I was at my mom’s not too long ago listening to a debate between The Flower and her cousin, wherein The Flower vigorously defended the existence of such non-corporeal creatures as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and so on.
The Cousin, who is quite opinionated on, well, everything, was raised for most of her life in some sort of Mennonite sect. 19th century clothing, little exposure to any sort of electronic media, and The Man In The Red Suit.
Let me step back a bit: I have been, in my life, quite strident on the matter of honesty between parents and children. At least, I’m pretty sure I have. I’ve been strident on a lot of things, so this was probably one of them. At the same time, I’ve always been a big fan of letting kids work things out for themselves.
So, when The Boy started talking Santa, I dealt with it the same way I dealt with other things, “People say…” or “That’s what they tell me.” Also, “I don’t know” and “How could that be?” have been useful.
But, but, but—factually speaking, Blake, factually, you do know.
And yet, I never even gave some things a thought. The Boy used to be concerned about vampires, so I told him I had killed them all. It wasn’t like he was going to believe there weren’t vampires, so I told him what he could believe: That I had removed the threats he was worried about. (Which I had, when you think about it.)
In fact, I used to see monsters. The Boy loved monsters, so I’d suddenly look to one side and put on a big show of having seen on running across the yard. When I crawled under the house to network it, I called up in the voices of different monsters.
The Boy, who has had problems with his health and energy his whole life, would light up like a million watt light bulb when I did this.
The Flower, on the other hand, boxed us into an even more interesting corner: She wrote to the Tooth Fairy. Well, really, what could I do? The Tooth Fairy had to write back! The two have exchanged forty letters over the course of a couple of years.
When I was a child, I’m told that I was very upset on discovering the factual nature of Santa Claus, but my dad claims to have this discussion with me about it. I was beating on him and yelling “You lied to me!” And he said, “Well, okay, but you had fun, didn’t you?”
Yeah. I had fun.
And I’m still having fun. The Boy gets what we do and why, and the Flower will, too. (That time is nearing, and I’m already missing it.) When The Barb’s preferences become clear, be they the Easter Bunny or the Great Pumpkin, I’ll be there quietly encouraging her to enjoy it.
I’m much less interested in a semantic debate over whether this can and should be called “lying” versus the impact it can have on children.
I adore my niece but she’s a joyless child. Her emotions are muted and flat, and she often strikes me as being an old person in a tiny body. I’ve never seen her get excited over anything. She’s a know-it-all who does poorly in school, despite the service paid to “truth”. And I don’t attribute this to Santa, one way or the other, but creation is joy, and frankly, few things are more traditional than for parents to try to crush out that joy by burdening a child with “reality”, when “reality” is all too often the same tired notions about the world that have been crushing joy from the beginning of time.
“Put away those foolish notions,” says the parent, and so shuts the door on a better and more interesting future.
And (as I say with my niece) it’s not just Santa: Parents who are so convinced they have the one and only grasp on reality aren’t just taking that from their kids; they’re taking the kid’s right to create his own reality, mistakes and all. You could foster a love for all things fantastic (or not yet real) without Santa; people have and do.
But your reasons shouldn’t be “because it’s a lie”. When you tell a kid a story, he’s going to internalize it, whether you tell him it’s true or not. Nobody told me superheroes were real, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be one. Nobody tells kids that their toys are “real”, yet kids imbue them with life and personality and character conflicts, with more conviction than the average adult believes that the person standing in front of him has a real life and personality.
I mean, do you feel the need to go around and remind the kid that her Barbie Dream House isn’t real, and anyway, Barbie couldn’t possibly afford it unless Ken’s her sugar daddy? I mean, realistically.
Kids have their own realities. As a parent, you can hardly help but squash them, but it’s nothing to be proud of. And in service to what? A reality you’re so convinced is true and worthwhile, it merits cutting off an entire avenue of joy for your child?
Shame on you.
And I just add this last part to prove that I can be strident in the service of something I was previously very strident against.