Thursday, 13 June 2019

Countdown to the UK: 10 Days

It's ten days until we move.

Ten days.


Am I freaked out? Yes, yes I am.

The kids have gone with their Dad to Disneyworld, which is rough because it's the ultimate family holiday cliche. How better to hammer in that there's a version of my kids' family that doesn't include me? That's always hard to think about.

Fortunately, I'm too busy to think about it. I always kind of figured that their father would take them on a trip before we left, and as recently as a few months ago, I pondered taking a trip of my own at the same time. A farewell tour, just for me...

Now that I'm at this point, I don't know how I ever thought I'd have the time. Breaking news: an international move isn't straightforward.

Obstacle 1: As we got closer to the move date, I had a lot of very mixed feelings regarding the kids' father and leaving him behind. When I say 'mixed', I mean a full spectrum of All The Feels Good And Bad. It got to the point where I just didn't want to see him or interact with him, so I told him not to help out with the move and getting the house ready for sale, even if that meant I would do a pretty crappy job of it. (I did.)

Obstacle 2: His employer is paying for our move (or at least everything but the cats), and they wouldn't talk to me directly because I'm not their employee; he is. So despite my feelings, I had to work with him to book the moving company, which brings us to...

Obstacle 3: Bureaucracy. I needed to get two quotes for the move and submit them to the employer who would pick one. As it turned out, they had very specific requirements for those quotes, but for some reason, I could only learn those requirements through trial and error. I started contacting moving companies in February and that kicked off this hideous game of telephone: Employer -> Kids' dad -> Me -> Moving companies... and back again... and forth again... and back... and forth. It was May before I finally got a decision on which company I could book.

Obstacle 4: Funnily enough, if you plan to move in June but can't book anything until May, fixing a date becomes a problem. The mover didn't have anything available until the 27th/28th June. Fine. I took that date and went to sort out flights.

Obstacle 5.1: The cats. When we moved to the US 13.5 years ago, we had the cats shipped in the cargo hold and they were very stressed. They're now elderly and I badly wanted to take them in the cabin on our return. It looked like Air France could do that. I called them up before we had a date and a gentleman told me that they could travel in cabin on the Dulles-Heathrow flight. Once we had a date, I called to get this confirmed and booked... they couldn't do it. After some frantic checking of other airlines, it appeared that the UK simply doesn't permit animals to enter the country in cabin. They have to be processed from the cargo hold.

Obstacle 5.2: Meanwhile, the employer was querying why we weren't taking a cheaper flight / route than Dulles-Heathrow. They weren't keen on spending a few thousand dollars extra on plane tickets just so we could travel on the same flight as our cats. The other problem was that a lot of pets travel in the summer as people finish their contracts and move. The flights that would be acceptable to the employer were already fully booked with animals. Eventually, I found space on a flight on the 23rd. This was days before our official move, but I booked it anyway.

Obstacle 6: The rest of the journey. The outcome of all that is that the children and I will be flying at the same time as the cats but not on the same plane. There's been a hell of a lot of coordination over how we all get to and from airports, and a lot of people are going to be very helpful, but honestly, it's still not totally clear how it's going to pan out and I don't want to talk about it and jinx it.

Obstacle 7: Transfer of residence. The trick to an international move is finding out what needs to be on my To-Do list. I had an idea of a lot of things, based on moving out here in the first place, and I got pretty good at googling the right questions or asking the right people... One thing I didn't know about until I booked the movers was that I needed something called a Transfer of Residence number. This wasn't a requirement for entering the US, but UK customs will demand it for the import of both our belongings and the cats. The moving company sent me the link to find the application, I filled it out and received an auto-response promising the result in 14 working days.

That was 15 working days ago.

Obstacle 8: Bureaucracy 2.0. So today I called the number on the auto-response email and got a recorded message saying the number had changed and please call this number instead. I called that number, fumbled my way through menu options that didn't quite sound right and got put through to a real live woman who was plainly used to getting people looking for ToR updates. She gave me a third number to call, telling me I wanted option 4. I followed this advice and was relieved to hear a recorded lady asking me to hold for a member of staff.

Three seconds later, Recorded Lady spoke again. "All of our staff are very busy right now. Perhaps you could try calling at a different time. Thank you for your call. Goodbye."

Somewhat appalled, I called back immediately, and got the same result. Half an hour later, still no change. An hour later. Two hours later, Recorded Lady finally said something else: "Our offices are now closed. We are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm."

If we convert that to my timezone, that means I have to call between 4am and noon tomorrow in the hopes of hitting a moment when all of their staff are not very busy.

Again.... it is ten days before we leave.

TEN %(#$@# DAYS.

One of the things I keep saying in conversation about this is: "The Move is going to happen. Whether this gets done or not, The Move will happen."

That's what an international move is. It's its own entity and it's inevitable. As much as I might screw things up, we'll leave the US in ten days... hopefully with our cats and hopefully with the rest of our stuff following us in due course. But The Move is going to happen. I'm not sure if this is something I know or something I believe, but it's a source of confidence either way.

Ten more days....

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Making a list and checking it twice, three times, four times...

So the weekly blog-post thing isn't off to a great start... but equally, I won't beat myself up over that, because I have been getting other stuff done, and when I'm not doing the To Do List, I should try to have fun. To be fun. My long-suffering children are putting up with a very withdrawn mother right now.

After some revisions on one piece of coursework, I finally got the results back for my Montessori Diploma this week. I got the distinction I wanted, so I'm over the moon about that. (I kind of wish I could have saved all my academic stage of life for this age—my work ethic is so much better than at eighteen!) It's a shallow validation, but it is a validation.

That's a side issue for now as I've been jumping through the hoops of getting two international moving quotes, as required by my husband's employer (they're paying for our move.)  This has meant making firm decisions on what I'm taking with me and what I'm leaving behind.

The separation of his belongings and mine has been done by degrees. When he moved out, he took a minimum with him, picking up a few more things when he needed them. The rest stayed exactly where it was... After a while, I boxed up the most visible items and put them away so I wouldn't have the reminders.

Over the summer, our water heater sprung a leak and we had to move almost everything out of the house while the damage was repaired. The insurance company paid for a professional packing service, but I unpacked it myself. Being forced to sort through the years of accumulated clutter gave me a second, harder, pass at separating out his things in September. I packed them back into boxes, labeled them, and put them in the attic.

(As I'm not staying in the house permanently, I never felt there was much point in making him take his things. We have plenty of storage space, and he's paying the mortgage. He might as well use it until we sell.)

Now the moving companies need an inventory. A year on from the separation, we have to actually divide our material goods and agree on who gets what.

I was a little apprehensive about this, flashing back to the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Carrie Fisher promises Bruno Kirby that she will never fight him for the wagon wheel coffee table. But the kids' dad came over for a walk-through and had no problem with any of the things I wanted to take.

Realistically speaking, most of our things we got when we were married, and now after getting through the small children stage, it needs an upgrade. There are a few bits and pieces that predate us getting together: some of it came down from his family, so I definitely can't and won't take it, but he told me to take some student-era shelving—with the kids, I'll always need the storage.

There's something sad about the fact he doesn't want 'our' things. I'm glad we're not fighting over it, and I'm glad I don't have to part with the memorabilia... but it's also painful to think he won't keep those mementos... Or maybe my overly-sensitive brain just wants another thing to be sad about it.

The cats were surprisingly underwhelmed by last year's Box-topia.
The boxing up of last summer was a surprisingly handy trial run for the move, giving both the kids and the cats some experience in packing and unpacking our lives, and giving us an organisational head-start—and heaven knows, I need all the help I can get with that.

One moving company sent somebody over to take an inventory of what would be moved; the other asked me to fill out my own inventory online. The webform for this was absolutely soul-destroying: Not intuitive, not easy to keep track of, and it glitched up when I tried to submit it. But I had saved (collapsed and stored flat) all of the boxes labeled: "LEGO", "Books", "Toys" and "Games"—all things we have masses of. I literally counted those boxes when I needed to calculate quantities.

Otherwise, it's been a lot of walking around the house with the laptop, trying to make sure I've accounted for everything, double-checking which electrical items will and won't work, and also realising that this, that and the other have been in the attic since we moved into this house, so maybe there's not a lot of point in taking them across the Atlantic with us.

De-cluttering goes hand-in-hand with the inventory-taking. Like everybody who's ever moved, I'm resolved to get rid of things beforehand... and like everybody who's ever moved, I won't get rid of half of what I mean to. However, for the past couple of weeks, going through cupboards / drawers and turfing things into the thrift box or the trash has been 75% of the to-do list lately.

To-do-lists and inventories... easy things to get lost in. Safe things to get lost in. I've been having a crisis of confidence about our new lives lately: that fear of "I can't do this."

Of course, I can do this, because I have to. One way or the other, we will be in England and I will be responsible adult and I will hold it together because I've lived through several transatlantic moves before. But there's a difference between scraping by and thriving. I'm afraid we're always going to be scraping by on an emotional level... that I'll never quite be happy, that the anxiety and depression are here to stay. That's not what I want for my family.

I need to have faith in myself that if I am scraping by, I will find a way to change it up, to move us into that thriving state. I'm going to the UK for a bit of a recon in a few weeks, and perhaps that will help me feel more secure. Until then, it's safer to tidy my life into spreadsheets.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Quest for Repatriation

I sometimes feel that I've spent half of my life trying to leave Virginia. We first moved here on a Navy tour when I was a relentlessly xenophobic nine-year-old, and I hated it. For two and a half years, I was inflexibly patriotic, waiting to get back to the clearly superior UK.

My parents took a second tour in my teens, by which time I was ensconced at boarding school. I enjoyed Virginia much more as a holiday home, and when my father retired from the Navy, I bid the States farewell with some regret.

... My father promptly got another job in Virginia. My parents moved back out there and stayed until his retirement ten years ago. My older brother joined them to begin his own working life and got married there.

It was clear that my brother was going to spend his life in the States. I was determined to build mine in the UK: five years after graduating University, I had a stable job, a house and a marriage in England.

... Then my husband got the idea of moving to Virginia... an idea which resulted in a job offer we couldn't say 'no' to. Still, as fond as I was of Virginia by this point, I knew it wasn't where I wanted to make my home. I told my husband that we had to come back someday. Staying was not an option.

At the time, we figured we'd stay in the US for a few years, maybe start the family... but one thing led to another... life was good.... long story short, we spent thirteen years saying that we'd move back "someday."

Tell me how to say "No" to this...

"Someday" doesn't always mean "Never."

Now that we're divorcing, staying here is no longer the path of least resistance for me. I'll lose my visa once divorced, so it's either go home or go through the red tape of un-guaranteed immigration options.

The downside is that I've got to plan the move single-handedly. I haven't lived in the UK for thirteen years, I haven't worked for eight, but I'm the official head of this family, and I have to take the responsibility for uprooting us from Virginia and for settling us in the UK—somewhere.

As daunting as this sounds, I have a major luxury: the move will be paid for by my husband's employers. They moved me out here; they'll move me back. Likewise, the children's father will continue to give us financial support, so our income isn't totally dependent on me finding a job. That's a safety net I'm very grateful for.

However, I've still got a lot of hurdles to get over, and the plan is to move in June. Four months! Just to add one more thing to do the to-do list, I'm going to attempt weekly posts on the blog as we make the transition from our American life to the Great British Unknown.

Sneak preview of what's ahead!
  • My attempts to become gainfully employed after the eight year gap in work. Or alternatively, my attempts to amass sufficient income on a more piecemeal basis.
  • Can I realise my dream of living in Cornwall? Will I have to settle for being just across the border in Emmit-land (AKA Devon)? Or will I have to pack it all up after a year and move north for better job opportunities?
  • How do we get two elderly and cranky cats safely across the Atlantic? They'll be turning 15 around the time of the move, but they're part of our family, so the travel-habilitation is starting now.
  • Like everybody who has ever moved, we want to declutter beforehand... in this instance, we're going to a smaller house. We need to be practical about what we're taking, what we're leaving for their father, and what needs to go. And like everybody who has ever moved, we're doomed to failure.
  • ... in part because I have ADD. I'm the person responsible for pulling together all the logistics of this international move, and I'm still figuring out the right balance of medication. Still, the move itself is a no-fail mission. However bad I am at juggling, we're going to end up in the UK; the only question is how many balls I will drop en route.
  • Finally, moving to the UK is my dream, my goal... the kids want to stay here. That's hard on them and—in a very different way—hard on me. I owe it to them to get this right.

I begin this year in Virginia; I plan to end it in the UK. Which means that this summer, I'll say goodbye to Virginia for... I think it's the fifth time, but frankly, I've lost count... 

I know we'll be back. Aside from the children's father (who still plans to return to the UK himself "someday"), we'll always have family here in the form of my brother and sister-in-law. Maybe the children will want to move back here when they're older. I can't imagine I'll ever live here again... but then, I've thought that before.

These days, I'm more of a "never say never" person. Or perhaps: "Maybe someday."

Monday, 31 December 2018

Thank you, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a really low ebb emotionally. Depression and anxiety were hitting hard and I felt like a failure as a parent. I needed to make dinner, and instead I was sobbing uncontrollably.

On impulse, I reached out to a friend who was a single mother, who had gone through much bigger challenges than I was facing, and—most importantly—who had shared some of her struggles with depression on Facebook. I messaged her asking if she had any advice or things she’d like to have known…

She immediately wrote back: “First of all, I love you. You are wonderful, and strong, and amazing.” Followed by a long, reassuring chat with sympathy, sharing and advice. My tears dried up, and afterwards, I made dinner and things were fine. 

Oddly, this woman and I have never met, and we hadn’t really talked in years. We met about fifteen years ago on a text-based online roleplaying game and for ten years we’ve been Facebook friends, idly keeping track of each other’s lives without necessarily communicating.

But that was enough for me to get hold of her when I needed her. That was enough for me to know she was the person I needed. I know a lot of single mothers, and I’m sure many of them have found themselves crying at a time they need to make dinner… but they hadn’t shared that. This friend had… and because she had been that candid about her journey, I knew she would be the voice of experience I needed in that moment. 

Don’t knock internet friendships and don’t knock over-sharing. Sometimes these things are a lifesaver.

Don’t knock the more traditional form of friendships either. My closest friend geographically lives on my street. Twice this year, I’ve called on her because I was having a panic attack while the kids were at home. Both times, she’s dropped everything and come to get me through it, calming me down and doing some on the spot parenting. I can never repay her for that.

These are just two friends of the many who have helped me get through this year. I don’t know if they all appreciate just how grateful I am to them, so in the spirit of counting my blessings, I sent as many as I could remember a note of thanks, and I’d like to put the full list here. It’s been a year of gestures, big and small, that have meant the world to me. (In the interests of keeping this vaguely concise, I’ve mentioned only the gesture that made the biggest difference to me… A lot of the people on this list have helped in multiple ways.)

Thank you…
… to my brother and his wife for getting me out of the house and doing stuff when it first happened. The advice was to say ‘yes’ to everything, and they gave me no shortage of things to say ‘yes’ to.
… to my parents who have, at times, driven me crazy with their helicopter worrying, but who have given me very real practical help. I feel like I should be too old to be using them as a safety net, but apparently not yet!
… to the old family friend whose husband had left her in their retirement years, who shared with me her conflicted feelings and sympathized with mine.
… to the friends who came and watched Survivor with us every week for three months, keeping a tradition alive for my kids, despite the problems with their own marriage.
… to the mutual friend who understood that I needed to talk with sympathy for my husband, and who helped me deal with those complex emotions.
… to said mutual friend’s boyfriend who stepped up to the grill when I organized a barbeque with no real plan or preparation for how to cook everything.
… to my photographer / reprobate-Mom friend, for helping me celebrate the last wedding anniversary and the first Christmas alone.
… to the school friend who isn’t on social media but remembered to email me on my birthday to check how I was doing.
… to the University friends who drove me around and helped watch the kids on our annual UK trip.
… to every old UK friend who reached out with messages both of moral support and practical information on living in the UK.
… to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for coming together for my cousin’s wedding, demonstrating to me and the children that whatever happens, we’re still family.
… to my cousin for inviting my sister-in-law to her wedding, despite having met her only once before, at my wedding thirteen years ago.
… to the wonderful people in attendance at my Montessori workshops who made that such an uplifting experience which gave me so much hope for my future.
… to the guy who invited me to a Christmas party among a social circle I thought I had lost.
… to the guy I met on a dating app, for taking me on when I was so screwed up, for sharing a month of caring for and understanding each other, and for allowing me the most graceful break up in history when I realized I wasn’t ready.
… to the parents of my children’s friends, who invited us to parties, gave my children so many fun experiences and offered their sympathy and support at every turn.
… to my daughter’s teacher who shared her own experiences and showed so much patience with my unreliability.
… to the couple who played Santa Claus and dropped a Christmas gift on my doorstep just when I needed it.
… to the friends who confessed to me in private that they were also going through the end of their marriages, even if they didn’t want to talk about it publicly. It was good to know I wasn’t alone.
… to the crazy nerds at the parkour group for teaching this introvert that she’s more capable than she thinks she is, and for being obnoxious to my children in all the right ways.
… to the internet friends who let me hang out like a wet blanket in their AirBnB during a Boston meet up, when I wanted to do nothing in good company.
... to so many people who I'm probably and regrettably forgetting.
… to my children who have been loving and amazing, who  reminded me to have fun when I forgot, who have put up with one hell of a lot this year, and who have given me the motivation to reach out to people when I needed to. 

If it wasn’t for the children, I would have been too afraid to bother my friends on my account… yet bothering friends helped me regain perspective on how lucky I still am. There’s a line in one of my favourite books, the Millstone by Margaret Drabble: “If I asked more favours of people, I would find people more kind.”

This is the lesson I am taking away from 2018. Thank you, all.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Little Piece of Miracle

Some Christmas miracles are about good friends and good timing...

A little after 9pm on Christmas Eve, I was putting the kids' presents under the tree and becoming increasingly conscious that there was nothing there for myself, barring the little tissue paper package that my daughter had brought home from school and which had promptly been buried by their gifts.

For the record, my family aren't terrible people. I had asked for giftcards this year so I can buy a new camera. I assured them that that was all I wanted, and there was no need to get anything else just so I had something to unwrap. I tend to get twitchy about gifts that exist for the sake of gifting and never actually get used, so I fully believed this at the time. On a material level, I didn't care.

My cat knows that all I need for Christmas is her

Yet one of the things that sometimes gets to me as a single mother is that I am nobody's priority. The children are my priority, but by the nature of that relationship, I'm not theirs. We say it's the thought that counts, and my Christmas tree was telling me that nobody was thinking about me.

It's daft, but I was fighting a lot of feelings on Christmas Eve, and this was just the final straw of desolation.

Then came a ring at the doorbell. I answered it to find a giant pink Disney Princess giftbag on my doorstep with a tag saying "Merry Christmas, Sarah."

Going downstairs, I found one of my friends about to pull out of my drive. The bag was from him and his girlfriend... she went through divorce with children some years back, and it was her idea to do this for me. He hadn't been sure if I'd be home, but when he saw me, he stopped his Christmas Eve errands and let me make him a cup of tea. (He got unlucky that this was the year we stopped doing cookies for Santa.)

When the kids came home the following morning, they opened their gifts, and I went through that bag which contained a stocking and other assorted silly gifts, all individually wrapped. I giggled a lot, felt loved and thoughts were counted all over the place.

Note to self for next December and all the ones thereafter: if I have a newly single parent in my life, make sure they have something under their tree that isn't for the kids.

For the record, the solutions I went with for my earlier Christmas dilemmas was to have the children spend Christmas Eve with their father. He took care of their stockings and they opened the rest of their presents with me, mid-morning. For dinner, we joined with my friend's family who were welcoming and merry in all the right ways. So on a practical level, Christmas was very easy for me this year, and on an emotional level, there was a lot of good along with the inevitable. Very grateful to everybody who helped out.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Completing my Course

Last week, I submitted my final piece of coursework, completing all the requirements for the Montessori Diploma I started in March 2017. I was supposed to complete in August when I did my workshops and took the exams, but owing to all the divorce stuff going on this year, I fell wildly behind schedule and they granted me an extension. Even then, I hoped to complete in October. But things kept on happening and interfering, and although I was still plugging away at it whenever I had time and focus (the latter being a major issue this autumn), I grew concerned that I was not going to complete it in time to actually apply for jobs.

So in November, I decided that enough was enough and I was going to make the coursework a priority. And then about two weeks later, I realised that me making it a priority didn't mean the rest of my life made it a priority...

So I went to extinction level. For three weeks, I treated the coursework as my newborn baby, and sat on the sofa with it to the exclusion of almost everything else. The laundry was done, but that was about it. The house went to rack and ruin. The children were largely left to fend for themselves: screentime restrictions were almost totally lifted, but they also had to make most of their own meals.

I feel like I have seen this story elsewhere online: the mother, for whatever reason, stops doing the cooking and cleaning, the home environment degrades... and the family suddenly realises just how much she does for them; reformed and loving, they step up to the plate and start taking the burden of household chores on themselves.

Yeah, not in my house. It is quite possibly a Christmas miracle that none of us died from dysentery.

(That was a joke. No need to call social services.)

The other result was that I stopped going out almost completely except for chauffeuring the kids and the weekly grocery shop. Once a week, I would go and socialise with a few friends—and that was all the adult interaction I would have for that week.

It worked. I finished my observations of my friend's toddler and wrote out the child study. I studied and self-tested for the last three topics of my curriculum planning module and wrote out a concept web and a subject web for a theme on snakes. And I submitted that last piece on my daughter's last day of school before Christmas.

However, three weeks of isolation amid clutter is depressing to say the least, so it wasn't as triumphant a moment as you might expect. I submitted, then cleaned the house in a daze. The kids were ecstatic to hear that I could actually do stuff with them again, but I only felt numb and weepy for a couple of days.

Fortunately, I have tremendously kind friends, and since last Friday, I've been to a Christmas party, celebrated my birthday—taken out to lunch by one pair of friends, taken out to dinner by another—caught up on some parkour training and have another party to attend tomorrow. I feel well and truly rehabilitated into society.

It's perhaps today that it's really sunk in. I'm done. (Assuming no corrections are needed.) I still have a lot of other crap to do, but I can write for leisure again and not feel guilty about it.

I don't know when I'll get my result... probably not until after Christmas. Based on the exams I took over the summer and the earlier coursework I've done, I should be on track for a distinction, if I can maintain that mark through these last two modules.

I want that distinction. I know it doesn't really matter... the key thing is passing and getting the diploma, and God knows, I was never really bothered in school about the difference between an A and a B. But this year's been hell, and completing the course was so much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be... Getting a distinction would be a personal victory on a couple of different levels: I was able to keep all the crap going on this year from interfering with this aspect of my future, and this is something I am really and genuinely good at.

Because I am. I'm incredibly smart about this stuff. I get what I'm doing with these young children and I love doing it. It's never going to earn me a lot of money—something which is unfortunately far more relevant now than when I started this course—but this is a career I will be successful in.

Anyway. That's step 1 of the move, finally complete, so I am... roughly six months behind schedule. Le sigh. The next few steps can at least be more concurrent as I try to find a job after not working for eight years, figure out where I'll be living and how much everything is going to cost... I've already started on this, but this weekend, I'll give myself a day off and take my long-suffering children to Dickens Town followed by Mary Poppins.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Ending the Magic

The scene: the school run. Me driving, the kids in the backseat.

My son asks me: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Now, I detest the Santa Claus tradition. I think it's an outdated custom from an era when children were scared into good behaviour. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that it makes me lie to my children... and I'm really annoyed by the fact that the lie actively sends the wrong message: Thanks to Santa, Christmas isn't about giving presents but about receiving them.

"But the magic of Christmas!" cry all my friends and family. And I grumble "Bah, humbug," give into peer pressure and carry on lying to my children and wondering when on earth they will finally twig that Santa can't possibly be real. (My brother told me when I was five, so I don't really remember believing.)

This year, my son is ten. So when he's asking me if I believe in Santa, I'm thinking he wants an honest answer. Not to mention, this year, I've been extra conscientious about being upfront with him. So...

Son: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Me: "No."

Son: "But how do you think the presents get under the—Do you put them under the tree?"

Me: "Do you really want to have this conversation?"

Daughter: "I bet you won't get any presents this year."


Me: "I probably won't."

Daughter: "... you only got, like, two, last year."

This appears to be a shining example of the difference in cognitive development between a seven year old and a ten year old. Or perhaps of believing what you want to believe. (For the record, I actually got plenty of presents last year.)

My son persisted in asking questions, so I finally told him we should have this conversation that evening. As soon as he got home, he asked again, and I said we'd wait until his sister had gone to bed.

"Uh oh," he said immediately. "That's not a good sign for my imagination."

"We don't have to have this conversation if you don't want to."

He did. So at bedtime, I asked him what he wanted to know.

"Do you put the presents under the tree?"


And that was that. Childhood over. Soul crushed.

He had a lot of questions, which I expected: where did we buy all those small presents for the stockings? Where do we hide the presents? (I didn't answer that one. His theory is the garage.) Did I wrap my own presents? How do we put them under the tree? And of course: "... Wait. You eat the cookies and milk, don't you??"

What I didn't expect was how cross he was about the magic not being real. He actually felt we should have come clean when he was younger so it wouldn't be so sad to find out. He'd always liked the idea that there was still some magic in the world, because Santa came at Christmas.

"What about those Santa tracking apps?"

"It's all made up."


I did talk about my own thoughts about the spirit of Christmas being in the giving and the love, but by and large, he wasn't as interested in that as he was about the mechanics of this great deception. So we also discussed why we had kept the pretense up, and I advised him not to say anything to his friends or sister, explaining that if people still want to believe, we should let them believe. (Not always the greatest philosophy, admittedly.)

He agreed with me, but apparently he's going to ask his teacher how it feels to lie to her children. And he's going to campaign not to leave any cookies out this year.

His resolve not to tell his sister lasted all of five minutes. As he went to bed, he poked his head in her door (he likes to wish her goodnight) and told her that I'm the one who puts the presents under the tree. She apparently took it pretty well. I suppose we'll see what she says tomorrow!

Oh, and he checked with me about the tooth fairy as well. So we destroyed all the magic tonight. At least with that one, he was unreasonably entertained by my account of how I'm always petrified he's going to wake up while my hand is under his pillow.

Anyway, they'll be at their father's for Christmas. We'll open our presents when they get back, and—if I need to—I'll let them think I opened my stocking earlier. Then we'll go to dinner with a friend's family. Everything will be low-key, and I have minimal planning to do which is a huge relief. Next year, I can get back to being excited about everything Christmas. This year, it's not about the magic.

Bah, humbug to all and to all a good night!