Suspending Belief

Recently my 5-year-old told me she no longer believed in flying reindeer.  The conversation went something like this:

E, “Reindeers can’t fly.”
Me, “Well, maybe not all reindeer.”
E, “Mama, you know no deer can fly.”
Me, trying to think of something, “Okay, but maybe Santa uses some magic on just his reindeer to make them fly.”
E, “There’s no such thing as magic.”

I retold this story on Facebook last week and the comments surprised me a bit.  Mostly people wanted my youngest daughter to know that “magic was real,” but one of them caught me off guard.

“[It’s] sad when childhood ends so early.”

The comment actually made me angry and continues to make me angry.  My kids are in every sense children.  Why does the disbelief of something, something that is very clearly a lie told to most children, mean childhood is over?  Does believing in fairy tales or mythical creatures make kids any more authentically “childlike?”  Is a 5 year old that no longer believes in Santa Claus jaded or is she just beginning to learn about the world?  And if the latter, why is that a bad thing?

While I have fond memories of Santa Claus, as a parent I’ve always been a little uncomfortable pushing the notion too aggressively.  I don’t like to lie to my kids.  When our oldest was finally aware of the idea of Santa Claus we went along with it, but just barely.  We forged a few gift tags, using a different pen and handwriting.  We even used different wrapping paper.  I figured, if we’re going to lie about presents from Santa we may as well make it look legit or why bother.

As she got older, she  started asking more questions.  First we were just asked if Santa was real and we said, “some people believe he is.”  We were asked if we believed he was real and committed to an, “I think so.”  But then, as the years passed, we found ourselves digging the lie hole deeper and deeper as we described the North Pole, flying reindeer, mass produced presents that were delivered in one night and around the world, and the list.  We don’t get into the naughty or nice business, but have adopted all the other nonsense.

We’d gone full Santa.

A couple of years ago we started getting the kids involved in selecting  gifts for children in need.  We would pick up a tag from the local school or mall giving tree and go out and buy a few things that were asked for, things like socks, pants, or shirts.  I always made sure to put a toy or two with each practical item because it just felt like the right thing to do.

“Why doesn’t Santa give presents to poor kids?” was the question that stumped me, asked again by my eldest.  She had made the connection I hadn’t even thought of.  If Santa Claus exists, then why did these kids and these families need to ask other people for presents?

I heard myself saying something along the lines of, “Well, Santa gives all kids a couple of presents, but most of them come from your family and this is a way of helping those families out.”  But inside I found myself asking how long I was going to keep up this charade.

We’re a secular family, so religious holidays really are all about the fantastical mascots, but it’s kind of understood in our house that at least the Easter Bunny is not real.  There’s a lot of wink-wink, nudge-nudge when the baskets of chocolate appear.  Santa is a completely different matter and maybe it’s because the holiday drags out so much with the build up starting after Halloween.

I don’t know what’s going to happen this year when the kids start getting excited for Christmas and the Santa talk resumes.  I don’t plan on confirming the lack of Santa Claus to either of my children, particularly my 8 year old who is still very much believing in both the man and his flying beasts.  But I do think I’m going to scale back on the hoopla a bit, as well as the number of tags that read, “From Santa.”

Does this mean my kids are growing up?  Sure, but they are no less kids.  Not by any stretch.

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