While no parent looks forward to having those awkward talks with their children—the birds and the bees, Viagra commercials, the national debt and their portion of it—none seem more disheartening than the conversation all parents are eventually forced to have concerning the tri-pillars of every kids' make-believe world—Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, and The Tooth Fairy. And, nothing showcases a parent’s excellent communication skills better than giving explanation to fat, fluffy, flying immortals.
This past Easter I was forced to have just such a conversation with my oldest daughter—mostly to protect her younger sister, who still believes in these folktales with every fiber of her being, genuflecting at the utter mention of Santa Claus or Peter Cottontail, and who sat unknowingly on the floor of the family room, surrounded by Easter gifts and fortifying herself with Easter chocolates. I didn’t want her to overhear the smart-bombs of skepticism or the commentary of doubt launched with increased frequency by her older, now incredulous sister—who, using her deductive powers, recognized this for the fantastic charade that it was.
But what do you say to your child when, at nine years old, they begin to question the existence of these legendary supernaturals?
“Yea…uh……well…um…I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that…actually…we’ve…um…basically we’ve been lying to you all along…sorry. Please pass the salt?”
No, I don’t think so Homer Simpson.
Circumstances like these call for marked sympathy and thoughtfulness, at all times cognizant of the child’s devotedness to, and investment in, these celebrities of all things pretend. Initially winking, occasionally nodding, and thereafter avoiding all eye contact all work well, followed by a Q & A session, which is the path I took—thus sidestepping the hardship of admitting to being a big fat liar, to a large degree then, it’s simply implied.
Still, demanding as we’ve been all these years that our children always tell the truth, sponsoring such fabrications, though fun and well-intentioned, smacks of hypocrisy even in the unsophisticated mind of a child. For nearly a decade my wife and I’ve been teaching this future adult to tell the truth, not to lie, yet paradoxically, and all the while, we’ve been feeding her the biggest whopper ever—this side of the Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
So we can’t blame our kids when they look at us, as my nine-year-old did, with complete disbelief at the news, sneaking up on her as it did, that we’re the ones putting the Barbie dolls, bicycles and iPads under the tree, hiding the eggs in hard to find places, and putting the five-dollar-bills under their pillows. Though I stopped short of confessing to eating Santa’s cookies, drinking Santa’s milk and, employing my best herbivore impression, gnawing off the ends of the carrots left for Rudolph and Peter.
To no one’s surprise, when asked if she was upset at the knowledge that these gift-giving characters weren’t actually real, but rather a massive hoax perpetrated by a troubled society, my wounded daughter responded as you might expect, “Ah…yeah…..kind of,……I mean,…you’ve been lying to me for nine years!”
Whoa there little sister.
"Um…..well…yea but all parents do it!” I blurted out defensively. “Now whatever you do, don’t tell your sister!”
And so it was, with a wink, a nod, and an offering of a hug—to which she refused though I can’t imagine why—I skillfully navigated another of parenthoods most difficult errands. Although I knew the day would eventually arrive, strangely I hadn’t rehearsed and I wasn’t prepared, but I managed nonetheless.
Yes, its days such as these when a parent truly earns their money, eluding, deflecting and deferring the inevitable series of difficult questions posed by our children, as we set about the task of preparing them for a life of unmake-believe-like realities.
In the end I’m not sure who was more disappointed; me because she no longer believed, or her at the discovery that a perfectly wonderful imaginary world was just that. After all, isn’t it always more fun to have a true believer in the house during the holidays? And wasn’t life more enjoyable when you believed in all those fat, fluffy, flying immortals?