Giving what we want

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.


About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
This entry was posted in Family, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Giving what we want

  1. Pingback: Blogs on Chalica, kids and gender, and saving up for therapy « : The Interdependent Web

  2. uuMomma says:

    First, literally: my head is spinning right now (some sort of nasty flu thing that had me flat on my back most of the day yesterday or I would have responded to the original question thusly:

    Figuratively: my last p.s. was really inappropriate and a little snarky. Of course kids should learn to say “that’s what some people think.” But what I see from kids–be it UU or not–in relationship to Santa is not about generosity of spirit, but as ogre noted above, with a sneer of knowing what others don’t.

    And I have seen UU children do that same thing when kids talk about God. That’s why we have good RE teachers in the room to redirect the discussion so that new kids who DO have some sort of relationship to church as being about God have a place in the circle, as well. Not all kids who are in RE have been brought up knowing what it means to be a UU and how God fits in (and sometimes doesn’t).

    I’m sorry if those last few dashed-off lines caused pain. But right now, I have to give in to the literal headspinning I’ve got going. I’ll try to address all this a little better someday soon.


    • NFQ says:

      Ah, this is what I missed — tone of voice is so difficult to read online. (As a former “UU kid” myself I don’t remember sneers, and have actually complained about what I saw as the total acceptance of any/all supernatural beliefs. But contemptuous sneers are a far cry from “this is why I don’t find that story believable,” and not what I would advocate, especially in this setting as you say.) Thanks very much for the clarification.

      I hope you feel better soon!


    • Last night in my Univeralist prayer group, we studied 1 Corinthians 13. I think it applies beautifully here:

      When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.

      The Bible teaches us that as adults we understand how little we understand. We see that life is a mystery. At the same time, children are children. Children need structure, rules and non-ambiguity. This makes them feel safe. Later, we learn to live with mystery and ambiguity and we deconstruct, mold and shape our theology in way that works for us.

      But UU kids are raised with nothing to deconstruct. We have been given no spiritual clay to mold. So most of us leave – 88% of us to be exact. There is a nice article in UU World this month about a mother whose UU daughter has now embraced Judaism whole-heartedly. To me, this is a bittersweet story. It is wonderful that she has found faith, but sad that she could not find it in UU.


    • Paul Oakley says:

      @ Anna – I find your assertion fascinating: “But UU kids are raised with nothing to deconstruct. …So most of us leave – 88% of us to be exact.”

      – I would wonder, though, how, other than by unscientifically sampled anecdote, one determines the reason(s) young people leave association with UU congregations behind.

      – I would wonder whether these reasons are largely the same or mostly different from reasons the young who leave other religious groups leave.

      – I wonder how “scientific” our numbers are re these percentages, having spoken recently with UUs with strong professional background in statistics who questioned the statistical validity of the very high percentages given for leaving UUism or that a study has yet been done that collects the right kind of information to make such determination. (I am absolutely not any good at statistics myself).

      – I wonder whether fundamentalists, who likewise do not give their children anything they consider deconstructable and do not consider deconstruction of childhood certainties to be part of the adult program, whether they also experience 88% loss when their young people figure out that they can’t undertake such a program there.

      – I would wonder whether UU young people who leave life in a congregation also leave behind their UU values, and if they maintain their essential UUness outside association with a congregation, whether we might as easily infer that they have just perfected the process.

      – I would wonder whether the adult UU desire for those young UUs to stay who in fact leave has more to do with our organizational priorities of our institutions and less to do with the spiritual well-being of those young people.

      In any case, in the context of this blog series and responses thereto, I wonder, tongue-in-cheek, at the easily inferred point here that Santa Claus can save Unitarian Universalism from the loss of its children.


  3. Paul Oakley says:

    ogre, my response that your response to which got very narrow (visually) was a response to what UUmomma indicated was a reality among UU RE kids on the topic of God and her desire to protect Santa from getting what God gets. I understand your point about developmental stages, though I’m not so sure anyone really knows what that has to mean.

    I read my preschool children Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Kafka’s Metamorphosis equally as stories – both anathema to my parents in my upbringing – but didn’t do the seasonal mythical critters because of common implications to children that it was more than story, as well as the other previously discussed issues. (I honestly don’t know whether my grandchildren are getting SC et al., but it’s never mentioned around me.) I also taught my oldest daughter to play chess when she was in kindergarten, though I did not learn until I was in junior high. She very quickly was able to beat me.

    So I’m not concerned about children being exposed to stuff beyond their theoretical developmental level. The theory will change next year. And kids’ll sift through the stuff that doesn’t work for them (yet) and use what does. To which one may say, “So why not SC?” To which I might respond, “So why not anti-SC?” Sheltering kids from ideas they are not ready for is not my approach, rather, I believe in the haven approach – somewhere where they can retreat, as necessary, if what is around them is too much or uncomfortable.

    I mean, the whole point of fairy tales, for example, is not safe, sweet, syrupy stuff for kid’s brains to get high on, but a controlled scare to start preparing them for the not-so-nice stuff that’s out there.


  4. NFQ says:

    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.

    Could you explain what you mean by this? Do you mean talking about Santa Claus as something that “some people believe,” as you say later? That doesn’t seem at all grotesque to me. I’ve heard many stories of parents telling their kids about Santa Claus in just this way, actually very similar to how I understood your earlier post. (You know, like “How does Santa Claus get to all the houses in the world in just one night?” “Well, some people say that he has the ability to slow down time.”) I feel like I’m missing something. What do UU kids “do with God”?


    • Paul Oakley says:

      My closely related question here is, if you feel it is not very okay for UU kids to do with Santa Claus what they do with God (which I assume indicates some level of deconstruction of the myth), where is the legitimacy in their doing it with God? Are we privileging the secular fantasy over the religious one? God is free game, but Santa is sacrosanct?


      • ogre says:

        All in their time and place, Paul.

        Outside the context of children’s religious education classes–where one is teaching a certain syllabus–it’s not my place to teach a specific understanding of god (or not) to someone’s children, on my own hook, as it were.

        UU kids are exposed to the fact that there are many beliefs about god (and not). We make it clear that different people in our congregations hold varied and very different views. And just as we don’t tell them (the adults) what to believe, we don’t tell the kids what to believe. Rather, I think, we teach them something of how to believe — tolerantly, acceptingly, thoughtfully, somewhat critically, and considerately. And above all, kindly.

        Having some child look condescendingly at another and with a reserved sort of superior sneer observing that well, yes… some people believe that would violate a number of our principles and expectations–whether it was about god, or Santa.

        On the latter, I’ve seen my goddaughter (UU, not a Christian) go on the warpath over such a sneer from adults in her congregation–specifically about someone wearing a cross. It either drove the target away, or nearly did so, and it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t intended to do so (or to “correct” that youth’s views, which is not that different, and as bad). I’m not clear on what happened in the interim about it–but at the Youth-led service several weeks later, she unrolled the whole thing (appropriately), and observed that the youth didn’t suffer this kind of bigotry in their circles, and that it was entirely inappropriate for it to be done, and for it to be tolerated by and among the adults. She debunked the behavior as utterly un-UU, and made it clear that it wasn’t to happen again… and that the youth had discussed it, and wouldn’t sit by quietly if they ever heard it again.

        It’s fine to hear that someone believes something that any one of us thinks is poppycock–and to hold that opinion. But it needs to be held, appropriately, and not shared freely, just because one can open one’s mouth and share… inappropriately. That’s not respectful of others.

        In the case of kids, well, this sort of thing happens–kids aren’t expected to have fully learned and mastered adult behavior (though we hope…). When some other child deflates Santa, or assaults someone’s belief/disbelief in god (I know of both having happened, though the former’s more common in our circles), parents deal with it. One hopes it was done unwittingly, accidentally, without arrogance and malice (and the self-congratulatory justification of “knowing better”). Parenting is made up of lots and lots and lots of judgment calls.

        My kids never thought that animals could talk, just because they did in movies and books. Nor did they presume that there were Christian vegetables after seeing Vegie Tales at an evangelical friend’s home, down the street. The idea that children need to be protected from exposure to things that aren’t-so seems to me to be a strange one. It’s as if they could be contaminated, infected by exposure to the idea. Which is, I suppose, consistent with the reactions of some to youth (and others) reading things like Marx (or any of a long list of other things). They might get ideas…. We’ve opted to expose them to ideas–lots of ideas. And to have them experience believing things that they find out aren’t-so. I think it has made them better able to distinguish reality, to test it, and to also play with possibilities in some situations–things that may well turn out not to be valid, or may be, but which (in either case) may have appeared highly unlikely, or even absurd.

        It’s fine to deconstruct myths–it’s even important to do so. But there are developmental phases where having myths is important–and likewise, where reconstructing and re-understanding myth, never mistaking it for being literal fact, is also important and valuable. There’s an urgent fervency in this culture–America–to push children to be far more grown up than they are, in most regards. I’ve yet to see any benefits from it. Reading’s become something we expect of relatively young children. Algebra’s become expected high school fare, and even calculus. The evidence I keep seeing suggests that many things are far easier when we wait for people to be at developmentally appropriate stages to do/be/and understand all kinds of things. But they’re still all pushed way forward–and I wonder what important things are being squeezed out, crushed, and undeveloped by it.


  5. Paul Oakley says:

    As for my own upbringing, I’m sure Lizard Eater and ogre would be appalled. My parents never engaged in anything fanciful or told me any stories they did not themselves believe to be literally true. That did not mean there was no “magic.” But it did mean that there was no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy, no Mother Goose/nursery rhymes, no fairy tales, no TV, no movies. Children’s books all had to be “realistic” in their narrtive presentation. No talking animals, for example, no events that flew in the face of the way they understood the world to work. The preferred narratives were, of course, the literally believed stories of the Bible.

    My parents did not decorate for any holidays. They were very concerned at the extremely obvious presence of pre-Christian pagan elements in all the “religious” holidays. And the date of Christmas was particularly problematic. So there was great ambivalence about the very existence of most holidays. And Halloween was absolutely anathema.

    I still had as good a childhood as anybody else.


    • Paul Oakley says:

      Well, there was Balaam’s talking ass – which suddenly that reminds me of the William Burroughs vignette in Naked Lunch about the man who taught his a$$hole how to talk… But that biblical burro and Eden’s anathema anaconda really were the only talking animals allowed…


  6. Paul Oakley says:

    When we had a couple of high school exchange students living with us, they were surprised that we didn’t decorate for Christmas or make much of a deal at all of it. However, ‘teren’t Scroogish on our part. We exposed them to what has been a Christmas norm in our household. We traveled.

    We took them, a French 16-year-old and a German 18-year-old, to New York City, where we stayed in a centrally located Midtown boutique hotel. The city itself provided the decorations. The boys ice skated at Rockefeller Center. We all went to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Ate at great restaurants that also appealed to the boys. They explored the city after dark. And together we saw the sights during the daylight hours. Christmas Eve, we exchanged gifts with the boys in the hotel.

    Another favorite Christmas of mine: Walter and I had spend a few days in Kyoto Japan, visiting the temples, especially, partying at packed clubs, eating amazing food. On Christmas Eve we bought a クリスマスケーキ (Christmas Cake) then went to midnight mass at the Kyoto Cathedral (RC), where the bishop gave every evidence of having helped himself to the sacrificial wine well in advance of the mass. After partying late, we got up the next morning and ate the whole クリスマスケーキ for breakfast before trundling off to the station to catch a train to Nara, where we had a magical few days…

    Another Christmas Eve, spent in Cordoba, Spain, I evoked in this poem

    There has frequently been all manner of unexpected magic in our Christmases, many of which Walter and I have spent abroad – a custom that developed from a confluence of his academic calendar allowing time for long winter holidays, travel being cheaper in winter than in summer, and family problems that made the holidays at home less than magical in ways that had nothing to do with the presence or absence of this or that narrative or fantasy.


  7. ogre says:

    Oh, and the giving the gift we want part is an interesting topic. I think that’s tied to a developmental stage (in part); I remember my own embarrassment at realizing that I’d given what I wanted… not what someone else wanted (no, no nudity, tacos or sex involved).

    It’s a big step to learn what one wants and to be able to distinguish it from what another may want–and to begin to grasp that fundamental point that wants are personal and even unique. To begin to communicate in ways that express what one wants, and ask what someone else really does is an act of love in itself. If only your friend and her husband had understood themselves and each other in time to be able to give what the other wanted….

    Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary? Try for all three. But don’t settle for less than two… and be very, very wary of answers that aver that kind isn’t possible. Not that they don’t happen, but they should be rare.


  8. ogre says:

    Thanks, uuMomma and LE, for ringing the bell of Christmas (I can hear it, still, faintly) this way. I think the invocation of Fowler and developmental stages–and process that must be honored, and no you can’t just skip all the steps–is dead on.

    We are *not*, at our foundations, rational beings–no matter how much we’d like to believe that. We are emotional beings that learn to be rational, and can, when not too stressed, even manage to be rational. Or at least learn to cloak our emotional responses in thick armor of rationalization so quickly that not even we know that it’s not really true, pure, sweet reason.

    Which is why, in the end, we always come back to love (which is, of course, so much a creature of reason).

    I suspect that some who bah-humbug are reacting emotionally (again, reason makes fine armor) to their own wounds. Someone discovered that they (still) believed in Santa, and mocked them. Probably someone a year older who only figured it out two weeks ago. But that humiliation may never have been addressed or healed. Or can’t be. And of course, it’s Santa and the myth and the myth-and-magic makers who are to blame; not the mocking debunkers.

    I can’t help but wonder if some significant number of those deprived of wonder and magical thinking, at ages and developmental stages where those are entirely normal and appropriate, are those who flee the altars of reason-and-love for those of irrationality or hyper-rationality. Tending their unmet developmental needs.

    We treated the transitional experience as a sort of initiation into the junior ranks of adulthood. And made it clear that their utter responsibility was to function as part of the myth, and not to ruin it for anyone else. Which means (among other things) that you don’t embarrass someone who still believes (or who is acting like they do–one of my goddaughters waited a couple years after figuring it out, she says partially concerned that if she admitted it, there might not be more goodies in the pipeline), or those who are adults and affirming the story to little kids. It gave the boys a change to step over one line towards a more adult world. One where kindness, joy, and generosity were central values.


  9. Lizard Eater says:

    I’m going to have to post a long response about this on my blog — but not today, not for a couple of weeks, til papers are written and exams are done.

    Til then, here’s an article I thought you might enjoy about Fowler, Santa, and UUs:

    The issue of what is developmentally appropriate is one I think all UUs need to learn about. You don’t get to stage 4 without going through the other stages. Oh, but we don’t want that. We want our 5 year olds to be little stage 4s, filled with reason and worshiping at the altar of empirical proof.

    It doesn’t work that way. And if it did, would we want it? What would be lost? Would we be able to dream as fully, have as expansive an imagination, had we been shut down during our period of magical thinking?


Comments are closed.