Ending the innocence all at once, starting with Santa

My mom decided it was time to give me the ol’ sex talk when I came home asking my older sister to interpret terms I’d never before heard. Terms tossed around by neighborhood junior high girls wearing excessive eyeliner. Terms that cocked a fourth-grader’s head and had her wondering what a cherry, much less a “popped cherry,” had to do with anything.

The sex talk didn’t come as a surprise. Curiosity beckoned it. What did come as a surprise was my mom’s instinct to double-dip the revelatory conversation with this little nugget: Santa Claus isn’t real.

That’s right, erections, menstruation, and, while we’re at it let’s throw in Old St. Nick. I didn’t have a word for it at the time, but with my newly bestowed knowledge, I kept thinking of all those elves. The geriatric man had a magical sleigh, and a magical libido.

Yes, I now understand that elves are merely helpers, not Claus children, so before you send that email, do like the North Pole and chill. Speaking of the North Pole, it might seem odd that the madre put the birds and the bees in that icy habitat, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

What little girl knows how babies are made and still wants to sit on the lap of a jolly old man who sneaks into people’s houses?

The thing is, I already knew he wasn’t real. But, along with the rest of my fellow 10-year-olds, I’d been putting on an act. A rather convincing act, too. The kind of act that kids will gladly partake in when presents are at stake. An act they maintain because they don’t want to break their parents’ holly-wrapped hearts.

Belief in Santa Claus represents a brand of innocence that — what with older siblings, school peers and TV — lasts such a brief period of time for children. Belief in their children’s belief, for parents, lasts much longer.

They don’t want to accept that their kids are shedding their innocence. Some parents just take greater care in upholding the fib than others.

I remember visiting friends’ houses weeks before Christmas and noticing the presents under the tree were all marked “From Santa.” Shoddy work, I’d think to myself.

In my house, Santa, a Latina mother of four who worked full time in corporate America, woke up in the wee hours of Christmas Eve night and wrapped our gifts in the comics section of the newspaper. Because it would be a dead giveaway if Santa conveniently used the same wrapping paper as the Garzas.

She stuffed stockings and nibbled cookies, too, never making a peep.

She also stored all those gifts in a downstairs closet and sometimes left them sprawled out on her bed, scissors and Scotch tape beside them. Hey, she was a mother of four who worked full time in corporate America. Santa had stuff to do.

Even though the hard knocks of my suburban youth brought 99 percent certainty that Santa wasn’t real, to hear my mom say it felt very strange. She was leading me into the Area 51 of adolescence, finally acknowledging something she worked so hard to convince me wasn’t there: make-believe.

And all because a UFO with thick eyeliner threatened to abduct me. My mom paired the sex talk with Santa Claus because they were equally difficult conversations for her that essentially represented the same thing. Her daughter was discovering the ways of the world.

A lot of kids feel a betrayal of trust when the beard is pulled off to reveal none other than their own mother. I felt an establishment of trust. I had a younger sister who, at age 5, was certain reindeer landed on our gable roof every year. For her, I knew the show must go on.

Until then, Santa Claus had been a charade that my parents and I were all in on, and the masks didn’t come off until one of the actresses came home asking about popped cherries. Hey, that wasn’t in the lines!

It was enough to break everyone’s character. Like that, the show, for me, was over.

That said, the Christmas spirit is as strong in me today as it was pre-Santa spoilers, and I owe that to my mom. My Santa Claus may have taken her final bow long ago, but every December I throw roses at her feet.

Contact Xazmin Garza at startswithanx@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.