Thoughts from the Backseat

You can learn a surprising amount just by listening to children while they talk. Every other Monday I drove Elena and her friend Jack to soccer practice. Coach Paul controlled thirty kids with a calmness and a sense of humor that I hope for. Me, I had just two of them in the back seat and no whistle.

We’d pull up to Jack’s house. He often brought a snack for him and Elena to share on the way to soccer. After getting him settled in the car seat I’d get back in the car and have barely closed the door when they’d start on that day’s conversation.

Elena fired the opening round in a recent exchange.

“Jack, can you do the splits?”

“No, I have a penis.”

I considered stopping things at this point but let it go. Elena didn’t.

“That has nothing to do with it. I can do the splits.”

“That’s ’cause girls don’t have penises.”

“No, women are just more flexible than boys. Women can do the splits.”

“That’s not why. Coach Kangas is flexible but he can’t do the splits because he has a penis.”

Clearly it was time to move them to a different subject and I did. Kim and Jack’s mother Patti always said that Jack and Elena argued like an old married couple. There were times that they would travel together in silence, but more often than not, they would be trying to top each other’s story or fighting about things that only matter to six year olds.

As we headed for home one day, Elena told Jack that she and Zachary were the only two Jewish kids in her classroom.

“But,” said Jack, “I thought you believed in Jesus.”

“I do,” answered Elena, “I’m Catholic too.” She hadn’t seen the problem with this that Maggie had identified by her age. She was completely comfortable believing in Jesus during those moments that she was being Catholic and not worrying about the issues during those moments that she was being Jewish.

“You’re Catholic?” Jack questioned. “I’m not.”

This puzzled me. His parents are Catholic. They go to a Catholic church. They send him for Catholic religious instruction.

“I’m a Christ – asist.” I’m actually not sure what he said because he didn’t repeat it but it wasn’t Christian. It was ‘Christ’ something where this was pronounced with a long ‘i’.

“What does that mean?” asked Elena.

“Well we believe in Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy and you don’t. You’re Jewish.”

“I believe in Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy.”

“You couldn’t. You just couldn’t.”

I interrupted to point out that we were at Jack’s house and they could stop arguing.

“You’re interructing,” Elena said.

“Interrupting,” I agreed.

I’ve been thinking about belief this week in the wake of the funeral. I’ve asked Kim before about kids who are taught about Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. At some point they discover the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Why doesn’t that shake their faith in Jesus?

Why doesn’t that set them up to wonder at what age they will be told that this too is a set of stories told to them to make their life more orderly and easier as a young person? I’m not arguing whether or not you should believe in Jesus – I think that is a personal decision that is none of my business. I’m asking how these other icons of childhood can fall away without shaking your faith in the other things you were raised to believe in?

That’s why it’s easier to let six year olds argue about why boys can’t do the splits.

Published in: on March 22, 2006 at 8:02 am  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello
    I’m Federico from Uruguay and I wanted to tell you that we’re still reading. Thank your very much for sharing…

  2. Greetings from Dallas.

    I’m de-lurking to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading everything you have posted here. It has, of course, made me hug my own daughter tighter. Yesterday’s post made me cry and today’s made me laugh out loud. Both are what keep me checking the site daily for whatever you might write next.

    Thank you so much for sharing. Best wishes to you, Kim, and Maggie.

  3. I think the reason faith is not pushed away like the tooth fairy and Santa is because there is no “proof” of the falsehood of faith. With the others, the truth comes out usually in a confession from a loved one… that doesn’t happen with faith.

    At least, that is my simplistic view.

  4. I am not suggesting that faith is a falsehood!

    I can almost picture this conversation…

    Faith is not a fairy tale or just another story. You are correct it is personal and every one has their own belief, but this is a belief that cannot be shaken….

  6. Dan,

    Today’s post made me laugh. From a young age my parents insisted that we be taugh the proper names for our body parts. My father’s arguement in favor of this is quite similar to your question about Jesus. If we tell a child that this is their ear, nose, elbow, knee, penis, then we need to stick to those labels. If we tell them it’s a “wee-wee” and at some point they discover that it’s a penis they may start to ask “is this still call an elbow?”.

    Dispite this arguement my father, the theologian, still taught us about Jesus, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny … to this day the three of us kids know the “truth” about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and we continue to believe in Jesus. For some reason it’s different – but I can’t tell you why!


  7. Boys CAN do the splits. Just watch the Olympic gymnasts and figure skaters.

  8. This post made me laugh too. With many younger cousins, I’ve enjoyed hearing secrets and “important” discussions.

    Belief: As someone in my early 20’s I find that just now those raised with some religion are starting to question it. I think that as a child it is easier to believe in Jesus, for example, when you go to church, Sunday-school and other events regularly where many people seem to believe it.

    Now, with the Easter Bunny or Tooth-fairy, once you know the truth you’ll experience people telling you they figured it out on their own. Or, you wonder and ask adults how long they believed. In short, people share their moments of truth. With religion, adults in a given social/religious circle keep establishing the faith.

    Once you start college, enter an educational or social environment outside of your younger youth, you are exposed to a variety of beliefs. Also, you have developed critical thinking skills. I remember being 16 or 17 years old and I suddenly realized an uncle wasn’t as smart as I thought he was.

    – thanks for sharing

  9. My hubs and I struggled with this very issue (not the penis and the splits issue, the other). We decided not to introduce Santa, the toothfairy, the Easter bunny, so we wouldn’t confuse our children. Didn’t work as my parents and extended family told the kiddies all about Santa. Has created a bit of a stir, but not once since my son passing, have they doubted their faith, or the existence of Christ. But they have figured out I am the toothfairy…

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