Lies My Parents (Never but Maybe Should’ve) Told Me* an essay by Shukree Hassan Tilghman got me thinking. Not for the first time I remembered my conundrum of telling the truth without crushing my children’s spirit.
Thinking back to my own childhood I always loved this time of year when the world was full of wonder. How I felt looking out the window searching for a sign of the Christkind. Where I grew up, the spirit that brings gifts is pure and innocent, a more juvenile version than Santa Claus. It takes Santa all night to drop presents under the trees where kids in America find them the next morning. The Christkind delivers on the evening of the 24th.
When my father told me to go to the window and watch out for the Christkind, I knew why he did this. He wanted me occupied while he arranged the gifts under the tree on Christmas eve. Still, I scanned the dark cold sky outside. What kid wouldn’t want to get a glimpse of the good spirit flying by? I knew though, nobody would believe me if I did. But it didn’t matter what they believed. I would know.
But this story is not about my father and whether he was lying to me.
This story is about our daughter. She had started elementary school where she attended daycare in the afternoon. A facility founded by a group of parents who needed their kids supervised after school. Children from families of diverse cultural backgrounds would get help with their homework. After lunch they were free to engage in art and play on the school grounds.
One day shortly before Christmas, I found my daughter in a contemplative mood. I wanted to know how her day at school had been. School was fine, she told me, but a boy at daycare had upset her. He had mocked her because she still believed in the Christkind. My heart jumped. I had no idea, my daughter still believed.
As I listened to her talk about the stupid boy, I wondered how I could help her navigate a world of diverse believes. I realized that I had avoided this conversation. I had wanted her to keep believing in miracles. I didn’t want to be the one to disillusion her. I hadn’t thought about the influence of the other kids. How could she maintain her truth in the face of blatant nihilism?
I needn’t worry about my daughter. She was the one who taught me a lesson. When she asked me whether the boy was right, I dodged the question and asked what he had told her. Her voice was full of contempt as she recounted his argument. All the gifts were bought in a store and put under the tree by the parents. She was being a baby, a gullible girl too big to still believe otherwise.
I wondered if this had crushed her. Did he make her cry? I wanted to know how she, deep in her heart, felt about this crude reality. I asked her, what did you tell him? “I told him that he was the stupid one. Who does he think makes the trees and the flowers? Had his parents bought the birds and all the animals in a store? Of course not, so who does he think had put them into this world?”
I marveled at my daughter, her conviction, her reasoning and her spirit. She knew that there are things in this world that are outside of our reach, our understanding, our control.
* Lies My Parents (Never but Maybe Should’ve) Told Me by Shukree Hassan Tilghman was published in Apple, Tree: Writers on their Parents, edited and with an introduction by Lise Funderburg, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2019