I’m really grateful for all the attention my last blog post, “The Big Lie? Not hardly” has generated and the comments left there and on Facebook are thoughtful and kind. I haven’t commented back, yet, and I haven’t done so on purpose. As I cleaned and cooked on Wedesday and Thursday, I kept checking back to see if there were comments and at one point started to comment back and decided to hold off. Because at some point in the midst of reading it, I remembered something a friend once said to me about a hundred years ago.
She was very near at the end of her marriage, I realize now, in hindsight, and had already laid the groundwork for leaving it. We were having a cup of coffe and she was ruminating on the work she had done to celebrate her then husband’s birthday each year and each year he had been fine with the party and celebration, but not exactly happy about it. And for her birthday, it would be dinner, wine, a gift and then sex. “We give the gift,” she said, wistfully, thoughtfully and fully sadly, “that we wish to be given. We throw the party that we wish to have thrown for ourselves.” In other words, had she shown up naked with a plate of tacos and a six pack of Dos Equis on his birthday, he would have been thrilled. She, on the other hand, needed/wanted/yearned for the party with a room full of people who love her.
I think I may be the first person to talk about Santa Claus by invoking a naked woman with a plate of tacos, but then again, maybe not. But I hope you get what I’m saying, here: Very often, we give to our children what we wanted for ourselves. In reading the responses to my last blog post, I felt it keenly.
I remember saying, more than once, that as the fourth child in the family, I never had the option TO believe in Santa Claus. I don’t know what my siblings were told. I know that we opened a present on Christmas Eve and it was always pajamas and there’s this one really adorable photo of all of us in them one year (this isn’t the one I thought I had–this looks like my siblings got bathrobes and I got feety-pajamas this year (yes, I’m the bald one in the middle).
It’s hard for me to think of what my parents must have told us way back then. I am flooded with who they were and what they did as I was older, and having those three older siblings who always wanted to be the first to know anything and then tell it, I can’t remember being told that Santa wasn’t real. Though, I do have one vague memory of an older sister and me in the back of a station wagon, rolling around in the flat part (yes, Santa Claus didn’t exist and neither did seatbelts!), and her whispering something to me that ended with something akin to –“so you’ll know and won’t look stupid like I did.” It was the same sister who years later whispered secrets to me about other things she had learned about as she grew up, all in the same spirit of generosity, so that I wouldn’t look stupid like she did.
I never felt lied to about Santa because I never really had the opportunity to believe it in the first place. I wish my dad had lied to me about other things. I mean, when he told me Mike Brady was gay (when I hadn’t yet a clue as to what sex between a man and a woman was let alone between two men–because that older sister hadn’t yet whispered THAT bit of information to me), was probably my moment of great existential despair. Of course, my real despair came when we found that my father had NOT quit smoking as he had said he had for years. I would classify THAT as a big lie, way more so than the existence of Santa Claus. And one that ended up shaving years off his life and did, in fact, make me doubt much of everything else he told me after that.
If my parents had raised me to believe that homosexuality was wrong (they didn’t, my father just wanted people to be honest about who they were, strangely enough, in order that they COULD be who they were), or that God would save us without any work on our own, or that people of different races were inferior, well, then I would have felt lied to when I encountered the world and found out they had been telling me a load of hooey. But they didn’t. They raised me with a sense of understanding that there is wrong in the world and our job is to find ways to right it. Even if it is through storytelling. And I never felt lied to about anything of substance, until, of course, the smoking thing–and I was not alone in that.
So, maybe we give our kids the Christmas that we would have liked to have had–the childhoods that we would like to have had. And maybe we make mistakes in doing so. And maybe there are rational parents who don’t lie who end up having children who crave the story–and vice versa. Maybe we are just all a bunch of human beings who don’t have all the answers, and so make up the things we want to happen to us and for us. And maybe that is a fat man in a red and white fur (faux, of course) coat; or maybe its a naked lady with a plate of tacos.
Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know it all. Maybe, just maybe, whatever we give in love can be received in love and that, itself, is enough to override the not-so-literal-capital-T-truth of it all. That’s where I cast my lot in all this. But it is my lot, and I trust that there are many paths to trod on this one and we all get to choose which one or at least to cut the brush on a new path. And I wish you peace, love and magic on your journey.
P.S. to the DREs out there: No, don’t bring Santa into Sunday School–especially if you love the story, because my experience with UU kids is that they will do with Santa what they do with God. And it isn’t very pretty. I cannot erase the image of the condescending look on the face of one of my favorite kids when she said “some people believe that” to another kid. And yet, even without Santa, she and her family have a lovely holiday each year, complete with decorations and gifts and company and food.