“Mummy, what are ‘gods’?”.
I was caught a little by surprise, but I think we did ok in the end. After a moment’s thought, I explained that they were figures invented by people. That different human civilisations share stories about pretend “gods” who have all sorts of different powers – stuff like creating living things and planets, knowing everything in the world, super-strength, and magical deeds. His brow furrowed. He took a moment too, then said “Ohhhh! Sorta like in my Mythical Beasts game!”
Just now, a few days after the question, I asked him if he remembered what “gods” are. He said “Yep! Gods live inside volcanoes, and they can beat everyone.” Close enough, I reckon.
So. December is upon us. I can’t be the only one who grows weary of hearing these frequently whimpered whines about chimney-fairy fakery around this time:
- “Let them be kids for as long as they can.”
- “Where’s the joy and magic of childhood?”
- “You’ve got to instil some wonder into them!”
- “There’s more to the world than cold, hard truth.”
- “My parents told me Santa was real, and I turned out just fine.”
Somehow, we seem to be finding a whole lot of wonder in the real world. Children don’t need us to create wonder. They come with it ready-installed, from the moment they open their eyes and look around. All we have to do is not force it out of them.
The lad’s face lights up with wonder and joy when he comes face to face with an orang-utan, watches a seedling unfurl and shoot up up, finds animal shapes in cloud formations, collects treasure troves of stones and weed-flowers and coloured leaves, or succeeds in turning a somersault or kicking a goal.
Books extend and enlarge on that wonder. Between the pages we have travelled to the bottom of the ocean, witnessed erupting volcanoes and the Big Bang, roamed the frozen Arctic, tramped through dense rainforests teeming with life, bounced on the moon, zoomed into the inner worlds of anatomy and cells, explored medieval castles and escaped from fierce prehistoric creatures. We have visited fantastic worlds with dragons, pirate dinosaurs, weird monsters, teleporting wardrobes, magical chocolate factories, and mythical beasts. And he knows the difference. As I write, he is drawing a Book of Monsters to give his kindergarten teacher at the end of the year. He is dictating to me the blurb to go with the drawing on each page – and most of his dictations conclude with “It’s a good thing it doesn’t ezzist.” It seems sometimes reality can be reassuring.
So why, exactly, does our boy require more “wonder” in the form of a contrived fib about a guy in a red polyester suit and pleather boots? In what way are we robbing him of his youth by telling the truth about mythology? You do things your way, we’ll do them ours. Thanks for your concern, but he is not deprived, joyless, or forced to work in a mine eighteen hours a day. He’s not even deprived of Santa – our culture is completely saturated with Santa, so he knows all the ins and outs of the mythology, and enjoys the story wholeheartedly. We just don’t pretend that it’s all real. He doesn’t need to believe in Santa any more than he needs to believe that eating bread crusts will make his hair grow curly.
Neither Santa nor God is totting up who’s been bad or good in our house, and that’s the way we like it.
 On rainforests: in the car the other day he made one of those out-of-the-blue observations that so often come in the car. “Mummy: If rainforests have lots of rain all of the time, then they must always have rainbows!”
 If you’d like to check out the Book of Monsters, it’s here.