When my oldest, Nolan, was in kindergarten, he came home from school one day and asked my husband, Howard, “Dad, what’s your favorite finger?”
Looking at our son’s mischievous eyes, Howard had a sense where this was probably going. “I like all my fingers. I don’t have a favorite. I like my thumb and my pinky. I like my pointer finger and my ring finger,” Howard said as he pointed to each finger except the middle one. “Why Nolan?”
“Because this is my favorite finger,” Nolan declared as he gave his father the bird.
After explaining that pointing up a middle finger is not a nice thing to do, we asked Nolan where he might have seen someone do that. Any guesses as to what his answer was? If you said, “the bus,” you’d be correct.
In my career in education, though I was a secondary teacher for my teaching portion, most of my administrative life was at a K-8 level. It was as an administrator that I learned to talk with students about buses using the phrase, “a bus is a classroom on wheels.” The point of this was to have students be on their best behavior on a bus like they would be in school. Good bus behavior is hard to achieve since the “teacher” in this “classroom on wheels” literally has his/her back to the students. Thus, no matter how well behaved you hope the students will be, the learning on buses can be more worldly and colorful than I would expect in a classroom within the school.
Perhaps it is with the loss of innocence regarding the knowledge that certain fingers have certain connotations, that I feared Nolan would learn on the secondary school bus about Santa. I didn’t want that to happen, so as he neared Christmas his sixth grade year, I sat Nolan down for the Santa Talk. “Nolan, what do you think? Is Santa real,” I asked.
“Umm,” he responded not sure of what to say. I’m sure there was some important mental arithmetic taking place—if I say no, what impact does that have on presents? If I say no and the answer is yes, will Santa be mad I doubted him. If I say yes, will I look like a chump? He landed on a diplomatic response, “I’m not sure.”
“Well, I want you to know that Santa is not real. It’s a really special and nice thing that parents do for their children to create a magical feeling at Christmas. Please don’t ruin the special magic for your sister and brother, okay?”
“Why would I do that?!” he said as though he’d never, ever intentionally try to hurt them.
“I don’t know why you would do that, except to be mean to them and to daddy and me. Anyway, I didn’t want you to hear other kids talking at school or on the bus and be confused. I wanted you to hear it from me in case you had any questions. Even though Santa isn’t real, I’d love if you would help daddy and me be Santa by helping us pick out presents for Lilia and Oliver and wrapping them, etc. Would you like to do that?”
“Great! Oh yeah,” I continued, “Since you know that Santa isn’t real, you should also know neither are The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, or leprechauns. Again, these are all things that parents do for their kids to make them smile. Do you have any questions?”
“No.” The one-word answers of preadolescence was in full-force.
“Okay. Well, if you do, I’m here.” Nolan went to his room and I took a deep breath because I thought it went as well as it could go. I then realized there was one more thing that I forgot to tell him. I quickly went to his room, “Nolan! I should have told you God is real. I know I just told you all of these other things were not real, but you should know that God is real. I can’t explain why God is real and the others are not only that I know that I have pretended to be Santa, The Tooth Fairy, and everything else. I’ve never pretended to be God and with God, believing is something that takes faith.”
This interaction played itself out two years later when my daughter, Lilia, was in the 6th grade. I think Lilia was dubious about Santa’s existence, but she wasn’t going to show her hand.