Friday, December 14, 2007

Gullibility

This is LE's first Christmas. He's exactly the same age I was at my first Christmas. I don't remember my first Christmas, but I have some implanted memories from the grainy Super-8 films my parents made. It makes me feel old that these 'memories' are black and white, with no sound. On my first Christmas, I found a shiny ball, red I suppose, hanging from the Christmas tree, and reached out to appropriate it for my own. The whole tree started to come down, and the ubiquitous grown-up legs appeared to save the day. Later, I was crawling around on the floor in the army-guy style that was considered 'wrong' in those days, which had my mother perpetually lifting my belly off the floor trying to teach me to crawl 'properly' in order to avoid further developmental delays. As I crawled, our schnauzer puppy Max came along and started trying to pull my sock off. Undaunted, I kept going, and a happy Christmas memory was made.

For LE's first Christmas, there will be some going overboard with gifts and toys, even though we all know that he doesn't care about this. What he'll care about is boxes and wrapping paper, and the even more appealing tissue paper inside the boxes. As his interest in some of his baby toys has waned, I've given him some shoe boxes with tissue inside, some water bottles with a bit of water inside, a plastic bag with a knot tied in the middle to prevent him from getting it over his head, and an empty shampoo bottle. He's pretty happy with this stuff, making me wonder whose benefit baby toys are for. I recently found an old tennis ball behind the credenza, and I've been his hero for days. Babies are easily amazed.

Next year, LE will be more sentient and responsive, and I'm locked in a debate with myself over whether to tell him about Santa or not. The idea of Santa is magical. He makes Christmas a tremendous event. He loves children and makes special gifts for them. He sneaks into your house on Christmas Eve and leaves wonderful things. He's also a good disciplinary tool throughout the year, because he's always watching you, deciding which of his lists you're on. If you're good, you're on the Nice List and Christmas will be wonderful, but if you're bad, watch out! You're on the Naughty List and you may expect coal in your stocking. Apparently one's name can change lists. We mostly were on the Nice List, even if we were bad sometimes. One year right before Christmas, my brothers got onto the Naughty List for lighting a fire in the wood stove and filling the house with smoke. They got coal in their stockings. I suspect if they had done this earlier in the year, they would have had a chance to make it back into Santa's good graces.

You want to know something really sad? I believed in Santa until I was ten. That's right, ten. To put this into perspective, I also started wearing a bra when I was 10. Granted my parents were a little more elaborate with the whole Santa hoax than most. One year my father got a Santa suit and snuck out the bathroom window onto the roof, then climbed down onto the balcony to tap on the window of the room where my brothers and I were bickering in front of The Muppet Show. We turned around, and there was Santa waving at us. Having actually seen the real Santa, it was pretty hard to give up on him long after I realized that Santa used the same wrapping paper as my mom and that he seemed to have her handwriting too. It seemed suspicious to me that Santa wanted us to leave him, instead of cookies and milk, two snifters of brandy, but no matter. By the time I was ten, I was reading books that regularly referred to the Santa myth, but I still believed in him. By the time I was ten, all of my classmates had gotten tired of the revelation that there was no Santa. I even joined in holiday schoolyard conversations about how uncool it was to believe in Santa, which was for babies, while silently apologising to Santa in my mind. At ten, I no longer believed in silliness like the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy and definitely not the Great Pumpkin, but I still believed in Santa.

I was pretty devastated when I learned for sure there was no Santa. I presented to my mother a long list of evidence that pointed to his non-existence, things that my mom couldn't explain away with logic or magic, like why doesn't Santa bring food to the starving kids in Ethiopia? Why doesn't Santa get the dogs from the pound and give them to kids who want dogs? Why doesn't he give houses to homeless kids, and why do poor kids get such crappy gifts? Even though she really wanted to keep the fantasy alive, my mom was unwilling to say the Ethiopians or the dogs or the homeless or the poor were somehow undeserving. It wasn't because the Ethiopian kids were bad, or didn't believe in Santa, or even because they didn't write him letters. It was because there was no Santa. She finally crumbled and said I was right but admonished me not to spoil it for my brothers. And I didn't. It was nice being in on the secret and keeping it alive. I still enjoy it with my uncle who has Down's and who still believes in Santa. I'd never spoil it for him because it's so sweet.

So why am I so torn up about keeping the Santa story alive for LE? It seems all good, right? A wonderful fantasy for kids, where something magical happens for you every year at Christmas. But this is also the problem. By the time I was 10, I had developed a fairly sophisticated world-view. More sophisticated than, say, Max the schnauzer. Santa had a place in this world-view. While I was generally pretty clear on reality and what was possible and impossible (that magicians used sleight of hand, that I would never turn into a boy no matter how hard I wished, that dead people don't come back to life, and that Peter Pan wasn't ever going to come for me-- man, I had a crush on that guy!), the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of magic, the unknown, and the impossible. Maybe I'd never witnessed the impossible, but I'd witnessed Santa, meaning maybe sometimes it was possible that something magic could happen. I'd never seen God either, but the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of the existence of God. And the parallels between Santa and God are undeniable. Both are watching you all the time, even when you're going to the bathroom, and they know when you're even thinking something bad. Both keep some kind of catalogue of your deeds, which will either be used for or against you at some point. Both give you things if you wish for them hard enough. Both mete out a sort of justice. I wasn't a very religious kid, but it was nice to know there was a Santa, just as it was nice to know there was a God. But without Santa to create the possibility of God, there was suddenly nothing. It's quite a spoonful of nihilism to eat when you're 10.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't harbor any resentment towards my parents for the trouble they went to in order to create a Santa. I think it's really sweet. Okay, it was a Big Elaborate Lie, but as far as lies go, it was the best one ever. I'm grateful for those years of real innocence and belief in the impossible. But it was still pretty heartbreaking, and it took me a good two years or so to get my head around this sudden change in everything I'd previously thought to be true, and all the ramifications thereof.

So what to do about LE? Give him this chance to believe that magic happens and that the impossible is real? Or settle him into reality early? If we stay in Turkey, I do like the idea of him being able to lord it over the other kids that Santa came to his house and brought him cool stuff. I expect he'll get a lot of crap for not being 'pure Turkish,' so the least I can do is give him something to make the other kids jealous. But at the same time, I don't like the idea of seeing the look on his little face when he realizes Santa isn't real and that I've created magic for him, then snatched it away.

It's quite a conundrum.

8 comments:

ms.bri said...

I feel EXACTLY the same way even though I personally stopped believing in Santa so early that I have no memory of what it was like to believe. My first Santa-related memory is of hearing Dad and R*nna wrapping presents and realizing that there really was no Santa at all. I was 5 or 6, I think. Anyway, it seems weird to me to lie to your child this way. In the end, though, I have no choice - Wes is WILD for Christmas and Santa and used spousal veto power to override my concerns. There will be Santa-ness for the Beck.

Stranger said...

Wes and my mom would get along very, very well, I think.

We even have a special set of Christmas dishes that are only used in the month of December.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Here's TED talk on Santa, kids and religion that made me giggle:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/86

On the other hand:

Bayraminiz mubarek olsun yenge! And merry Christmas in advance.

Stranger said...

Hee! That was pretty funny, Bulent-- thanks. I guess everyone has their moments of de-mystification...

Iyi Bayramlar to you and yours, and enjoy your holiday!!

Nomad said...

One of the best things I have read in blogdom. Thanks for sharing.
Did you know there used to be an Anti-Santa figure, Krampus. He rides along with Saint Nicholas and gives warnings and punishments to naughty kids. I think it could be carrying this stuff a bit far and I'm glad my parents never heard of this character or I would have been in fearful tears in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is no coincidence, I suppose, that he bears such a close resemblance to Satan. It kind of gives the whole game away for the organized religions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus

Stranger said...

I went along with the Santa stuff this year, feeling a little guilty all the way. I even did stuff like change our xmas decorations around in the living room, then in the morning I told LE that Santa must have done it.

Krampus sounds terrifying! I wonder why anyone needs Krampus? The idea of some man who watches you all the time and then comes into your house while you're asleep is scary enough...

Marie said...

Hi,
I just started rewding your blog by accident after it came up in a search I was doing about private schools. But anyway,
I can relate to you on a lot of topics so far. Dont necessarily agree with all of it but you have a funny way of expressing yourself, which always gives me a good laugh. :))
Anyway i just wanted to comment on your son being teased as not being a pure turk. Really, if anything being half anything else and speaking english is only going to make him get alot of attention and be a favorite. Believe me my son goes to kindergarten and after the first week one day i had picked hm up and all the parents were coming up sayng are you his mom are yu his mom....??? Apprently their kids talk about my son all day at home and they all love him. I cant go ANYWHERE without someone at a syore or bakkal or anything either asking about him commenting on him or giving him something free. And hes not even at that cute chubby stage anymore. :) turkish people are very nationalistic, yes, but they are also the most welcoming and curious to foreigners!
Anyway ill keep readng :))

Stranger said...

Marie, I'm finding that you're quite right, now that the boy is 5. People are generally thrilled that he's bilingual and a dual citizen.

He also believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny and that our service bus driver is a secret Kung Fu master at night, all of which are my doing. It's way too much fun delighting him with fabulous lies.