A coworker once scoffed at the mention of Santa Claus explaining that she doesn’t, “do Santa” with her daughter because she doesn’t ever want to lie to her.
Initially, even as a Jew, I found this to be sacrilege. Later I came to admire her for prizing honesty as paramount to her role as a parent. She had been a teenage mother and at a retreat held by the nonprofit we worked for, I wrote a poem about her bravery. This was fifteen years ago and I am finally a mom now in my forties. But last month Santa brought my four-year-old a train and a copy of The Polar Express.
If not in the man with the white beard and the giant sack of toys, but in the paramount importance of giving my son a childhood. With all we have faced, and all that we are facing now as the new administration takes office, I have become a helicopter surveying and protecting his childhood.
Many times I have pretzled myself around a topic in order to not have to lie to my son, without also having to tell him the truth. Sometimes it’s not telling him innocently interesting things about the world around him. Biting my tongue instead of telling him that the Santa Claus from The Santa Clause is also Buzz Lightyear. That the narrator of some of his favorite episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine is actually just a voice now as George Carlin died years before he was born. That the mom on my new favorite show (This is Us) is also his favorite princess, Rapunzel.
And then there are the things my husband and I spell out. That my uncle, who gave Julius his first Mo Willems book, just D-I-E-D. That his Pepe had a H-E-A-R-T A-T-T-A-C-K. That his godbrother wasn’t in the hospital because he was sick but because he wanted to K-I-L-L himself.
Before the election, we talked openly about politics because I want him to be civic-minded and aware of the world around him and the issues that matter to me that I want to matter to him. For most of the election season the only thing he knew about Donald Trump was that he was the butt of a joke told by a young girl on America’s Got Talent. He didn’t really understand the joke but he loved the punchline and recited it daily… “My only qualification to be a babysitter is that I used to be a baby. That’s like saying ‘Weren’t you host of a reality show? You wanna be president of the United States?’”
I didn’t tell him that Trump was mean to the girl afterward (see his nasty Tweet) because she’s a child and so is he and I don’t want him to know that even adults can be bullies. When I brought him to the polling station with me in November, I wanted him to see how important our vote was. When Trump won, I didn’t want him to see me C-R-Y. That night he told me at dinner that he had sad news that he’d heard at school. “Trump winned, Mommy.” I said, “I know” and tried to keep my dinner down.
This past Hanukkah was the first one we celebrated for many reasons but primarily because we are not observant but when I was a kid we lit the menorah and it was fun and now connects me to a heritage that has become more important as I raise my son. And, because I feel more and more Jewish every day. Like a character in a book I just read who didn’t feel Jewish after reading books about Judaism but both she and her Christian friend felt very Jewish after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I feel very Jewish when I watch the nomination hearings, when I read about the alt-right, when I think about how lucky I am to not be observant and to be as white as my Trump-loving neighbors.
I don’t tell my son any of this. I protect his childhood by protecting him from hate. But how much longer can I do this? As I pull out of the parking lot at his preschool behind his classmate’s dad and see the Trump bumper sticker. As I cry to my doctor about the strong possibility of losing our health insurance. As I watch my parents suffer the pain of their world shifting in their final years to a place they never imagined they’d see again. As I watch him play with his Thomas Trains and use his Rapunzel night light and shake the bell Santa gave him on the Polar Express (via Woonsocket).
I don’t want to lie to my son but, honestly, I don’t know anyone right now who is able to handle the truth.