CHENNAI: Last week, my 7-year-old asked the question I’d been dreading all along. No, it wasn’t “Why do you have a beard if you’re not a man?”. A beard which he likes to stroke as we read bed -time stories. Definitely one for the therapist’s couch 20 years from now.
“Is Santa real?” “Of course he is.” came my knee-jerk reaction. “I says he isn’t.” I is his cousin, a dinosaur-loving whale expert, who at 8 has the advantage of 365 whole days of more information and life experiences to his advantage.
“No, he’s wrong.” I airily dismissed, shooting eye daggers at cousin I. “He says Santa isn’t real and that you buy us our presents and eat the cookies we leave under the tree for him.” The last part is true, because even if Santa WAS real he would NOT want to eat our burnt peanut butter cookie offerings.
Cousin I enters. “You know you’re the one pretending to be Santa every year.” “I am not Santa. My beard isn’t white. It’s black.” I turn to my 4-year-old. He must still believe, right? “You know Santa is real, right?” “If you’re buying the presents, can I have a Lego Death Star for Christmas?”
This conversation opens the flood gates of disbelieving. A week later the 7-year-old comes home with a fallen tooth in his pocket. He hands it to me with one hand and extends the other, palm open. “Can I have 10 bucks?” “Why?” “Tooth fairy money. If you’re Santa, you must be the tooth fairy too.” Soon after, he proclaimed God probably didn’t exist because he’d been praying for a week that mathematics as a subject would disappear from his life and that He hadn’t delivered the goods on that. I admit, I’m at a loss as to how to handle these conversations. Santa and the Tooth Fairy are one thing, but the existence of God, faith and belief are issues even I grapple with at times. What explanation could I give to a child? But perhaps all is not lost. I overheard the boys discussing their current obsession: Star Wars, and they both agreed that in a galaxy far, far away Yoda is alive and well. Perhaps I’ll let the therapist’s couch deal with that one too. I’m off to dye my beard white.
(The writer is a former copywriter whose parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)