• Sarah VanderMeiden

Stories, Lies and a Swing Set That Flies


My daughter believed in Santa Claus until she was 8 years old.


The Christmas before she turned 8, I found myself wondering how this could possibly be? I never thought in a gazillion years she would have an unwavering faith in the Jolly Old Elf at that age. She came home from school one day and told me some mean third graders told her and her best friend Santa wasn’t real but she and her friend told them he was.


All I could say was “Oh?” while in my head I was saying “Oh, crap.”


Because it seemed we had drifted from a sweet story about a little old man who loves children so much he performs a superhuman feat on Christmas Eve to something a little less sweet. Something that felt like…an absolute bald-faced lie.


The Stories


Back when I was single, I thought it was crazy that people led their children to believe in Santa Claus. I told myself if I ever had a child, I would never do such a thing because it is basically lying to them and what would happen once they found out the truth?


Well, that all changed once I had my daughter. I don’t know what it was - something came over me and all of a sudden it was just so much fun to talk about Santa Claus, go visit him at Bentleyville and witness the unfettered glee of finding presents next to the fireplace on Christmas morning. And because it was so much fun the first time around, we had to do it again. And again. And again.


And lucky me, my husband’s family has a story about a woodland creature that delivers a gift to only kids in our family so we have had to keep that up too. We almost forgot one year and since we had moved, we had a pretty worried kid on our hands. But, as mothers always manage to do, I pulled it off without raising suspicions.


But the fact of the matter is, these stories are fun and add to the wonder and joy of the holiday season. They brighten days that are otherwise dark and cold. They serve as a thread that not only ties one Christmas to the next but also knits the framework for happy memories and family traditions. The stories, which often come from our childhood, are part of our family, community and societal culture. They become so much a part of our lives we just can’t help but re-tell them and in doing so, bond our children more and more into our families and the fabric of society.


People have used stories since time began to teach, explain, understand and entertain.


But at what point does a story become a lie?


The Lies


As parents, we know all about lies. Not only the ones our kids tell but the ones we tell too.


Most of our lies are pretty innocent:


“Who built that building, mom?” “A guy named Fred.” (how am I supposed to know who built that building?)


“What are you getting me for my birthday?” “I don’t know.” (I have had the present for months).


“What happened to all of the M and M’s?” “Ummmm……” (I think you know the answer to that one!)


As we all know, sometimes a lie that starts innocently enough grows into something bigger, in which we have to tell other lies to keep the first lie going. This is where I was at with Santa Claus.


“How will Santa know that we moved?” “He just knows.”


“How will Santa come down this chimney and get through this glass in front of the fireplace?” “He’ll figure out a way to do it, he’s Santa!”


“How do reindeer learn how to fly?” “Well, they just practice a LOT.”


Ugh. I was definitely feeling the pressure and wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up. I found myself vacillating between fearing someone was going to spoil the magic of Santa Claus and hoping they did. But I’d already witnessed the fact that even when other kids told my daughter he’s not real, she still held onto her belief.


What had I done?! I was shocked that I had basically conditioned my daughter to believe in something that is not true. It felt like I took advantage of her absolute and complete faith in me as her parent. I was terrified that once she found out the truth about Santa, she would lose that sweet faith and not trust me anymore.


The Swing Set That Flies


Some of the stories/lies we tell our kids are just so over the top that they pretty much know right off the bat they are not true. But these stories are so much fun they add humor to our days and more treasures to our family memory bank.


Right before our daughter’s fourth birthday, we ordered her a swing set. It was delivered in a box which we nonchalantly stored on our front deck. The evening before her birthday, after she had gone to bed, my husband’s sister and friend showed up and they all worked to assemble the swing set so that it would look like it had magically appeared overnight.


The next morning our daughter was so excited to see that swing set and of course was curious as to how it got in our yard.


“Well” I said, taking a deep breath. “That swing set simply flapped it’s long legs and flew all the way from where it was made and once it got over our house it sailed around and around, down and down, until it gently landed in our yard.”


I think she might have believed me at first but now we have a lot of fun joking around about how she got her swing set.


How Did I Get Out Of This Mess?


I can’t really remember the exact moment when Santa transformed from real to pretend. We started to let a few little things slip. We used to only bring her to see Santa at Bentleyville, but one year brought her to another Santa too. We talked about the Lego set she got from Santa. She loved it but was hoping for the bigger one. I told her that set was too expensive for mommy and daddy given the other gifts she wanted. Oops. She didn’t say anything.


Eventually, she put it all together and realized Santa isn’t real - but knows that the magic of Christmas is. She didn’t get mad or lose her trust in us. Rather, she understood that all her parents want for her is to have a happy childhood and happy life and that this was one of the ways we tried to do that for her. She knows that the foundation of everything we do is simply out of our love for her. And as I reflect on all our wonderful Christmas memories, I have to admit they are pretty sweet and wouldn’t trade them for the world.



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