Polar Express


Have you ever read The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg? Well, you should. In fact, you should read all of his picture books because the man is a genius, but that is entirely beside the point. If for some utterly indefensible reason, you have not read it, I will sum it up for you. Boy is growing up and beginning to think he’s too old for certain things, like Santa. He goes to sleep Christmas Eve only to be awoken by the sounds of a train outside his house. The Polar Express takes him and other kids to the North Pole where Santa chooses him to receive the first gift of Christmas. Being mesmerized by the sound of the bells on the harnesses of the reindeer, he asks for one. Before he gets home, he loses it. In the morning, thinking it is all a dream, he and his little sister celebrate Christmas with the family when he finds a small box under the tree with a note from Santa. In the box? you guessed it: the bell. The Bell, which can only be heard by those who truly believe, has fallen silent to all he knows over the years, but he can still hear it because he believes. That is a fast and dirty summary of a fantastic and beautiful story of belief and longing and childhood and joy, but it’s important for you to know.

Each year, Daughter is allowed to choose a new Christmas ornament to buy for the tree so that when she is grown and goes out on her own she will have 21 or so of her own ornaments. Last year, she chose the bell from The Polar Express as her special ornament. Since then, as I wrote about in another post, she has discovered the “truth”about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and other magical beings. It’s created a sort of crisis of conscience for her which has been sad and amazing and really is the perfect summary of where she is in this life right now.

There’s a word for what Daughter is right now, and that word is tween. A tween is a child between the ages of 8 and 14 (roughly) who is not really a teenager and not really a little kid. They’re playing at being grown teens while still keeping a foot firmly in their puppy-hood. Never have I seen this stage so profoundly illustrated than when we were decorating our tree. She has been all about being “big” lately. All of the things she was asking for this Christmas were for the more grown set: a microscope, clothes, lip gloss, games, blankets, and books, and she has been preparing for others for the holiday in ways I’ve not seen. She actually has made lists of gifts she’d like to buy for others. When it came time to decorate the tree, she did something I didn’t expect. She pulled out her Polar Express bell, held it to her ear, and rang it. With relief I never could have anticipated, she said, “Oh thank goodness! It still makes the sound for me! I truly believe.”

There it is: the tween. Wanting to be old enough to get clothes for Christmas, but young enough to really want to still believe. She’s old enough to know that the princesses in Disney are not really the princesses, but young enough to tell me she’s going to pretend that they are anyway. Old enough to know better about Santa, but young enough to want him to come down the chimney. I hope she stays here for a long time.

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