Each year as my four still-little kids slowly grow up (yes, I know they grow too quickly, but that depends on how much attention you pay, and now that I have changed my life to the point at which I can focus on them, time has thankfully slowed down a bit …), milestones are reached, and one that is perhaps the most heartbreaking is the transition from the belief of the version of Santa Claus as mysterious god-like traveler, to the 7 and 8-year old version, where parents chase the kids from the room to secretly wrap presents addressed from Him to Them, in a deception that can be mean-spirited at best.
Last night, Sully, my little six-year old genius, sick in bed with an asthma identical to the type I had at his age, lay next to me while I was working on my laptop and asked me to “look up the Gods” on Google. He first wanted to know all about the “Very First God”, and then the “Gods that came later”, and finally, the “Plant Gods” because he loves plants so much. We took quite a journey together, discovering the likes of Kronos, Zoroaster, a detour to look at 200 pictures of Jesus, the Hundu gods, and finally watching an obscure video about shamans in South America using hallucinogenic plants to communicate with their own version of God(s). Needless to say, it was a series of complication questions, but he studied each bit of information with his brand of seriousness that sometimes scares me, and then the conversation shifted to Santa Claus. Sully is the type of kid that you don’t want to lie to — he strikes me as the kind of child that will remember such a slight pretty much forever, and so it was with great relief that he asked the kinds of questions that were fairly easy to answer, such as “So, if Santa Claus is coming to our house on Friday night, then when will he be able to get to the houses in China?” Happily, now that NORAD is tracking Santa, that was an easy one, and I have no doubt that he is visiting that site tonight to watch His progress. When I look at the four of them, there is a clear line between the two sets, and it runs directly across the axis of Santa Claus belief. How different is the sensibility of the 7 and 9 year-olds, who “know” the secret of Santa and the 4 and 6-year olds who maintain their innocence of that Spirit, and how tough it is to disseminate when the fateful question comes … “Well … see, Santa is very much real as a Spirit, it’s just that as an actual person who lives in the North Pole with Elves … um …. ” Big sigh at that point, and soon another one crosses over in their first step toward the dreariness of adulthood.
How can I communicate to these kids without being negative and cynical that discovering that Santa is an invention, or that earning money means you can buy more toys than your neighbor, or that sex is a thrill perhaps greater than the best victory on Mario Brothers Brawl, are not necessarily great advances in their evolution toward growing up? When I have the pre-puberty conversations with my 9-year old — initiated by him, by the way, and who, amazingly, can thoughtfully listen to what condoms are for instead of shamefully backing away as I think I probably did when I was that age — I always leave them with a slight tinge that more he learns about the world the closer he is to joining the rest of us adults, who fell asleep and forgot how to have fun a long time ago.
But see, this is my problem, and illustrates the state that I am in, and which I am trying to climb out of, where I sometimes feel guilt for the simple pleasures of having old-fashioned Fun in a childlike way because I am not earning money for the Mortgage or the Car Payment, or providing Guidance to our little ones from an Adult perspective as a Responsible Parent. And as it is my problem, it has nothing to do with them — that is, there is no choice but to do the best I can to show them that Adults do NOT have to be completely asleep and distracted from the present moment at ALL times. One of the best things about being in the presence of small children is that they themselves spend most of their moments in the present, and demand no less from those that they are interacting with. They catch you … so easily. Try it sometime — act like a typical Adult around them, and you will soon see that they shrug and walk away, bored, because you are not responding with the same sense of wonder and concentration than they are as they ask these impossible and magnificent questions.
And so, there is nothing we can do. The kids will grow up. They will fall asleep just like we do — how many times did my father implore me to read Krishnamurti, spend time in monasteries, meditate, and generally seek, seek, seek answers for these deep and burning questions — and to what end? None immediate, but hey — here I am , 40 years later and still asking them, right? So it was not a total loss. The point is that there is nothing we can do to prevent the kids from joining us here in Plato’s Cave except to wake up NOW … and then provide them with an example for the rest of their time with us. I think there is still time, for me, because my kids are still young enough to witness it, since they are not allowed to go off on their own for another 9 – 15 years. So … now that I am very close to figuring out how to support the family without killing myself (more about that in another post), there’s a chance that the Innocence that I myself lost right around the time when I discovered the “truth” about Santa, might be found again.