This is from Halloween last year, so if you've been reading here that long (you rock), I apologize for the repeat!
I’m thinking of making the car off-limits for serious conversation. There seems to be something appealing about catching Mom off guard, as she’s driving, with those deep, important questions that every parent wants to be sure to answer the right way. Lately I’ve been wishing I could install a “Question/Suggestion Box” in the car that says, Please put all uncomfortable or difficult questions in the box and someone will get back to you with an answer (possibly even a good one) in two to three months. If the kids would follow this protocol, I’d have plenty of time to consult some parenting books, maybe ask some friends what they’ve said in similar situations, give in-depth consideration to the kind of values I’d like to instill, discuss the matter with my husband, and so on, instead of just having to say the first thing that sounds good (which often doesn’t sound nearly as good several sentences into the explanation).
For instance, the other day my four-year-old son, (who is currently very excited to be dressing up as a ghost for Halloween – his idea), said as I was driving him to school, “Mama, are ghosts real?” And my first thought was, How could the hospital have let me bring him home? What, am I just supposed to wing it? Now I realize for some people it’s an easy question, but not so much for me. How do I blend a Catholic theology lesson (since he is Catholic), peppered with some good old agnostic skepticism (to honor my husband), along with what I, personally, believe is the truth (I am his mother, after all), and finish it off with a nice dose of “there’s nothing for you to be afraid of” (for good measure)?
Without a way to sum that all up, on the spot, in three sentences or less, I said something like this, “um, well, uh… um… ya know… hhmmm…” Then I turned up the music so I could think for a minute, and by the time I came up with a relatively decent answer, he’d lost interest and moved on to something else entirely. Whew… chance to ruin his life with a weird answer about the nature of ghosts averted for the time being.
What’s better is getting these questions out of nowhere and coming up with what you think is the right answer only to be argued with. Tonight in the car he asked, “Where does the real Santa live?”
I know you’re thinking, If she’s smart she just went with “the North Pole” and left it at that. I wish I had, but unfortunately, I’m much too enlightened for that. So I asked (the worst question you could possibly ask a preschooler), “What do you mean by the real Santa?”
Now this question isn’t as crazy as it sounds considering I’ve never taught him anything about Santa. I’m not morally opposed to Santa or anything, but we don’t really do the whole, You better be good, because Santa’s watching, or Look at this million dollars worth of presents that Santa brought you, or any of that. At the same time, I don’t scream at him that Santa isn’t real any more than I would say that about Blue or Barney or any of the other make-believe things that kids enjoy. I like to think of myself as a “Santa Moderate,” if you will.
So he answered, “That one that talks.”
Still not knowing what he meant I said, “Well there is no real Santa, he’s just pretend… for fun… like the Cookie Monster.”
And he said, “Yes he is real. Yesterday you said he was real. And we have a picture of him.” (Neither my husband, nor I have any idea what he’s talking about.)
Thankfully, before I could make the situation any worse, my husband chimed in with a well timed, “Look! I see the moon!” and bought us some time.
Now, if only I could just find the parenting book that tells me how to be honest without being a completely humorless old bore… It couldn’t be too specific, of course, but maybe something with multiple choice like:
A) The statistical probability of a child who’s told there’s no such thing as ghosts buying a haunted house as an adult and hating his parents for not having adequately prepared him to deal with such an unfortunate situation.
B) The probability of a child who’s told that ghosts are real and evil and scary, growing up to be one of those regular people who never actually encounters a ghost and therefore concluding that his parents are insane.
C) The probability that a child will even remember what he was told about ghosts anyway.
D) What the odds are, if he does remember, that it will actually have an impact on his life one way or the other.
And so on.
I guess I’d better get myself to the library and see what I can find. In the meantime I’m preparing notes for the “Real Easter Bunny” question and taping them to the dashboard so I’ll be armed and ready when it’s thrown out at me on the way to the grocery store next spring.