I recently learned that my youngest child still believes in Santa.
This might take some explaining. I have a strict policy of never lying to the kids about anything. They either get a straight answer to a question, or a reason why they won’t get a straight answer. Being a divorced father, however, the determination of my kids’ mythology isn’t entirely up to me. “Mythology” is the nice word for “lies”, or more accurately “lies that reflect the way we have decided to look at the world no matter what reality has to say about it”. Not that I’m bitter.
I honor my ex-wife’s wishes and stay quiet about the whole thing. There’s little doubt that I’d tell the truth when asked a direct, “Is there a Santa?” kind of question, but it hasn’t happened yet. Something far more wonderful has come from this.
It seems that he has become old and worldly enough to understand that Santa can’t possibly be one man. That’s where the large organization comes in, a tremendous operation that has the ability to use the latest in technology to monitor what kids want and what they deserve. It’s clearly some kind of government operation in his mind, possibly connected with Homeland Security. That does seem to explain why you often get things you don’t ask for.
Now, this may seem quaint and funny, but I happen to think that this story goes right to the heart of modern mythologies. I am reminded of a time not so long ago when a young politician, Chris Coleman, was recruiting people to help with his campaign for city council. I said that I would sign up to help him if he helped me with the one thing that I needed: Irvine Park, my neighborhood, needed a Santa for the kids’ party that year and it had to be an outsider. The deal was done. When I helped Chris get dressed in the ol’ Red and White I told him that a deep understanding of Santa was the first step in becoming an elected official from the Democratic Party.
Over the next few years, and Chris grew in stature in the City of Saint Paul, he told this story to audiences who, well, frankly didn’t want to hear it. After all, we’re not the party of Santa Claus, are we? Well, we are a party of a certain level of belief whether we like to admit it or not. But it’s not like these little stories hurt Chris all that much, as he’s now the Mayor of Saint Paul. And a damned good one, too.
How does this relate to a child’s ever more elaborate explanation to fill in the holes he discovers in his own mythology? Sadly, far too much. When there’s a good story to explain how things happen, most people just leave it at that. Things like our government are some kind of substitution for magic, both in the eyes of a child and in the eyes of far too many people. It makes a good all-purpose plug for any gaping plot hole that leaves the believer wanting more. It must be fairies, elves, or government. Someone takes care of all this stuff.
I’ll explain all of this to my youngest someday, but in deference to my ex-wife I’ll wait until he asks. Perhaps I’ll ask Mayor Coleman to explain it to him, since he seems to get the whole story far more deeply than most people.