|Anna searching her stocking, Christmas 2007|
I've never been "big" on Santa. Or the Easter Bunny. Or the Tooth Fairy. Part of this has to do with my upbringing. While I am not a Christian who is going to pronounce Santa as "evil" or claim that anyone who brings up their kids to expect a basket from a big white bunny is sinning, something about the whole thing doesn't sit right with me. I guess because 1) if I'm raising my child with our faith, what does it mean if I tell him all sorts of stories about men in red suits and tiny winged creatures who trade teeth for cash, and then follow that eventually with, "oh, but not really?" What is to stop my child from someday wondering the same thing about faith lessons, and stories of the Bible, and our belief in God? It feels like a matter of trust and 2) Any kind of "lying" bothers me more than almost anything. When it comes to lying, I become very spectrum-like. I hate dishonesty. I am very black-and-white. And getting my kids' hopes up about something like Santa just.feels.like.lying. Even if the rest of the world sees it as good fun.
With Anna we pondered, what to do? While I'm not a big fan of mythical figures, I'm also not big on sucking all of the whimsy out of one's childhood, and having my kid be the one to crush others' hearts by announcing to her class, "There is no Santa!" So we decided to take a subtle approach, and this worked very well. We didn't have her leave out carrots for the reindeer or write letters to Santa, but we didn't shout the lack of Santa's existence from the rooftops, either. The few times she asked about presents and where they came from, we turned the question back to her: "What do YOU think?" That always quieted her. Slowly, over time, the truth became obvious, without a punch in the stomach of disappointment.
But now we have Mr. Literal, the one who just proclaimed at dinner the other night that he likes non-fiction better than fiction, and that the story his teacher was reading about animals that wasn't "real" because the animals could talk. Ethan is not subtle. Something is real, or it's not. If it's not, he's going to announce this knowledge, loudly and proudly. But if people are singing songs about a guy in a suit of red, if a teacher of all people is talking about Santa, if they are making movies (hello Rise of the Guardians) about the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny explaining the elaborate processes behind how this whole thing works, it must all be real, right? Heck, we get a kick out of watching NORAD track Santa every year. Grown-ups report about where he is on the GPS. The government is in on this thing. It's got to be legit, right?!
I tried the whole "what do YOU think?" with Ethan about Santa, and the Tooth Fairy. He seems firmly entrenched in belief, belief that we didn't put there but that he seems to have gained just by osmosis in his everyday environment of school, media, and books.
To make matters more complicated, yes, there is a small part of me that rejoices in the fact that he anticipates something like Santa. How could I not, when back three years or so ago I wondered if he would ever get excited about Christmas or birthdays at all, if he would ever care?
I don't want to be someone who brings my kids up with murky ideas about reality vs. myth. And I'll be the first to admit that raising children has challenged me to examine what I really believe, and to ask my own hard questions. I am not naïve. I know that those who don't have a faith walk see my Christian beliefs as little more than another fairy tale to add to the list.
When the questions about God come up, the really hard ones? I can't even go there right now.
But in this moment we aren't there. And all I can say is I have a better idea of what I'd not like to do rather than what I would. I don't want my child desperately believing in something I tell him, only to be let down. And I don't want my child being the one to tell every other child he knows that everything they believe is not true.
And so we straddle the middle ground once again, and I pray for wisdom, because even though this seems like a little thing, I guess it's not. I know the majority of people would say I'm over-analyzing, that this is all in good fun, that I shouldn't obsess over permanently scarring my child by telling him the wrong thing.
I know. But in some ways we're not talking Easter eggs and stockings hung by the chimney with care. We're really talking about belief and faith. We're talking truth, and what we instill in our kids, and why, and how. We're moving, in a sense, beyond Santa to the downright metaphysical.
And so I sit, and wonder. I wonder about wonder, that little part of each of us that wants to believe in something beyond ourselves and the every-dayness of our world, something magical and beyond logical explanation. This part brings me peace...that that longing was borne in us. That's why we create stories. Without even realizing, from very early on, we are asking our children to believe.