Last night was my semi-annual Girls Night In with three dear friends from childhood. If I described our lives in broad archetypal terms, you would understand why we always joke that we need to pitch ourselves as characters for Sex and the City: The Childraising Years. Yeah, maybe not.
We are so different in so many ways, we raise our children so differently, and yet there’s something so comfortable and perfect every time we get together. Sniff.
Early in the evening, one friend’s four year-old daughter sat in the living room playing with a set of holiday bendy toys before bed. It inspired me to ask her what Santa was bringing her for Christmas. Stupid presumptuous me.
“Every time a gift says it comes from Santa, it’s really from my aunt,” she explained matter-of-factly.
I bent down to her level, and then I looked her in the eyes and I said gently, “You know – there’s a very special book I’d love to read to you. It’s one of my favorites. It’s called Yes, Virginia, There is…”
And that’s when my friend, her mom, cut me off demanding to know why a child should be forced to believe some made-up story. Santa is pretend, the Tooth Fairy is pretend, and Dora is just someone in a costume at a theme park.
I really had to think about it.
In our family where religion is all about tradition and culture and not so much about faith, I totally get that every parent draws the mythology line somewhere different. I would be uncomfortable if someone tried to share with my children the joy of believing in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and maybe that’s what I was doing with this little girl and Santa. I know it’s not quite the same, but…yeah. You know.
I suppose that I simply want children to believe in a little magic in life. I have strong memories of clicking my heels three times in red patent mary janes and waiting to see what would happen. I also recall hiding in my father’s front hall closet in his apartment, hoping that maybe one side would suddenly open up and I’d find myself transported into snowy Narnia. I was 10.
So I totally get that the man with the bag is not everyone’s bag, but I have to believe there are still opportunities for implausible beliefs and magical reality in our children’s minds. I want my kids to believe that there might be fairies hiding under toadstools, that somewhere princes still fight dragons, that some kindly winged lady will swoop in and give them shiny coins for their baby teeth. And yes, that maybe some big guy in a red suit somehow figures out how to get into 8 million deadlocked NYC apartment on a single night to eat some cookies and leave us some presents.
It’s imagination like that that brings us the JK Rowlings and the L Frank Baums of the world.
So I suppose, while I had no right in the least, it was with pureness of heart and intention that I wanted my friend’s four year-old daughter to enjoy the fantasy too. But she was having none of that.
I shrugged, my other friends shrugged, and we realized once again that yep, we sure do all raise our kids differently.
That is, until I noticed the little girl skip off to bed wearing her brand new hand-me-down pajamas that she had just swooned over: The ones with Ariel all over them.
Maybe last night she dreamed of mermaids.