So much of my parenting style centers on a delicate balance of fact versus fiction when explaining concepts, ideas, thoughts, feelings – just about anything – to my children.
Example 1: “Dad, why is Mommy sad?”
Fact: Daddy was a big jerk to Mommy after she had a tough day at the office.
Fiction: “Mommy’s not sad, sweetie, just tired today.”
Example 2: “Dad, why is my teacher so mean?”
Fact: Ms. Smith is a lonely, unhappy soul whose only friends are her 12 cats.
Fiction: “Ms. Smith isn’t mean. Like her or not, she’s the boss in class so you must figure out how to work with her.”
And the ultimate, fact/fiction question parents will face during the holidays:
Example 3: “Dad, is Santa real?”
When answering these questions from my kids, fact and fiction are never at an equilibrium – EVER. Some situations require more facts, some none. With Example 1 above, I’d err on the side of fact. On Number 2, I’d go with a more fictional slant on the truth.
The Santa questions? I go with HEAVY fiction at varying levels based on age of child. The younger the kid, the higher chance of nonsensical fiction.
Just when I think I have this fact versus fiction concept mastered, a global pandemic has me fielding queries from my children that I never could have dreamed of. I have to find answers to questions that I do not know, have not thought about, and, worse, provide responses that do not adversely impact their health.
The COVID-related issues they worry about lie in the new realities they are facing. They wonder about important, deep COVID-related issues like why a friend’s grandparent has passed. I field questions about why they can’t have a birthday party this year. My youngest kids actively wonder what their teacher’s face looks like.
Suddenly, I find myself struggling with my fact/fiction balance. How many facts do my kids require about COVID and their relative safety from it? These questions, in fact, have not taken a holiday break. They’ve actually gotten even more intricate.
My daughter’s latest query: Will Santa get COVID?
She was genuinely worried, so my fact versus fiction had to be on point. I called in the big guy himself to deliver the facts – thinking the jolliest of all holiday season characters might be able to take the edge off sobering realities of Christmas 2020:
Thank you for writing me. Like many other good boys and girls around the world, your concern for my health during this unsettling year warms my heart. There is no greater display of the Christmas Spirit than caring for the people you love.
I’m happy to report that Mrs. Claus, the elves, the reindeer, and I are healthy and safely readying for Christmas. This year, in fact, shows me just how very important Christmas is.
At the North Pole, we feel the energy of the world – your happiness and, yes, sorrow, too. During most years, the smiles and good cheer sent our way is as plentiful as the marshmallows in my hot cocoa, or as the cookie crumbs stuck to my red suit on Christmas Eve (don’t tell Mrs. Claus – I’m supposed to be on a diet).
This year is different. There is more sadness now. But that does not mean there is not as much happiness.
You and I are healthy, but some of our neighbors are not. My elves and I still have our important jobs to tend to, but many workers around you have fallen on hard times. You’ve noticed that seeing your friend’s smile is difficult behind masks. You may have relatives who did not survive a tussle with this awful COVID virus.
These are the people I think about as I prepare to take flight with my reindeer in a few days. There are no more powerful forces than hope, spirit and faith – and no better symbol of them than Christmas.
Rest safely knowing that I am well and ready to deliver the best Christmas EVER. Maybe it is time for the North Pole to share some of the emboldening Christmas spirit that we’ve enjoyed taking in for so many years from you.
See you very soon.
PS: Please leave cookies for me and celery for the reindeer (but, if Mrs. Claus asks, we’ll say the opposite)
+ + +
This exercise has reintroduced me to something I’d forgotten – talking to my kids is not about the quality of content I present or the fidelity of the stories I tell them. It is about the comfort they feel with my answer. My mastery of the fact versus fiction of parenting explanations, alas, pales in comparison to the smile I can earn from the use of either.