Someone I admire has written an interesting piece about, in a nutshell anyway, how telling the truth to children is better than "protecting" them with a lie. I agree with everything she said pretty much wholesale. (I'd caveat my agreement on a couple small points, but the principle of the thing is solid. No lying to kiddies, or else the boogie man will come out and eat me.)
However, she's got me thinking on this fine muggy morning about this whole "truth to children" thing, in the wide context of all the peeps I know and their varying opinions on the subject. The ready example is Santa Claus--ought we or ought not we lead children to "believe" in Santa? A very old friend staunchly insists that to do so is tantamount to mortal sin, is a grave lie, will damage forever the little child's ability to trust adults, and those who do so ought only suffer by riding the buffer of Parliamentary trains. His children have never even heard the name--Santa has about the same household standing as Eminem: should he come up in conversation via something the children hear outside the home, he is dismissed as "Oh, he is a bad person that we do not talk about." And this, I sincerely hope, is the outer limit of anti-Santa in the world. Personally, I think it's a bit much. After all, one could always thoughtfully reintroduce the history of where "Saint 'Claus" came from in the first place.
I feel a need to digress at this point, though. First of all, are there those of you in the world who really and truly believed with all their hearts, after reaching the age of reason, that Santa Claus did in fact exist and came down every chimney on Earth every Christmas Eve? Perhaps my whole take on this subject is skewed, because I was never one of those children. We had Santa, we knew he was "coming," there is amusing video evidence of my disappointment that he "had to use the front door" for a particularly large doll house one Christmas. (I was skeptical, too, because I knew how careful we were to never let any strangers have our keys.) But I was four.
I have a convenient break in my childhood memory between "before the age of reason" and "after the age of reason," as my family moved when I was six years old. Post-Move Jen did not have any idea that Santa was really really real. She never felt that all adult humanity had led her gravely astray by telling her that he existed in the first place. He has been a character of fiction for as long as I can honestly remember. We watched the old claymation movies, we sang Santa songs, when my sister was a very wee thing we did the milk and cookies thing one year--but I drank the milk and my brother ate a cookie, to help preserve the illusion. By the time she was five for six, my sister certainly knew that there was no Santa of the flesh-and-bones variety. For once thing, with a birthday falling less than 30 days from December 25th, she learned the hard way about "this is your birthday and your Christmas present." Perhaps my whole stance is based on the fact that my parents were so seamlessly able to give us both the fun of the popular icon along with the reality that he isn't real, that I'm just a little dismissive of those who have such a stinkin' hard time reconciling the two. And I'm done digressing.
The larger question of telling chilren the truth is not confined to Santa Claus, though, and I know this. Similar fictional characters, likewise, are not really the limit of the issue. The tooth fairy, Easter bunny, cupid, Father Time, and all the rest are just imagery. But do we "believe" in imagery (of the secular sort!!!)? Does Uncle Sam have to appear in the parade for July 4th to be complete? If I find out he isn't real, will all my future celebrations of our country's birthday be void and empty? This goes back to the Santa-after-sixth-birthday thing--I never really did believe he existed, at least not past the time when I also believe that the tub drain would suck me underground and Big Bird was actually a bird and not a person in a suit. If I had, my parents would have done me a disservice, and I suppose that's what is at stake. To put one's children in a position where will have such a strong belief in something that they are truly shaken to find it is not so, well, that is a crime indeed.
And I'm out of brain cells for the morning. More on this later, if I remember I was thinking about it.
p.s. For the record, there are Santa books on my shelf and they shall be read aloud with gusto every Christmas.