Monday, December 8, 2008

Believing in Make-Believe

Baby Learns to Crawl - Paul Westerberg (mp3)
And You Tell Me - Sugar (mp3)

My daughters came home from school last Tuesday and wrote letters to Santa requesting two of his elves to come live with them until Christmas. Have you heard of this? It's been on the periphery of our radar screen for a year or two now, but the girls only got sucked into the vortex last week, and it happened so fast we had little time to react. Here's one of about 100 blogs that chronicle the adventures of this nonsense.

The wife and I had to come to a quick decision: (a) run out in the dark of night and buy two of these bastards at Wal-Mart so that they were resting comfortably for the eager-eyed girls the next morning... or (b) do nothing.

Most anyone who knows me knows I was destined to choose (b) because it required less effort and offered me the opportunity for a "teaching moment" with the girls. That latter part helped excuse the former part. There's another reason for choosing not to do this. Just click on that link above and read some of it. That's a damn good reason, if you ask me.

Instead of just letting them wake up to utter disappointment, we wrote them a note back. The letter was from Tobias J. Elf, Director of Elf Resourses for the North Pole. He informed them that our house was so messy that they were under the impression elves were already stationed at our address, but if not, they could not dispatch elves to any house that had yet to put up a Christmas tree.

In the world of 21st Century parenting, the crossroads of make-believe and Christmas is a secret philosophical battleground. On one side, you have parents who don't even let their children believe in Santa. They believe it takes away a child's appreciation for their parents and endorses lying. They believe you can't teach your children about honesty if you spend time on the biggest holiday of the year aiding and abetting one of the greatest deceptions ever. On the other side, you have parents who look for more deceptions. They do Santa, but that's not enough. So they do the Tooth Fairy. And the Easter Bunny. They even do wilder stuff like these friggin' elves.

Our family falls closer on this side of the continuum. We deceive our children about tons of shit, enjoy it, and look forward to doing it for as long as they'll keep falling for it.

One of our closer friends falls on the other extreme, and at the heart of her concern is Jesus.

Seriously, her concern is that, if you spout all this nonsense about a fictional person you know doesn't exist, you're not only taking away the Christian part of the holiday, but you're also setting your children up to ask some of the same questions about God. If my parents gleefully misled me about the North Pole, why should I believe them about Heaven?

I never felt that kind of disillusionment with my parents. I was so proud of myself for having sleuthed my theories about Mom + Dad being responsible for those Christmas Morning presents that I spent nary a minute disliking them for deceiving me. I don't even think I ever really thought of it as deception so much as a game I hadn't realized I was playing. However, it's never wise to assume your own children will draw the same conclusions as you did when you were their age.

And I'm probably grateful I never saw the South Park pilot episode ("Santa v. Jesus" -- WARNING: it's even more vulgar than you might remember) as a kid, since there's no telling what that would have done to me.

So instead, my argument is this. I want my children asking questions. I want my children having doubts and exploring them, even actively investigating them. I want them to know that adults -- even their parents -- can sometimes be deceptive, sometimes misleading, and that trust and faith are priceless parts of our humanity, but not things that should be handed out freely without ever questioning. Doubt and healthy skepticism are not sins.

Fortunately, as with most things about parenting, how we choose to deal with our children and issues of Santa and make-believe isn't so much rocket-science as an exercise in knowing how you want to approach it and carrying it out, always placing the love of your children above the lesser considerations.

But... it sure is fun writing letters from the Tooth Fairy. Thank goodness Jesus is a pretty forgiving fella.

"And You Tell Me" is from Sugar's final album, Besides. "Baby Learns to Crawl" is from Stereo. Both are available on iTunes.


Bob said...

Talk about a great Sugar song that flew under the radar. I've always loved "And You Tell Me."

I saw one of these same elves at Lambert's the other night; I left an empty beer bottle next to him to see how the children would process that elfish twist!

Billy said...

I was gonna mention that John's kids had 'em, but only if I deemed it an irredeemably inexcusable decision. Maybe we should hook him up with one of the moms who write entire blogs about these elves...

John said...

I have to teach so don't have time to respond to this post, but promise to do so later. We love the Elf (Twinkle is his name) and I'll try to offer some thoughts on the topic that don't rely on emoticons.

Bob said...

That little bastard elf at Lambert's pinched my wife in the ass when she was walking by.

jed said...

Thankfully, my daughter's elf might not be long for this world; she asked me last night why her elf had a tag that said "made in China."