What’s the big deal about Santa, anyway?

On our recent visit to see Santa, we asked six-and-a-half year old Bess what she was going to ask him to bring for Christmas.  She had already sent her list, but we wondered if there was anything in particular she wanted to mention.

“I’m going to ask for something, but it’s a secret,” she told us.

She, you see, is testing us.  Or testing Santa.  She is conducting her own little experiment as to the existence of the jolly man in red.

It was inevitable, of course.  As children age, they begin to question.  As they go to school with classmates who have older brothers and sisters, they hear rumors that it’s all a big hoax.

So what’s the big deal, really?  I mean, there is no actual flesh-and-bone person who is Santa Claus and lives at the North Pole and rides in a sleigh full of toys pulled by magic reindeer and comes down the chimney to deliver said toys and scarf down a snack of milk and cookies before moving on to the next house, and the next, all around the world.  She will know this soon – maybe not this year, maybe not even next year, but her Christmases of belief are numbered.  Would it really make a difference if she learned the truth now?

I know that the idea of telling children the Santa myth is controversial in some circles.  There are those that view this cultural tradition as a bald-faced lie told to children, and who would say that this is disrespectful of the children, and that they will never forgive us when they learn the truth – namely, that we have been brazenly and willfully misleading them.  There are those that see him as a symbol of out-of-control commercialism.

I see it differently.  I think that there is enchantment and wonder in the idea of Santa.  Just as I view garden fairies as the personification of nature that give my children a concrete and developmentally appropriate way to understand the cycles and processes of biology, ecology and even chemistry, I view Santa in similar terms.  He is a person who embodies and manifests qualities such as generosity, forgiveness and love, things that are too big and complex to be understood in the abstract (even by many adults).  I think that there is value in giving our children a little magic, a little faith, a little hope in their lives.  So, in our family at least, long live Santa!

BTW, when we went up for our family photo, Santa was kind enough to share with us that Bess had asked for a rainbow yo-yo so that we could keep the magic alive for a bit longer.  (The logistics involved in actually procuring such a yo-yo is a topic for another post!)

Mother lit – what I’m reading these days

It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? image courtesy of flickr user nSeika

One organization that is near and dear to my heart is MOTHERS (Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights), an organization which works for policy changes that will increase the economic security for care workers, especially mothers, and especially especially mothers who take time out of the paid workforce to care for their children.  I occasionally guest post on their blog (see here and here), and I do book reviews for their MOTHERS Book Bag group on GoodReads.  I hope that you’ll visit, leave some feedback or suggestions for future reads, or maybe even join the group.  Some of my latest reads include:

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Fans of Joan Didion’s previous works will find something entirely different between the covers of Blue Nights, but then how could one possibly turn an objective, journalistic eye towards the topic of the death of one’s child? In this effort to understand, to come to terms with the loss of her daughter, Quintana Roo, Didion does what she does best – she tells stories.  Read More…


Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood by Cori Howard

Cori Howard’s collection of essays, Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood (now available for Kindle and Nook), falls squarely and beautifully into the category of Non-Fluffy. In each essay, Canadian writers offer honest explorations of the agony and the ecstasy of motherhood in a way that is easy an interesting to read. In sections exploring the topics of ambition, anxiety, guilt, devotion and redemption, writers explore each of these experiences that is shared by all mothers, everywhere. Marina Jimenez leaves her toddler son to travel to Baghdad as a foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Joanna Streetly gives up her beloved house boat for the love (and safety) of her daughter. Randi Chapnik Myers has a complicated relationship with her nanny. Susan Olding is an adoptive mother; Lisa Bendall, the mother of just one. Rachel Rose attends cocktail parties looking for the sperm donor who will make her and her partner, Isabelle, mothers. Cristina Sampang leaves her children in the Philippines to find a job caring for someone else’s children in an effort to give her own a better life. Every mother will find herself between the covers of this book.  Read More…

Making It Up As I Go Along: A Novel by Maria Lennon

For a woman whose previous identity hinged on bearing witness to the atrocities of war as a reporter for the London Times, attending pool parties and lunching with ladies for whom only Catherine Zeta-Jones’ favorite diaper cream will do represents a bit of culture shock. Heaven was a self-made woman who had taken over her husband’s real estate company and earned millions with it, but she raised her daughter to value ambition over comfort. Even as Saffron settled into live in Malibu, more or less, she continued to long for Africa even with its danger and hardships.  Read More…

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal

In an effort to understand where she had gone wrong, or perhaps where feminism had gone wrong, Staal decided to return to her alma mater, Barnard, to re-take the course Fem Texts to see if the words and ideas of her foremothers were able to shed any light on her situation. First commuting from Annapolis to Manhattan once a week (pretty sweet, right?) and continuing after her family moved back to New York, Staal re-studied the works of such thinkers as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Betty Friedan and Kate Millett. From a different vantage point than the other students in the class, as well as from the person she was when she first read these texts as a young and idealistic college student, she begins to understand herself as a wife, mother and person in a different way. Throughout the story, we watch as the author comes to peace with her marriage and motherhood as she studies patriarchy, society, and feminism again.  Read More…

The meaning of the word “peace”

Peace Out, Dude! photo courtesy of flickr user GlennFleishman

The word “peace” is one of those terms that has been used so much that it has lost meaning.  Like “organic”.  Or  “awesome”.  Peace out, give peace a chance, a peace sign on a kindergartener’s backpack – what does it mean?

During the season of peace on Earth, goodwill to men (not to mention women, children, non-humans, the environment…), this is a question worth considering.  Personally, I have come to prefer the term “non-violence”.  The word “peace” implies the absence of something, whereas “non-violence” feels more active, describing effortful work towards living the most compassionate life possible.  In fact, I recently changed the tagline of my blog from “Raising Peace-Loving Children…” to “Raising Non-Violent…” because I think that more accurately reflects my goals.  “Peace” feels lazy; I want my children to actively seek the path of most good and least harm to themselves, other people, non-humans and the planet.

So you may be wondering what is it, exactly, that has triggered this line of thinking for me.  I will tell you:  it was this post on a blog called Peaceful Parenting.  I am unable to find an About page that describes the blog’s mission, but it appears to be dedicated to promoting attachment parenting as well as opposing circumcision.  In fact, it seems like exactly the kind of blog I would have loved if my first experience of it were not this particular post.

I am a certified Attachment Parenting International support group leader.  I co-slept with and baby-wore both my children.  I still, on a rare occasion, breastfeed my 3 1/2-year-old son.  We try very hard (not always successfully) to use positive discipline.  My son is intact.  I work from home so that I can be with my children.  I very strongly believe that attachment parenting is the healthiest and most non-violent way to parent, both for children and for parents.

I also, equally strongly, believe in striving for balance in personal and family life.  Every family member’s needs are equally valid, though they can not be met equally well all the time.  So, when DrMomma says that “A mother shouldn’t leave her baby for an extended amount of time until about the age of 36 months,” I just can’t get on board with that.  I am blessed to know a lot of really wonderful mothers, and I can only think of one who has followed this advice.  Some of these amazing mothers work because they have to or because they want to.  Some just need to take time away from the unrelenting and (let’s be honest here) outrageously boring work of raising young children.  Yes, a parent’s needs must often take a backseat to those of their children; that’s parenthood.  But that is not to say that a parent’s needs are irrelevant.

I am one of those mothers.  I need time to attend to my own need for quiet time alone, or we all pay the price.  My children not only have a happier, more patient, and more attentive mother this way, but they have formed wonderful relationships with other people in my absence.  This makes them happy, well-adjusted, and resilient people.

What does this have to do with peace?  Well, on a blog called “Peaceful Parenting”, I expect to find posts that promote peace.  I do not believe this post fits the bill.  In fact, I believe that this particular post is violent towards mothers.  It promotes feelings of guilt and inferiority among those (i.e. most mothers) who are unable to happily spend THREE YEARS of their lives (per child!) cleaning, diapering, cooking, bathing, playing, and otherwise administering to an infant and toddler.  It is violent to mothers who need the intellectual stimulation and sense of independence that comes from paid work outside the home, even if they don’t “need” it to make ends meet.  It is violent to mothers who are already awash in a culture of guilt and competitive parenting.  Mothers do not need any more people telling them how to do their jobs, let alone setting up such an unrealistic standard for them to achieve.  All mothers want the same thing, namely the best for their children.  There are many paths to that goal.

Three holiday titles for the consumption-averse parent

Oh no! Santa is in the joint! Someone better spring him quick or Christmas will be ruined! photo courtesy of flickr user kevin dooley

Is it just me, or is EVERY SINGLE Christmas show/book/whatever focused in some way on Santa Claus?  (Because, you know, not matter how much we use the word “holidays” to describe the season, it’s really all about Christmas, period.) In particular, the story line that if someone doesn’t intervene, Santa will not be able to deliver his gifts and Christmas will be ruined?  (Because, clearly, Christmas is all about the gifts and if Santa were unable to deliver them then, well, what’s the point?)

Here are my three favorite non-Santa-centric books for children – and while one is about Christmas, the other two could be described as “holiday” books.

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

How I love thee, Patrick McDonnell, let me count the ways!  The author of the Mutts comic strip and of many picture books, as well as an ardent supporter of companion animal rescue, has written this really beautiful ode to the gift of time and companionship.  “Earl opened Mooch’s gift.  ‘There’s nothing in here,’ said Earl.  ‘Yesh!’ said Mooch.  ‘Nothing…but me and you.’ ”


Rabbit’s Gift written by George Shannon, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

In this beautifully rendered version of a Chinese fable, Rabbit finds two turnips in the field as he prepares for a coming snow.  He realizes he only needs one, so he brings the other to Donkey, who brings it to Goat, who brings it to Deer….you get the idea.  A lovely story about sharing the wealth, much-needed these days.


The After-Christmas Tree written by Linda Wagner Tyler, illustrated by Susan Davis

A child thinks back over all the fun had during Christmas (including giving, not receiving, presents) and feels sad that it is over.  So her family comes up with a plan to have a winter party complete with ice skating, hot cocoa and crafts.  The highlight of the party is decorating the old Christmas tree with treats for the animals outside so they will have food to eat.  I love this idea!


What are your favorite holiday titles that focus on the giving?


Humans, non-humans, and respect

Nothing beats a horse kiss!

Check out my guest post at Humane Connection, the blog of the Institute of Humane Education:

It is so difficult to manage the messages our children receive when it comes to attitudes about non-human animals.  There are animals who are eaten and those whom we would never eat.  There are those who live in our homes, and those we go to great lengths to keep out.  There are those who are companions, and those who have jobs, and those we prefer not to interact with at all.  There are those who live in zoos, and those who live on farms, and those who live in the wild.  There are those who are hunted, and those who are protected.  It’s all so arbitrary, really.  I want my daughter to respect non-human life, but is that end best served by indulging her love of horses despite my misgivings?  Is it served by visiting zoos so that she can experience the magnificent creatures who live there and having frank conversation about the value of freedom and happiness to those animals?  Is it served by taking a hard line?  Or is it best served by sharing these questions with my daughter and examining the shades of grey?

Please feel free to leave a comment!

Child care as unskilled labor (?)

My kids with their "other mother"

I have a guest post running over at Your (Wo)man in Washington on the topic of child care, and whether it truly qualifies as unskilled labor.  I hope that you will check it out and leave your comments!

In Morristown, New Jersey, near where I live, you can go to the train station on any given day and find an immigrant man who is willing to do just about any unskilled work you are willing to pay him to do, like painting your house or moving furniture.  Yes, you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training in order to diaper a baby’s bottom or bandage a skinned knee any more than you need one to slap on a coat of primer or carry a couch up two flights of stairs.  Even so, you aren’t going to find me at the train station picking up a woman to watch my young children anytime soon.  So maybe it isn’t quite as easy as Guest seems to think it is.
Finding the kind of childcare that we need – consistent, reliable, high-quality and affordable – is often simply a matter of luck and is by no means a given.  Luckily, it seems that someone is Washington is finally figuring out what we have known all along.  According to a recent Washington Post article, Nancy Pelosi recognizes that the child care issue is key to allowing women to fully assert their presence in the workforce, and has vowed to put quality affordable child care on the national agenda if she regains her position as the Speaker of the House.  Even if she isn’t successful in her bid, at least she is finally bringing the issue to the fore: for women to be able to work for pay while maintaining a good quality of life, not to mention their sanity, we need someone to take care of our children.