A word of warning: This post is a little long, but it has a point. Hang in there.
Christmas is weird. It’s a strange time for a parent, and strange time for a kid. What you believe and don’t believe? Now THAT is the question. My parents always taught me that Santa was more about an idea, a spirit of giving. That there WAS a St. Nick, but now we sort of carry on the magic and spread the love around. And all that jazz.
(Now it’s a bit of a hike to get from Santa to building a gnome house, but please stick around and follow me, here…)
I always felt weird about flat-out lying about a big man sneaking into our house in the middle of the night (bringing toys or not)…especially since my husband’s deployed and she’s ALREADY worried about “strangers.” I found it hard to sell that when it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense, did it? I couldn’t really ever get into the “Elf on the Shelf” idea for the same reason.
So when our VERY practical daughter asked me about Santa, I told her the same thing my parents did. And she was silent. Which usually means she’s mulling it over. So I wasn’t surprised when later she asked the same thing: “Is Santa real?” I got the feeling that she wasn’t happy with my previous explanation, so I tried again in the same way, adding an explanation that it’s fun to PRETEND that he’s real. She silently mulled it over once more, and still later asked me again: “Some kids at school say that Santa is NOT real. Is that right?”
Finally, torn between explaining the real story of Santa and going along with a “lie,” I asked her: “Well, what do YOU believe?” And she thought about it awhile, very seriously contemplating it, and finally said firmly, “I think he’s real.” “Okay,” I said. “Then he’s real.” I’m not sure she entirely convinced herself, but she enjoyed the idea.
The Santa Debate brought questions of other anomalies. “Are fairies real? Are aliens real? Witches? What about gnomes?” To each I would respond, “I don’t know—you know, I’ve never SEEN one, so I don’t know if they’re real or not. But what do YOU believe?” She asked me about the kids at school, and I said, “People believe all kinds of things. And since nobody knows for sure, then nobody is wrong. You believe what you believe, and you let other people believe what they believe.”
So somehow, we got on the topic of gnomes.
I told her a story about how when I was a kid, my parents took my sister and I on a walk in the woods, and my dad helped us construct a little bridge across a tiny stream with sticks and dental floss. Days later, when we came back to check on it, someone had left a note saying, “Thanks, good job!” We joked that the gnomes had left it. Our daughter loved that story, and suggested we build a gnome house and that maybe if we did, they’d come visit US. I sort of agreed to it, but didn’t think much else about it, dismissing it as one of the hundreds of project ideas she has in any given hour. But days later, and she was still persistent.
So we built a gnome house.
It was a fun little project, and we got all our supplies on a quick visit to the craft store. She was excited picking out stickers and decorative things to go along with it. I went the easy route and started with those pre-made papier-mache houses you find at the craft store for $5. While she happily decorated it with markered gnomes, I hot-glued sticks and fake plants to the roof.
She drew all over the outside, and filled the inside with a doodled Christmas tree (probably influenced by the fact that ours is still up. Don’t judge.) and other stickers & doodles. And the front door was headed by a cute little “painting gnome.”
We put some of her dollhouse furniture in it. She put tomatoes in it “for dinner,” she said. And we tucked the little gnome house into the corner of our back porch, to protect it from the rain, since we don’t have any trees around.
(Side note: That little garden gnome in the picture above is actually a weird little terracotta gnome I got at Ikea ages ago. It came plain, but I painted to look like the gnomes from the Gnome Book. The book Gnomes was a favorite of mine as a kid. It explained gnomes in a realistic way, and fit them into our world as if they WERE real.)
Later, that evening, I threw out the little tomatoes, partly to see if she’d notice, and partly so our little food-hungry dog wouldn’t tear the gnome house up trying to get to them. It all reminded me a little of the Dinovember post that was going around a while back.
When she saw them this afternoon, she was excited. And I was excited for her. “GNOMES! I didn’t know we could really have GNOMES!” But honestly, I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe it. I suspect she’s enjoying just playing along…
And I’m not sure if I want to run with it, or just sort of let her in on the fun of pretending….
I don’t want to totally LIE to our kid—she’s always known us to be able to give her straight answers on nearly any topic imaginable. But I don’t want to rob her of that magical fun stuff that makes up being a kid. Her world hasn’t been completely defined by reality yet—for all she knows, there ARE such things as horses with wings or giants. Why not gnomes? After all, we’re all free to believe what we want, right?