Four year olds are famous for asking hard questions and saying crazy things.
Since Zoya asked me if they bad guys won when daddy died, I’ve been looking forward to the day I could occasionally send her questions to other people. Tap out. Pastor, it is time for you to answer the question. Aunt, you’re up. Uncle, take over.
This holiday season has had a trove of funny Zoya statements and questions, and while all are funny, a few reveal that I need to figure out another way to explain things.
First off, I did try to tap out on the Santa question. She has decided she didn’t believe me anymore that Santa wasn’t real. (Yes, I wrote that correctly. I mean we have talked about Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Turkey, Sinterklaas, and everyone else, but enough people had told her he was real that she quit believing me. She even began to show that she was internalizing the list idea for good and bad children. It didn’t really matter, because what is important is that I have always told her the truth.* I don’t mind her being wrong. She will learn. But I did decide to try to take advantage of being around other adults to try to clarify a few things. So, I started a conversation by saying, “Uncle Travis has never lied to you, and Nana and Papa always tell you the truth, so is there anything you want to ask them? Do you want to ask them if Santa Claus is real?” Zoya responded, “No, but I do have one question . . . (thoughtful pause) … I want to ask them, ‘Why is pollen yellow?'” I think I saw tears of laughter in my brother’s eyes as he tried to keep a straight face.
A few other Zoya statements brought up just how complicated it is to explain or even understand ideas about matters of the spirit, soul, and body; you know, the regular musings of a toddler. Apparently, I need to work on explaining what “living in your heart means.”
On the way to our hotel room I said, “You need to be quiet because the people inside are already sleeping.” She responded with huge eyes, “The people in my heart are already sleeping?!” Then just last night, while reading What Happens to Food When We Eat, we got to the flap about salt and the heart and she said, “The heart is the most important part because that is where God and the people we love who have also died live.” Clearly, I’ve got some explaining to do.
Parenting an inquisitive child with a complex and trauma touched life, is both hard and hilarious. I mean let’s be honest. You try keeping a straight face when she takes the conversation from Santa to the color of pollen over Christmas breakfast or when she is genuinely concerned about God and her daddy falling asleep in her chest.
How many different ways can you respond to her Christmas statement, “If God had a daughter she would like just like this?”
It is fun. It is a delight. It is confusing. It is confounding. There will be much harder. There will also be more laughter.
*- This is why we can’t do Santa, but are not judging your decision one way or the other. I can’t tell her God takes care of the fatherless and Santa gives gifts, and expect her to learn one is true for a lifetime and one is a joke. I can’t teach her that her daddy is with God and that Santa is with the elves at the same time. There is a lot in her everyday life that she cannot see with her eyes, because questions about her daddy are very real and ever present.
We do imagination and make believe all the time, but always clarify truth and pretend. In our circumstance, it is important that I always tell her the truth. The reality of death and God is more real to her than it is to most four year olds, so it’s tricky.
For example, most kids who watched Coco are not really thinking about people in their lives who have died and by the time the reality of death becomes part of their life, they will not be looking to their memories of Coco to explain what has happened. Death was a reality for Zoya before Coco came out, so she did not watch it, because she would have used it to fill in the picture of where her Daddy is now.
As we move into a new year and strive to live more purposefully, we should include what we allow into our minds and the minds of our children. That doesn’t mean we should or shouldn’t do Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or any other imaginative play; but it does mean we should think about the messages of the stories, movies, and toys we allow, and choose wisely.