Just when we thought we were in the clear, Lily had starting expressing serious doubts about Santa, after Christmas last year. We deflected the questions as best we could, and they became less frequent as the season ended.
In the post just before this one, I discussed how Lily is very good at solving a problem, looking at a scene to see what doesn't fit. I suppose, in light of that, that something like this was inevitable.
I came in from another room, to find Lily sitting on the floor, looking very serious. That, in itself, is not especially remarkable, as she's the kind of kid who takes everything seriously. She asked me, "Daddy, will you always tell me the truth?"
I said, "I always try to tell you the truth. The only exception is if someone has asked me to keep their secret, and in that case, I'll tell you that I can't tell you, because I'd be breaking a promise to someone else."
I don't think that preamble was premeditated, but it did have the effect of limiting my range of response.
And then she asked "Is Santa Claus really real or are parents just tricking kids?"
I didn't answer, and she went on, "I've been thinking about it and I think there's only a one in ten chance that Santa Claus is real."
I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow, because none of the people reading this are, as far as I know, hardcore masochists. It was brutal.
Do you remember in the final Harry Potter book, where Snape is trying to get more information from Narcissa and Bellatrix by acting like he really already knows it? He's shifty as hell, and gives these ambiguous half-answers that practically beg for some clarifying follow up questions. I remember thinking at the time that his act would fool a clever seven-year old, and today I have proof.
I would evade, she would come back. If I were ambiguous, she would ask for a clarification. If I asked her what she thought, she would repeat the question, "Daddy, is Santa real or are parents just tricking kids?" "Daddy, do you believe in Santa?" "I believe in the spirit of Santa" "You didn't answer the question." It was like being interrogated by Inspector Javert. I felt like Kyle Reece in the Terminator. She had one question and she absolutely would not stop until she got her answer.
Once she did get her answer, she had a follow up. WHY do parents trick their kids? There was an interlude of wailing and gnashing of teeth and "I hate Christmas, I hate Santa, I hate all parents who lie to their kids! Everyone who learns about Santa turns into a monster!" It was rough. She wasn't upset that Santa wasn't real; she was upset because we had lied to her.
I tried to explain that sometimes it's okay to keep information from people. I tried to use Mommy's surprise party as an example, that it wouldn't have been as fun if she had known about it ahead of time, but this was getting into really touchy territory.
I'm not Immanuel Kant, who believed there was a categorical imperative against lying, but I didn't want to tell my daughter that it's okay to lie in the service of the greater good, either, because I don't feel like jumping off that particular slippery slope today.