Life and responsibility for teenagers was just a tad different back in the day in rural Oklahoma when farm hands were needed by the buckboard full and the easiest way to acquire them was to marry and impregnate the nearest freckled face teenager.
Heck, even as a pre-teen, I recall reeling with horror when the beloved tv crush of my youth, Laura "Half-Pint" Ingalls was all fired up to be a June bride when she was barely 14 -- Pa wouldn't hear of it until she was at LEAST 16.
Then there are the teens of the type that C had the misfortune to run into while at Campfire Kids (previously known as Campfire Girls...don't get me started) Camp recently.
You know the type. Swarmy, know-it-all, why in the world would they be put in charge of little kids in the first place kind of teens.
Seems a conversation was begun and in the throes of discussion on the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairie, when my little 8-year old believer happened upon the indepth conversation. Not having actually been there for the meeting of the pre-adult minds, I'm not exactly sure what transpired. I was, however, made fully aware of the result after picking up C and PK from camp that afternoon.
In the middle of a block of NPR filled silence, C blurts out, "When were you going to tell me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren't real?"
To which my Wife and I slowly turned to each other - that look of abject fear in our faces - and quietly responded, "What are you talking about, sweetie?"
At that point, she proceeded to relay the meat of the conversation she had overhead between the group of irresponsible (my word) teen camp counselors and impressionable 5-8 year olds about the true existence of the fabled childhood characters.
We managed to retain our composure and come up with some lame-o answers about believing what you want to believe and the importance of not letting anyone else tell you what to believe.
Inside, I was slightly panicked, knowing that our 5-year old, a true believer to the nth power, had heard the entire exchange from the safety of her booster seat. To my right, Wifey was fuming with capital F & U.
We were always told that the moment the kids went off to school, the other kids would break the back of the childhood fantasy icons and we'd only have to deal with it at a secondary level. So we've been prepared for several years, sorta.
Somehow, our 8-year old has managed to hold onto her belief in St. Nick, the furried egg delivery guy, and the money-for-enamel exchanging fairie'd one, bringing her little sister along for the ride.
It's been parentally fun, but with this most recent "teen-verified" Santa debunking, convincing them to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," we feared was going to prove fruitless.
Since the episode, however, we've yet to have another conversation about the topic, hoping that our lack of attention on the subject matter and wholesale dismissal (outwardly) of the ridiculousness of the claims would somehow diffuse the entire topic. At least, neither of the girls have brought it up.
Inwardly, Wifey is still fuming and as a member of the "surely there must be something I can fix" male species, I had to take some sort of action.
So, I wrote an email to the Senior Program Director of Camp Fire USA-Heart of Oklahoma Council. Here are a few excerpts...
Surely this is an inappropriate topic for teenagers to be engaged in with impressionable youngsters who are looking for role models and mentors to emulate and trust.
Imagine the disappointment my wife and I felt when C asked us point blank on the drive home today, "Daddy...Mommy, when were you going to tell me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren't real?" Today some kids told me so and both my Counselor and the Counselor Aide said they were right."
And all this in front of our 5-year old.
While we've been able to extend our 8-year old's childhood fantasy world to what some might consider a ripe old age, fending off "truth tellers" her own age is one thing.
But when a "big teenager" who seems wizened to the ways of the world in the eyes of an 8-year old, shatters their bedtime tales and holiday fantasies with an ignorant and arrogant flap of a teenage tongue, the battle for their belief system becomes a harder fight indeed.
Now, while many of you reading this may agree that 5 and 8 is plenty old to slough off the childhood fantasies of old and bring the kids into the world of reality and cold hard facts, and that the camp teens provided us with a relatively painless method to introduce the world where the red, round jolly one and his cohorts of while-your-slept present giving don't actually exist.
Who knows. It may come to pass that as the summer months wane and my favorite season of the year in Oklahoma approaches, when Halloween decorations start making their way into the Dollar General and Christmas lights begin doting the Main Street landscape, we find that our daughters are no longer believers in the commercially symbolic icons of the season.
I'll be fine with it, but I'm a guy. My Wife may have to go out and punch a few random teenagers to make her feel better.