Friday, December 21, 2007

Santa: Threat or Menace?

Let me start this post with a caveat: If you are under the age of 12, stop reading now.

Not that 12 year-olds read blogs, or that if they did, they'd read this one, but still...

A poster in the forums threw a question out for general feedback recently, one that comes up every year around this time: should she tell her 8 year old The Truth about Santa?

Now, I don't have children, so I'm treading a bit far afield here, but my sister has 7, and I've spent a week or two around them nearly every Christmas since Rugrat One. I'd like to think this gives me that sort of Anthropologist Living With the Tribes sort of perspective. You know...knowledge without true understanding, a sort of pompous empathy bordering on condescension...that sort of thing...

Anyhoo...

The question as old as the tradition itself: "When do I end the conceit that Santa Claus exists and brings these gifts?" well, you're on your own on that one. I've seen my sister struggle with it and there are so many factors... Do they have older/younger siblings? Are their friends finding out? Do they really want to know or are they really hoping to keep it going? It seems there is a real grey area where kids start to figure it out but somehow realize once they move beyond the Fat Man in the Suit they will be forever on the other side of that door, in a different and perhaps less comforting world. So that is a hard question, and I like to avoid those.

There is, however, a much easier question. It's a question I've really only begun to hear in the last decade or so. It is made up of two questions:
1. "Am I lying to my kid(s) when I tell them Santa exists?"
2."If I am lying, should I stop and be honest with them?"

Like I said, easy. The answers are 1.Yes and 2.No.

Slam dunk. Yes, you are lying to them. That is part of your job.

It may be that parents have been asking this for ages and I was just unaware, but I'm pretty sure I've seen this position grow from a tiny crackpot spore scrabbling about in the dark corners of the holiday to a fetid bloom of wet blanket Grinch Mold during my lifetime. Fertilized by the all-natural bovine waste of "My children are tiny adults", harvested by the Internet and distributed by Lazy, Google-Keyword-Driven, Lifestyle Reportage, it is now available for consumption nearly everywhere. It usually begins with the admonition that it is bad to lie to your children.

Really?

What is a lie besides the controlled manipulation of information, and isn't information control one of your duties as a parent? I often wonder if these parents sit down and watch the news with their 6 year-olds. Am I behind the times here? Children's books are a publishing gold mine, is there an entire genre that has been missed? An opportunity to be the J.K. Rowling of Children's Truth Fiction? How could I have been so blind?! Riches await!

"Let's Go Camping Forever!: A refugee tale."

"C is for Child Protective Services"

"Airway, Breathing, Circulation: The ABC's of Battlefield Trauma Stabilization for Kids."

"Where's Daddy?"

"The House with Police Tape for a Door"

"Jobby goes to China!"

"People Die."

and of course,

"Pets Die First."

Finally, books for kids who know everything their parents do!

I am aware, as some are sure to point out at this juncture, that keeping information from children is not the same as telling them something you know isn't true, but if the argument is about character, that is a bit of a fine point. (See "Dick Cheney" et al)

What I am saying, before I get too off topic here, is that if you tell me you have never lied to your children you are either lying to me, an adult, or you are an Ogre.

Yep. I'm not taking it back, either.

I imagine 99.9999% of those making that statement would fall into the first category. I consider my sister about the best parent I've ever seen and I've seen the White Lie in action as an invaluable, if little used, item in her tool kit. Without it, not only does it become necessary to fill kids in on adult situations we as adults wish we didn't know about-"Why is Uncle X leaving? Because Aunt Y is coming over and they're both in love with the same transvestite prostitute. Besides, he always leaves once the beer runs out. Remember? He's an alcoholic."-it also would create a world without surprise parties...without surprises of any kind.

Sure they will eventually find out, and when they do, they will also find out-if for some incredible reason they haven't already-that you know things they don't and do not always tell them those things. If they haven't learned by the age of 7 or 8 or whenever they start to ask about Santa that there are different rules for adults and children: A) you probably live in New York City and B) everyone hates your kids. Yep. Even the other parents who are "raising" their kids the same way. They talk to me. As their kids rampage between the tables of a restaurant we have attempted to eat at, they fill me in on how poorly behaved your kids are. And I lie to them. I lie by omission. I hold my tongue and let them carry on believing in the fantasy they've created, a fantasy in which their children are well mannered and a joy to be around and which could not be more fantastical if these selfsame children were to leap through a window, sprout wings from their backs and soar out toward the horizon, leaving sparkling rainbow contrails in their wake which, by God, by that point in the evening I'm wishing for harder than any kid ever wished for anything, Santa included.

Part of what I find repulsive about this whole No Santa thing is the idea that finding out Mommy and Daddy "lied" about Santa will rate somehow on a child's List of Disappointments, Disillusionments, Fears and Other Bad Things Associated With My Parents...that the rest of their child's life is clearly so perfect thanks to their progressive parenting that "The Santa is a Lie" entry will be the first item on that list. Listen, if that's the case, more power to 'ya and the kids going to be fine regardless of what you tell them, but most people I run into already had by that point in life a list long enough to ensure some therapist somewhere a nice little vacation, perhaps a small sailboat.

I don't remember the exact moment I found out Santa wasn't real. I do have a foggy memory of a discussion about Santa with some friends or cousins when I was about that age. I certainly do not remember seeing my parents as having lied to me in a horrible way once I found out. But I do, with crystal clarity, remember trying not to actually physically explode with excitement on Christmas Eve, wide awake in bed, all senses humming at absolute capacity, waiting for anything, the smallest sign of a Jolly Old Man with a small little belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

4 comments:

  1. I knew the Santa myth far earlier than my parents knew that I knew. I figured I would get more gifts if there was another fella in the mix. Greedy, but true. And I really do believe that my parents cared enough to lie. It was fun and over far too soon.

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  2. Excellent post. A portion of it reminds me of something Mick LaSalle (SFO film critic) said about parents- he said that to a certain disturbing and morbid group of parents (which continues to grow), children have become a religion, and they are martyrs to them. He's right and it scares me.

    And I agree that of all the lies our parents tell, I think the Santa lie is going to be pretty low on the list compared to all the other stuff.

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  3. Such a fantastic memory of childhood excitement and anticipation!......It recalls in my own mind lying in bed with feety pajamas, aching to run downstairs...but being forced to wait for the 'go-ahead' from Dad.
    And in the end, with all of this over analyzing parents do....why can't they just relax?
    When I think about becoming a parent...these are just the types of memories I would want my own children to have....
    and if I have to tell a few lies..so be it.

    By the way - the book titles are sheer genius....we should see about booking you with Donnie Deutsch on The Big Idea.

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  4. definitely a good read, and much to ponder (especially what kind of ending of "The House with Police Tape for a Door" has).

    grown-up conversations with my parents have revealed quite a few things they "fibbed" on.

    world-shattering? hardly.

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