I still remember every tiny detail of the day my world came crashing down. I was all of seven and the festive season was approaching. My elder sister and I were writing letters to Santa Claus stressing on the reasons why we deserved his benevolence. Mum suggested we ask for clothes instead of toys and I was appalled. For a fortnight mum had been dropping hints on how we already had enough toys.
This was not the way I saw it. How can a child ever have ‘enough’ toys? She added to my irritation by suggesting that we could request a transistor radio. Although transistor radios were coveted gadgets in the early 1970s, they could still not figure in a seven-year-old’s dreams.
I vehemently refused to add sweaters and slacks to my Christmas list. That is when she did it. My mother told me about the ‘non-existence’ of Santa Claus and how she and dad bought the sack-ful of toys that we got for every Christmas.
As my world crumbled around me, I desperately hung on to hope and asked how a letter addressed to the North Pole could make its way to them. She patiently explained what appeared to be the biggest scam of humankind. Parents didn’t need a letter to know their kids’ wish list; they helped them draft it!
Before you form an opinion about her, I’d like to clarify that my mother is not a sadist or spoilsport. She had reasons for her actions and she tried to reason with me. We were moving back to India the next year and with the limited baggage allowance it made more sense to buy things that we could take with us instead of bulky toys we would have to leave behind. I could grasp her logic but still hated her for bursting my bubble.
While raising my own kids I have always struggled with this dilemma. Should I let my children stay in their magical world where everything is possible or should I introduce them to facts and truths which they will inevitably stumble upon at some point? More for fun than out of a sense of duty, I opted for the former and played along with my children’s beliefs, and going to great lengths to do so. Once while I was reading to my son he announced he would look for a bird nest like the explorer in the story. The next morning he picked up his tiny binoculars and searched every tree in the garden for a nest. Not finding any he returned, a dejected three-year-old. To dispel his disappointment I secretly crafted a nest with straw, took a couple of eggs from the refrigerator, blew out their gooey contents through tiny holes and placed the nest in a bush. A little later, the young explorer miraculously found a nest!
Once my five-year-old daughter had this brilliant idea of digging a hole to see the layers of the earth as taught in school. My explanation that it was like tunnelling all the way to a nearby town did not deter her. Waving a small shovel, she said she’d stop short of the mantle, once loose dirt gave way to sand, pebbles and bedrock.
It was getting dark and she had been at it for an hour when she hurt herself. It was a minuscule scratch but I told her to get it bandaged.
As soon as she left I quickly dug the hole a little deeper, put some big stones in, followed by pebbles and sand and covered it with a layer of soil. My injured but determined excavator returned to her job and squealed with joy on encountering a textbook picture of the earth’s crust!
So, did I do the right and honest thing, and did I bring them up right? My children have grown into sensitive, well-adjusted, responsible professionals, so I would probably reply in the affirmative. But all parents carve their own path, discovering joyous skills on the way. Sadly, by the time we fully understand the art of parenting the children are ready to leave.
That Christmas, among other ‘less’ desirable things I received my coveted Tippee toes doll. A life-size, battery operated baby doll that could ride a tricycle and rocking horse. I still marvel how dad could afford such an expensive toy on his meagre student stipend. It would have been so much easier if mum had let Santa Claus bring it!
( published in the Hindu on 8/10/17)