I hadn’t planned to get involved in the discussion and was only peripherally aware that the boy, about 9 years old, was arguing with Peter and Mary about the existence of the Tooth Fairy. Peter and Mary did not seem to be overly interested in the conversation, and Peter had just last week, on the occasion of Mary losing her first tooth, been instructed to keep his opinions about the Tooth Fairy to himself. I focused my attention on Fritz’s last soccer game, and felt that the conversation in front of me would eventually fade away to other subjects.
But then the boy turned to me and demanded, “Tell them that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. Tell them that you are the one who gives them the money!”
“I’m not going to tell them that,” I replied. Really, I didn’t want to get involved. Keep in mind that losing teeth is not an extremely big deal in this house. The going rate for most baby teeth is a quarter, and even my 5 year old knows that isn’t a tremendous amount of money. Often payments are late…days late…especially if the teeth came out of the mouth of a 10 year old. But when you are 5 and you go to bed with a tooth under your pillow and the next day it has magically transformed into a coin, it’s pretty cool. I generally don’t give specifics about the process. “Put it under your pillow. They say there’s a fairy who leaves you money for it. See what happens.”
But I couldn’t get into the nuances of the imagination with this kid.
“If you don’t, you’re a liar,” he said.
“But I didn’t say anything…” I tried to object.
“And liars go to the fiery pit of hell!” he declared.
Well, now. I wanted to explain that liars actually speak lies, and that remaining silent is not the same thing as lying. I also would have liked to point out that honesty does not consist of always speaking everything you know to be true all the time. Or openly sharing your opinion with everybody. And make-believe/fiction is morally legitimate. But having been officially labeled as one of the damned, he probably wouldn’t have listened. And he was too busy moving on to his next topic: Santa Claus.
First he said, “Santa Claus isn’t real.”
Peter objected, but the kid tried to shout him down, and turned to me to see how I would respond to that one.
“Santa Claus is another name for St. Nicholas who lived in Myra, which is now Turkey,” I told him.
“He was an evil man,” he told me, “Santa is another name for Satan.”
“No, St. Nicholas was a very good man,” I said.
“No, he’s Satan!” “Is not.” “Is too.” “Is not.” “Is too.”
Really, this is what I was reduced to.
Finally another mom, unrelated to him, told him to stop arguing. I was embarrassed.
And I do feel a bit bad about countering another parent’s catechesis of her children. But if you tell your kids stuff that simply isn’t true, and then set them loose to tell other people that they are going to hell if they disagree, oh, well. I’m sorry to have to correct your understanding of the history of Santa Claus, and I’ll happily loan you a book or two if you wants some facts. I agree, Santa Claus, as is commonly portrayed in today’s media, might possibly be a force for materialism and gluttony. But he’s not Satan.