Wednesday, December 02, 2009

To Santa or Not To Santa

There is a discussion between my lovely fiancee Cristina and I about whether or not we'll be telling our kids about Santa Claus. Cristina is of the opinion that it's part of childhood and that there'll be plenty of years for having their dreams crushed once they grow up. I, on the other hand, am wary of telling my kids something that isn't true, when they're still in the impressionable window of time where they believe anything I tell them.

At some point I told Cristina, if our kids ask about Santa I'll tell them "go ask your mother," but that's not a sustainable position. At some point I'm going to have to answer their questions. Obviously I have a few years before this becomes a problem, but it's something I'm going to have to decide at some point. Obviously I'm not going to tell my kids there's a god, but what of Santa? Nobody over the age of 8 believes in Santa anyway, right? So what's the harm of giving my kids a little childhood innocense and fantasy while they're still young enough to enjoy it?

When I was little, my parents told me about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and God. I got to a certain age (maybe 6 or 7, who knows), and I remember asking them if Santa really existed. Even to my Santa-loving kiddie brain, the idea of a jolly old man who can fly around the world handing out billions of gifts over the course of a few hours rang false. My parents sat me down and told me I was right: there was no Santa, only Mom and Dad. This taught me a lesson, and it's a valuable lesson I've never forgotten: critical thinking and skepticism is something to be rewarded. Questioning authority is a GOOD thing.

At this point I used that same logic and started applying it to the other fanciful things children my age believed in. There is no Santa, hence there is no Tooth Fairy, hence there is no Easter Bunny, hence there is no God. As I got older that list lengthened. There are no ghosts. There are no monsters. There are no aliens (at least, none that are in contact with humans). There is no chi, there are no auras, there are no psychics, there is no alternative medicine.

But as the list lengthened of things that aren't, so did the list of things that are. Black holes are real, and cool! So are quantum mechanics, which make absolutely no sense to my mammal brain but are cool nonetheless. Evolution is real, and fascinating. There are planets around other stars. Some are Earth-sized. Some could have life. There are robots on Mars. There are cameras in orbit around Saturn. There are human footprints on the Moon.

I want that for my kids! I want them to love science as much as I do, and to be as fascinated by the real and the amazing as I am, and reject the fake. Why waste time with astrology when astronomy is so much cooler, and real? Why bother with intelligent design when evolution is infinitely more interesting to learn about, because it's actually true?

But... maybe they need to arrive at that on their own. Maybe they need to flex those critical thinking muscles like I did, and figure this stuff out on their own. And maybe I'm just overthinking all of this. Santa... no Santa..... sigh.

Go ask your mother.

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