Attention parents: I may tell your kids Santa isn't real.
I won't do it on purpose (unless you ask me to). But if I am out in about in the world talking to other people who are out and about in the world and I happen to be discussing the topic of Santa Claus and your kid happens to be within earshot, the aforementioned child may hear me say that Santa isn't real, if that is something relevant to the conversation in which I am engaged.
And you know what? If your child hears me and that is how they learn Santa isn't real, I won't apologize for it.
My esteemed fellow ChicagoNow blogger Kim Z. Dale, author of Listing Beyond Forty, posted an entry yesterday in which she implores people to avoid talking about Santa not being real when children who may believe in Santa are around. She talks of an episode on a CTA train in which a group of people was discussing how they found out Santa wasn't real in front of her children, with whom whom she had just ridden the CTA's holiday train. She suggests that people who engage in such behavior "have no respect for magic" and that had her kids actually overheard the discussion and learned the truth about Santa Claus, it could have ruined Christmas.
The problem, Kim says, is not that people don't believe in Santa. Rather, she says, it's that the people discussing how they found out Santa isn't real "just didn't seem to think at all about this possibly being a sensitive topic to blab about in public."
While I consider Kim a friend and I have the utmost respect for her as a blogger, person and mother, I believe she's wrong on this issue. It's unrealistic to expect people in public spaces to avoid talking about Santa not being real or other less-than-pleasant topics. Unpleasant things are a part of our existence as humans and people discuss them with each other, often in public settings where others might overhear their conversations. I'm not suggesting people should go up to kids riding the holiday train and say "Hey kid, guess what. Santa's not real." I'm just saying that altering a conversation simply because a child - who may or may not believe in Santa - might hear is a ridiculous thing to ask.
Kim's request, while it comes from a good place, is vague. Should people already engaged in a conversation about Santa not being real stop or change topics whenever a child enters the vicinity? Should they ask the child if they believe in Santa before continuing the conversation and change topics if the child says yes? Should they ask the child's parent(s)/guardian(s)/caretaker(s) if it's ok to discuss Santa not being real before continuing the conversation? What happens if there are two kids around and one believes in Santa and the other doesn't? Is it ok to talk about Santa not being real if only half the children in earshot believe in Santa?
See? A lot of questions are left. I'm being a bit facetious, of course, but I do it to highlight just how difficult it is to do what Kim is requesting.
But aside from being difficult to accomplish, Kim's request is a bit of a slippery slope. If we need to take care to not talk about Santa not being real around children, what else shouldn't we discuss around them? Should we avoid discussing the rampant gun violence in Chicago (a topic I frequently discuss in a variety of settings, both public and private) around kids? What about sex (another favorite topic of mine)? What about sexual assault/murder/death/destruction/terrorism/al-Qaeda/politics/Democrats/Republicans/pick your topic from the 10 p.m. news? What about our failing Chicago Public Schools (a favorite of my teacher friends)?
And what if one parent doesn't care if their kid hears people discussing a certain topic while another parent does? Should we always acquiesce to the parent who doesn't want their kid(s) to hear about unpleasant topics?
Think about this: I love dogs. I don't like hearing about bad things happening to dogs. But it happens occasionally. It's just part of life. To ask the world at large to not talk about something just because it might upset me a little bit in the moment is ridiculous.
Now, in a Facebook discussion I had with Kim, she agreed that adults asking for the consideration she asks for isn't reasonable because adults have better coping skills than kids. But isn't teaching and helping your kids to cope with the unpleasant sides of life just part of parenting? Isn't it the parents' job to make sure their kids become well-adjusted humans who can cope with things they may not find fun or happy? I'd suggest it is.
I would also argue there's a happy middle ground in which a kid can find out Santa isn't real but still maintain their belief in the "magic" of Santa Claus and what the character stands for. But that might be a whole other post.
Here's the deal: I'm not going to go around ruining Christmas for your kids. I have no desire to be the one to tell your kid Santa isn't real. In fact, I don't want to interact with your kid at all.
BUT ... I'm not going to censor myself in a public place simply because my chosen topic of conversation in the moment may put the kibosh on your kid's belief in a mythical fat guy in an ill-fitting red suit who goes around the world in a sled breaking into houses.
If you don't want your kids exposed to such topics, I'd suggest keeping them at home.
Snark, sarcasm and sass in 140 (or fewer) characters: @bill_mayeroff
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