My daughter, Tzipporah, is turning 5 on Sunday and she just started Pre-1A at the local yeshiva. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been faced with my first dilemmas as a parent in terms of being a rational adult and at the same time, being a parent of a child who is told tales of whales and other legendarily fine examples of Jewish folklore.So, as most would do, I contacted my spiritual adviser. The discussion went as follows:
Me: “Rebbe, what should I do? My daughter came home with a story that some guy was swallowed by a big fish, and that she forgot his name. So my wife responded that it was “Yonah.” What should I do?
SA: You could ask her how many fish swallowed the man in the story.
Me: But it didn’t happen! It’s only a story!
SA: Who said it happened? Didn’t your daughter come home and say, “I heard a story about…”
So there you have it — I asked her how many fish swallowed the man, and she remarked with sudden recollection that, in fact, two fish were involved — the first fish was too cozy and comfortable and so the man refrained from repenting, but when he got into the second fish, which was cramped and uncomfortable, he returned from his transgression.
And when we ate out on the second day of Succos, my daughter suggested that we state the Ushpizin for the day, and the host added to his son, “yes, slide over and make room for Yitzchak. When I interjected that Yitzchak wasn’t actually coming because he had died thousands of years ago — let’s just say that for the remainder of the meal, all conversation between the two adults males present revolved around angels, giants, carbon dating, dinosaurs and talking snakes who wish to mate with humans. Needless to say, the only time we’ll be invited back will be so that he can be mekareiv me.
In continuing with my spiritual adviser, he suggested the following analogy: “When we’re young, we’re told that we have blood in our body, and we all think that our entire insides are just full of blood sloshing around all over the place. We get a little older and we learn blood is actually confined to hundreds of thousands of tiny tubules that carry the blood to nearly all the cells in the body. We get a little older, and assuming our hero is not majoring in finance and taking bio for poets (or truck drivers), he learns that the real deal is that capillary walls are sometimes continuous, sometimes discontinuous and even sometimes fenestrated. So why not just start everyone off right? Because they can’t handle it — so we refine the story with time.”
A while back, I decided that, had I been Christian, I would tell my children from a very young age that there is indeed no such thing as an actual Santa Claus. I therefor eschew Jewish Santa Clauses — and they abound, believe you me (what does that last statement even mean? I don’t know, but it fit!)
But everyone else likes Santa Claus — he’s VERY popular! In speaking with my spiritual adviser, based on his blood circulation example above, I find that he thinks these stories are great — they get the kids involved, they explain things on a simple level and desirable messages are taught. The problem is not the stories — it’s letting kids turn into the age of maturity and allowing them to still think that Santa Claus exists. I disagree, but I suspect that it’s a personal philosophical disagreement rather than a generalized, overarching form of discontent.