There were a number of topics percolating in my brain this month. One was my ambivalence toward Mother’s and Father’s Day now that both my parents are gone. Another was how my great relationship with my siblings sometimes causes me to worry about what K might be missing. Then I stumbled across a “This I Believe” essay by Corey Harbaugh entitled “Truth and the Santa Claus Moment” and my topic was chosen.
Corey wrote the essay to describe his struggles to answer this question from his 8 year old son, Tucker. “Dad, if I asked you if it was you who bought presents at Christmas instead of Santa, would you tell me?”
How many times do we wrestle with ourselves over how much of the truth we should tell our children? What are they really asking us? “Mom, where do babies come from?” Is that a logistics question? A transportation question? A reproduction question? I’ve always found it best to answer K’s questions with a question of my own in order to increase my odds of answering her real question. Whether or not I’m successful in uncovering it, I think K knows by now that I try and answer with the truth. It’s not always easy but since I insist on honesty from her, it’s only fair I give the same.
K asked a tough question after my mother died unexpectedly. K was only 5 and had already lost one of her grandpas by then. One day she curled up on my lap, took my face in her hands and asked, “Mommy, what will I do if you die?” Part of me wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to worry, that I wouldn’t die, but there was something in those big blue eyes that made me dig deep. I took a breath and said “You would be very, very sad but Daddy would take care of you. You would miss me but you would be okay.” I don’t know if it was the right answer but it was an honest answer and the best one I had. She knew people died and when they died they didn’t come back. She knew that it could happen when you didn’t expect it. I believed her question wasn’t about me but about her – what would happen to her if I died so that was the question I answered.
Like many kids who were adopted, K has also asked questions about her birthparents from time to time. Regardless of the question, my approach has been to be as honest as I can. K’s family history is her story, not mine. Just as the type of books she is allowed to read or the type of show she is allowed to watch has developed over the years, the details of her history have been shared in what I hope has been an age appropriate fashion, but they have always been true. I’ve also always tried to answer in a way that welcomes more questions. I want her to know that when she asks me, I will tell her.
Which brings us back to the Santa question. This is a question, K never asked me. It makes sense that she wouldn’t. K believed in Santa with her whole heart. When other kids would tell her there was no Santa, she didn’t get upset or confused. She didn’t even try to convince them of the error of their ways. She would simply walk away and shake her head at the poor deluded souls. Since I had never demonstrated the proper respect for dragons, Hogwarts and the like, I’m sure I wasn’t considered a reliable source for information about something as important as Santa.
Tucker Harbaugh, however, thought his dad has some information on the subject but their conversation was delayed due to younger siblings being in the area. When Corey brought the topic up later, his son said instead, “Don’t answer me, Dad. I think I know the answer, and right now I just want something to believe in.” Wise words for an 8 year old boy but I loved his dad’s response: “Your question was if you asked me about Santa, would I tell you, and my answer is yes. If you ask, I will tell you.” I love Tucker’s response even more: “He considered this for a moment, smiled, and before he drank the last swallow of soda pop told me easily, “Then I’m not going to ask.”
“If you ask, I will tell you.” “Then I’m not going to ask.” A lesson in honesty and respect. Well done Corey and Tucker. Well done.
Check out www.thisIbelieve.org for other great essays like this one. My personal favorites include “Always go to the Funeral” and “Be Cool to the Pizza Dude” but you’re sure to find some that speak to you. The website also has instructions on how to submit your own essay on what you believe.