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By Leah Mueller
When I was six, I discovered that adults were shameless liars. One November evening, as I sat in my room reading, my mother called me into the living room. She stared into my eyes, and placed one of her hands tenderly into mine. The grim expression on her face made it clear that she was about to say something I wouldn't like. “I've been meaning to tell you this for quite some time,” she said quietly. “Santa Claus doesn't exist.”
I gaped at her in disbelief. My jaw dropped, and I shook my head to dislodge her confession from my eardrums. “That's impossible” I replied. “”I've seen Santa on the street. You took me to visit him at Marshall Field's. I sat in his lap.”
My mother sighed. “That was a paid actor, Leah,” she explained. “Just a guy dressed up in a red suit, pretending to be Santa. There is no Santa.”
Waves of shock swept over me, and I collapsed onto the couch. “You're kidding, right?” I demanded. Despite my horror, I knew intuitively that my mother was finally being truthful. Obviously, she'd lied shamelessly to me for years. “What about all the times you told me that you had spoken to him in the kitchen?” I asked bitterly. “I suppose you were making that up?”
My mother dropped her head and stared at the floor. “That's correct,” she confessed.
My voice assumed the pedantic, relentless tone of a prosecuting attorney. “How about when you and Grandma told me that you heard reindeer on the roof? You know, LAST Christmas? You do remember that, right?”
Mom sighed, and an exasperated expression came over her face. I wanted to slap her. After the sham she had perpetrated, she had the nerve to be irritated with me. “Of course I remember,” she snapped, “it was less than a year ago.” I glared at her, and her tone softened again. “We made that up, too” she explained. “We made up everything we told you about Santa.”
I pretended that my eyes were laser beams of pure rage. Perhaps if I stared hard enough at my mother, I could get her to crack, confess everything, or at least promise me ice cream every day for a year. “I don't understand why you would lie about a thing like that” I said in a deceptively casual tone. “What was the point? Why did you do it?”
Mom looked thoughtful. “I'm really not sure” she said. “I guess to make Christmas seem more special. You know, magical.” She relaxed into her chair and lit a cigarette, satisfied with her answer. However, I refused to be pacified. If I let her off the hook too easily, there was no telling what sort of other nonsense she would try to perpetrate. It seemed absurd that an adult had decided to inject the image of a jolly fat man into an occasion that was mostly about the unwrapping of sweaters and plastic toys. Undoubtedly, the Santa deception contained many more layers than I was able to discern from one brief conversation with my mother.
Suddenly, a new realization hit me. “The Easter bunny and the tooth fairy!” I cried. “They're not real either, are they?” My mother shook her head. “I'm afraid not,” she said. “I'm sorry.”
I was determined to maintain my composure, and not dissolve into a puddle of tears. After all, I wasn't a baby, like I had been when I still believed in Santa and the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. I was what adults often referred to as a “mature child”, capable of grasping concepts that eluded other kids. “All right” I said wearily. “That's exactly what I THOUGHT.” With as much dignity as I could muster, I rose from the couch and left the room.
The subtext was clear: It was fine for adults to lie whenever it suited them. However, if a child lied, there was usually hell to pay. Our untruths existed as a device to help us elude trouble, but adults told lies simply to amuse themselves. As I pondered this injustice, I heard my mother's voice. “Leah, come back for a moment,” she called gently.
I stuck my head around the doorjamb and gaped at her. “Don't tell any of the kids at school that Santa doesn't exist,” she said. “Either they won't believe you, or they'll get upset and cry. Keep it a secret.”
The shit was deeper than I'd imagined. “Sure” I said. Despite my anger, I sensed my mother was right. My classmates were probably even less equipped to handle the truth than I was. I could play the role of a pint-sized Cassandra, or I could pretend that I was an adult, capable of lying whenever it suited me.
Like most kids, I viewed maturity as the Holy Grail, the ultimate attainment. I smiled at my mother, and retreated to my room. Once there, I sat on the edge of my bed, and stared thoughtfully at my stuffed animals. Christmas was five weeks away. It was going to be a long holiday season, but I felt confident that I could handle it. I really didn't have much choice. All I needed to do was remember to keep my mouth shut.
#Real #Essay #Easter #Lies #Parents #Childhood
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