents do all of this?"

I smiled, "So you can believe in magic. So you can believe in things you can't see. So, you can pass along the magic in your life."

"But why tell me now, Mom?"

I said the first thing that came to my mind, "Because your heart is full of magic now. You're ready." I told her that parents who want to pass down magic are the best judge of when their kids are ready, and that's why we let parents have this conversation.

Ellen cried small, quiet tears. "I believe in magic. I really do. My heart is full and I'm ready. This is so hard, but I believe."

This year Steve and I have enjoyed watching her delight in her 4 year old brother's excitement about the holidays. After helping Charlie write a toy list for Santa, Ellen grinned and said, "I was worried about this year, but there really is still magic."

How would you respond at your house? What if the Santa magic lasts so long that you feel like you're taking things too far? Or worse yet, what if your big reveal (like mine) sent magic up in smoke? Let's talk about it in the comments below.

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