Monday, December 27, 2010

Liar! Liar! Pants On Fire

I've been lying to Maya a lot lately. Death, Santa Claus, nothing sacred is immune to the prevarications I'll serve to my soon-to-be five year old daughter.

The falsehoods began flowing several weeks ago when we were talking about dying. She obviously knows that Verna died and isn't coming back.

"But Daddy's not going to die," she said.

"Well, someday, we all will die," I said. "When we're much, much older."

She started crying. "I don't want to die. I don't want you to die."

Uh oh. So I quickly reversed myself and said, "No, we're not going to die. Daddy's not going to die."

She stopped sobbing and calmed herself down.

I never thought I'd lie to my children about death, though I never imagined they'd experience it so up close and personal at tender ages.

When I was about ten years old, I had several bouts of anxiety about death for no apparent reason. Existential angst, perhaps, or the fact that we lived about two miles from a sprawling cemetery. I would plop myself down on the lavender carpet in my parents bedroom, gripped with fear about dying, about not being alive anymore.

My mother soothed as she said, "Well, when you're older they will have a pill to take so you can live forever."

Yes, she lied. But it helped me fall back asleep and settle my anxiety. Would Dr. Spock or any other child expert approve? Probably not. I was grateful, though, for the lie and the sense of peace it brought me so long ago.

So I am not worried that I completely trashed the truth and told Maya that she and I and everyone else she loves is on the highway to eternity. She's lost her mother and there is no sane reason to heighten her fears now by being truthful about the nature of life (and death).

And this is the season of lying. By late October, early November at the latest, as holiday decorations and pre-Christmas sales emerge in public, I began spinning tales of the jolly old fat guy in the red suit who will be sliding down chimneys or walking magically through front doors to bring presents to all the good children of the earth.

Miguel believed in Santa until he was ten. Then he caught me in my web of deceipt. He wondered why there was lipstick on the glass of milk we'd left for Santa.

"That's because Mommy and I put out the milk and cookies," I admitted sadly, fully aware that the Polar Express moment had arrived.

"Aha," he said. "I knew it. But there wasn't any lipstick on the glass. I just tricked you."

But, under threat of never receiving a holiday or birthday gift ever again, Miguel complies with my order to maintain the magic for Maya. We believe in Santa again in our house, and Miguel actually seems to enjoy making the myth appear real for his sister.

So there we were on Saturday, Christmas Day 2010, as Maya gazed at her new, unwrapped bike, straight from the North Pole. The exact model she'd eyed at the local bikestore about 6 weeks ago. And there was Miguel, feverishly excited about his new Play Station 3, the very system he and I bought with Maya, who was completely oblivious, at Target two weeks ago.

"Daddy," she exclaimed, "look what Santa brought."

Miguel and I smiled.

Because of rain on Christmas, Maya didn't get to ride her new 20" bicycle until yesterday. Miguel waited patiently all day Saturday until Maya was asleep to destroy me in NBA 2011.

Christmas did not have the same oomph this year, but the kids, family, and close friends did make it special and bearable.

This morning Maya said to me, "Mommy came in the room last night and gave me a hug and told me she loved me. I love Mommy and Daddy. Did you see Mommy?"

"Yes," I said.


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