Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Carrot of Truth

Christmas Eve is a daunting day when you're a parent.

In this city, people have organized carol singing that goes from pub to pub on the days before Christmas. I kind of liked that idea and had planned to go. It seems vaguely medieval, but I don't know why. But with Husband not working right now, I've had to take on more contracts, which swallows time. So does parenting. Maybe next year.

My kids are 7 and 9. They stopped believing in Santa last year. Now, I'd just like to point out that we never went in for the Santa thing. But the kids picked it up at daycare, etc., so we just didn't do or say anything to upset their ideas. I guess that's a kind of passive lying, but you've got to meet your culture halfway sometimes.

Last year, my then-6-year-old pragmatic daughter decided the Santa story didn't add up. So she and her brother devised a test, which they called the Carrot of Truth. They would leave out a carrot for the reindeer. If the carrot was eaten in the morning, then Santa was real. If not, then the story was bogus.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that Husband and I could easily take a chomp out of that carrot.

However, in the light of honesty, we did not do so. The kids saw the carrot intact in the morning and triumphantly waved it in our faces. Oh, they'd caught us, hadn't they! And they promptly ran off to trill their truth to all their friends, who still all believed in Santa.

And then I got it from their parents.

I still got it from them this year. Some gently took me aside while we were walking the kids to school to ask if we could muzzle them on the topic, just so they could "get another year out of Santa" for their kids. I mean, these kids are almost 10. In a moment of spleen, I wanted to say, "How mutton-headed do you have to be to believe in Santa when you are ten?!" or "I learned about Santa at school when I was six. This is how it happens!" Instead, I said, "This will require duct tape."

My daughter has since become an atheist. She's not believing anything she can't see, and she just pats me nicely on the head if I try to talk to her about such things. I sent her to a local church's vacation bible school. She said it wouldn't have been too bad if they didn't talk about God all the time. My son, on the other hand, thinks he's more of an agnostic: after all, you can't really know either way, he says.

These things I accept. Someone once said that being a communist at 21 just showed that you had a heart that worked. I guess being an atheist/agnostic at age 7/9 just shows you have a mind that works.

The tree went up four days ago, not too early so that things don't lose their shine. The kids love talking about every decoration (since they made most of them) as they touch them all and put them up.

We only buy them one present (like, one: they have to share). That's been our Christmas M.O. since they were born. They have begged for a GameBoy for years now. Mom, I'm the only kid in the class that doesn't have one. I held off as long as possible, but this year, that's what they get.

Sometimes you have to meet your culture halfway.

Filling the stockings is something that Husband and I do immediately after the kids fall asleep, which is about 30 seconds after their heads hit the pillows. This year, I badly miscalculated. Stocking stuffers will overstuff said stockings rather badly. I picked up odds and sods at second-hand stores, plus miscellaneous art and office supplies, some homemade treats and coupons, socks, mitts, a chocolate orange, too much for their knit hockey-sock stockings. Husband's socks may be called into service this year. I hope they don't stretch too badly.

These are our traditions. My children grow. They're growing so fast now I can hardly stand to watch. I remember how they used to crawl into our bed in the morning with their ice-cold feet, giggling and snuggling against us.

Not any more.

Some days I just want to stop time so that I can enjoy this moment, this day, this period in their lives until I've had my fill of it. But it passes so quickly.

We'll put out the carrot again tonight.


At 3:57 AM, Blogger starbender said...

Kids R the Darndest Creatures!
Sounds like my house!
Merry Christmas!

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Zach A said...

This was really touching. (:

Your kids are like mini Zarathustras!

I'm not sure what I would do in that situation -- other parents telling you to keep your kids quiet.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Two things came to me:

1) I remember some years ago when a deservedly weighty Friend, a professor at Wilmington College in Ohio, spoke during a meeting for worship about the Santa Claus myth being not only wrong but unhelpful. (Note: at least some children were present.) Her point was that Jesus was the incarnation of grace and forgiveness, and did not set people up for disappointment, whereas Santa's love was material and conditional. I don't remember the sky falling in.

2) Concerning young atheists and agnostics: We asked our children to go to meeting whether or not they wanted to, and we explained to them that, first of all, they deserved to know what we considered of ultimate value, whether they ultimately agreed with us, and second, church was part of our family. We did not consider our little four-person-and-one-dog-and-one-cat nuclear family to be our whole family; the next circle beyond relatives was the Body of Christ, which is not an optional social choice.

A few years later, when I was one of the pastors of a different meeting and our boys were teenagers, I remember more than once sitting on the facing bench, or standing at the podium, and seeing my younger son ostentatiously reading Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian while sitting in the body of the congregation. He's very astute theologically, and I'm glad I had no temptation to interfere with either his reading or the visibility of it in that place. We need to be families for real, not families for show.

Another seasonal memory, somewhat off subject: Once upon a time I was a guest speaker at a meeting for worship in Indiana. The clerk of the meeting for ministry and counsel gave the children's message that day. He said to the assembled children, in substance, "We all love Frosty the Snowman, don't we? Frosty's a wonderful Christmastime friend. But, you know, poor Frosty melts away when spring comes. But we have another friend who loves us very much, who never melts away, who is always with us. Can anyone tell me who that friend is?"

A little hand shot up. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?"

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Liz Opp said...


Thanks for these touching memories. Stories like these say more to me about love, family, and joy--even if bittersweet--at this time of year than all the holiday greetings, ads, and merchandise!

Liz, The Good Raised Up


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