It’s that last one that’s been causing all the trouble lately.
It began the day after Christmas, when my son decided to spend some quality time with his new Calvin & Hobbes comic book, whereupon he found The One. You know—The One where Calvin rushes downstairs because it’s Christmas Eve and he thinks he hears Santa. The One where Hobbes rushes down, too. The one where both child and toy discover not jolly old Saint Nick setting out Calvin’s gifts, but Calvin’s parents.
My son is not stupid. Two and two were put together in short order, leading him in a straight line to his kind, compassionate, faithful, and honest mother, who cannot bear to lie to her children. About anything. And so with our son staring up at her with two brown, saucer eyes, she had no choice but admit the truth.
Now, more than a week later, our family is still in collective mourning. Christmas vacation ending and school beginning once more has not buoyed my son’s mood. These are dark times in the Coffey home. Dark times indeed.
Good thing we have a dog. Daisy is her name. Part lab, part retriever, part crazy. A rescue from the local pound, and a paragon of many virtues herself. Kind. Compassionate. An expert snuggler. She is also quite the escape artist.
Daisy managed to finagle her way out of her crate today. The damage was minimal and upon first inspection limited to moving every chew toy in the house to my bedroom closet. When my son and I left to walk the dog, all seemed well.
A second pass by my wife, however, revealed something else. At some point during the day, Daisy decided to attack my son’s favorite stuffed animal. I suppose I can blame myself for what happened next. Upon arriving home, I asked if she had spotted any further wanton destruction.
My son flashed his brown, saucer eyes once more. I am convinced such a thing operates as some kind of parental polygraph. My wife held up the stuffed animal. She didn’t stand a chance.
As it turned out, the damage required nothing more than a little cosmetic surgery to reattach a fuzzy nose. And yet three hours later, my son is still crying over Winston The Stuffed Dachshund. You would think our dog had mauled Santa.
I haven’t said much about this to anyone else, though I did offer this bit of advice to the mother of my children:
Lie. Lie to our kids. Lie like a freaking dog.
She still can’t, of course, nor will she ever. It’s not in my wife’s nature to do such a thing, and it’s all a very large part of why I love her. But the fact remains that I have no compunction to lie to my kids when I feel the situation warrants it.
Is Santa real? Absolutely. He lives at the North Pole and has a bunch of elves and rides around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
Did the dog tear anything up? Nope, not a single thing. Now you go wash up for supper and ignore the needle, thread, and severed puppy nose in my hand.
See? Not that difficult. And yet…
And yet a part of me feels horrible knowing I’m spreading such falsehoods. It’s guilt and remorse and everything bad, and the only way I can feel better is to tell myself all those nasty feelings are okay because those lies are keeping my kids believing just a little while longer, and safe just a little more.
Deep down I know my wife is right. But here’s the thing—she knows I’m right, too. Parenting is compromise, after all. That is why when circumstances warrant a truth from now on, whether soft or hard, my wife will be the one to deliver it. But when situations call for a little magic, that cue is mine.
We’ll see if it works. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go arrange some Matchbox cars. My son’s still convinced they come alive at night from time to time and race around his room. Should he ask his mother about this, she’ll tell him to go ask me. Should he ask me, I’ll tell him this:
Hang on, son. Trust in magic. Because that’s the stuff of dreams.