“Dad,” she says with a grim frown and a pair of furrowed brows. A piece of half-eaten toast is dangling from her fingers as she sits at the breakfast table in her pajamas. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Yeah?” I nudge.
Her voice is casual, but serious. “If you’re the Easter Bunny, why did you trick me?”
The obvious cracks first appeared just a day earlier in the fragile mythology of our traditional chocolate-filled, egg-hunting holiday morning, revealing a glimmer of childhood doubt during the previous night’s dinner. She was poking and prodding at some of the more obvious logical inconsistencies that come along with the tale of a sentient rabbit delivering chocolate to our house –or, more specifically, her grandparent’s house where she’ll be this year when the egg hunt occurs– and that particular rabbit-hole of reasoning led her to calling us out on our obvious participation. Her conclusion was simply this: Dad must be the Easter Bunny.
And nothing more was said on the subject… at least, not until breakfast.
“We didn’t trick you.” I fudge the chocolate-coated truth. “Almost all parents tell their kids the same thing. It’s like a kind of game. And grown-ups,” I fumble, “We try to make things fun for kids by telling a story about special occasions.”
“So, I pretend to be the Easter Bunny and you get candy. And when you’re old enough you get to help. You can pretend along with the grown ups and help trick the younger kids.”
“Like my cousins?” She nods approvingly.
She nods approvingly, and takes a couple more bites of her toast. I watch her, the turning of her mental gears almost visible on her solemn expression. “Does that mean,” She says finally, her glare narrowing as she stares me down, “That you’re Santa, too?”
I hesitate, mumble something vague and desperate, watching in slow motion as the lest vestiges of her fragile belief tumble from her little mind. I ultimately just nod and shrug.
“But,” she pauses as a look of horror creeps over her face. “Does that mean Gary the Elf isn’t real, either?”
I nod again, and I can feel the guilt spreading across my face like a mask as the reality about her apparent personal messenger from the guy in the red suit vanishes like a puff of smoke. Two tears rolls poetically down her cheek and she wipes them away with the cuff of her pajama sleeve. “I guess that’s okay.” She says finally, and then as though a switch had been thrown, a sly grin invades her sad expression.
“Can I tell some other kids?” She smirks.
fostering independence, rule 021
acknowledge the facts when you’re discovered: admit to the conspiracy
I’ll admit it: the whole Santa thing is a parental conspiracy that’s made me a little uncomfortable from the start. It’s fun, for sure, but at the end of the day Santa’s neither tangible nor fair. Sadly, it’s a beautiful cultural concept, rich in history and tradition, but with absolutely terrible execution, inconsistent and arguably hijacked across cultural and social-economic divides. And one of my first public claims as the $k3pdad, back when The Girl was still swaddled in blankets and not even able to speak was that “if she ever asks me point blank, I’m just going to tell her the truth.” This morning she asked me point blank. And I told her the truth… however fumbling and awkward that it may have been spoken.
At the same time independence is freedom from the deceptions of others, parents included. Parents especially… though that is a different sort of discomfort each of us parents needs to somehow reconcile as we raise our kids. Ultimately she may choose to ignore the truth we shared this morning and pretend in that cognitively dissonant way kids seem to be capable of that –at least for a few more years– Santa and the Easter bunny are more than a conspiracy enforced by her parents. But then that’s her decision.