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When my kids believed in Santa and God

  • 22 December 2011

The evolution of childhood is most faithfully documented by the Christmas lists delivered into my hands with diminishing credulity each year. They record my children's growth more accurately than their physical measurements, which are etched in startling increments all the way up the kitchen wall.

They are source documents recorded first by me, the adult scribe chronicling the material desires of my not-yet-literate toddlers, then in their own flawed phonetic script, and later still in the insolent scrawl of youths who have outgrown religion and artifice.

I store these lists in The Special Box, a battered blue receptacle whose contents have multiplied over the years so that their excess must now be contained in a sterile plastic trunk.

Here they lie with other tangible remnants of my children's pasts, love letters they have written me, gifts they have conjured from paddle pop sticks and beads and scraps of felt, spontaneous notes thanking me for taking them to the park and for 'making us smart', and informing me that 'I have left a kiss for you on the Butter Menthol wrapper!' Each is the token of a pure and ebullient love.

The early lists are infused with the wonderment of those ensnared by the Christmas myth, with requests preceded by deferential 'pleases' and premature 'thank yous' and premised on the naïve certainty that even the most excessive of desires can be filled.

My older daughter, at seven, imagines a Barbie doll that does not exist, one that has 'a very cool gun and a spare pistol and a spare pair of shoes and a very cool hat and sunglasses and real lipstick you can put on her'. Barbie, of whom I disapprove, is a recurrent theme, along with jewellery and make-up and clothes and tea-sets.

This gendered focus is redressed in later years by revelations also archived in The Special Box, by my daughter's conclusion in a primary school essay that she does not aspire to be superwoman because she likes herself the way she is; her reflection in high school that her early dreams of being a princess or dancer or archaeologist, 'while possible, might only last for me until the shine wears off. I have to try and work out my weaknesses and