I went upstairs to say goodnight and she was crying.
"What's wrong?" I asked, alarmed. Did she get hurt? Was she watching those videos again on animals that have been mistreated and need our help?
"I saw you," she sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. "I saw you putting the Easter Bunny stuff out." Her lower lip wobbled. A fat tear slipped down her cheek.
My heart dropped. I thought I had waited long enough. It was 10 PM. Yes, I knew my daughter was still awake. She's a bit of a night owl. But she also normally stays in her room.
Not this time.
Curiosity got the better of her. Perhaps she heard the sounds of bags wrinkling. Maybe she could hear me walking back and forth as I set out the items. It didn't really matter, I suppose. Because she had seen me.
She's nine. I know she's getting older. She's on the cusp of being a little kid and being a tween. Many kids her age no longer believe. Rumblings of the truth on Santa Claus have been going around since the second grade. Still, Natalie chooses to believe. Or maybe she wanted to believe. Maybe she's also aware that she's balancing between being a little kid and a tween, too.
I hesitated. I admit I was frozen as I stood there in her room. Do I tell her the truth? Or do I let the magic go on for a little bit longer?
"The Easter Bunny can't be everywhere at once," I found myself saying. The magic was staying. I wasn't ready to give up the magic. And from the way my daughter was looking at me, I don't think she was ready either. "So sometimes parents help out."
I waited. Maybe Natalie would accuse me of lying. If she did, I'd have to tell the truth.
"So that's why I see the same things at Target in my basket," Natalie said, nodding slightly. Understanding flashed behind her wet eyes.
"Yes," I answered, relieved. "That's why." I sat down beside her and she climbed into my lap, resting her head against my shoulder. Will she always climb into my lap when she's upset? I always think this now. I savor each time she does it, in case it's the last.
Some people thought I should have told her the truth. When I talked about this with some friends, some said, "Oh, my kids stopped believing in the Easter Bunny at six. You might as well let her know."
Maybe. But I want to hold onto the magic a little longer because I know what's coming. Boy troubles. Friendship troubles. Should I wear the pink lipstick or the red? Can I have the name brand shirt that everyone else has?
Yes. There is still time for the magic.
I'm glad Natalie still believes an umbrella can make her fly one day. Like Mary Poppins.
I smile because Natalie still believes she can dress up and become a character from a movie.
I'm happy Natalie believes her stuffed animals have feelings and enjoy the same food we do.
One day she'll know the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. One day all her costumes and toys might be in a box in the closet.
But that day isn't today.
And I'm glad.