Although I am Jewish, my kids believe in Santa Claus (well – sort of). My four- year old believes in Unicorns (although she says if Santa doesn’t bring her one then he is NOT real.) My six year old asked the other day ”Is there really a Puff the Magic dragon?”
Clearly the answers to these questions are, “Well no, of course not!” But we adults cling onto these childhood myths, passing them down to our children as if they are completely genuine and real.
This “realness” was recently brought to my attention when my sister emailed me the website www.portablenorthpole.tv showing her adorable seven year old boy featured in a customized video from Santa Claus, detailing his age, his best friends, highlights (and uploaded pictures) from his year and what he may or may not receive for X-mas. The man playing Santa Claus looks exceedingly real, giving his guests a personalized tour of PNP, complete with his newest sweater-dressed reindeers and a peak into his cozy office. He spoke my sister’s little boys name as if he had known him for years, winking at him slyly when he asks if he had “listened to his parents.”
I myself got caught up in the excitement of this portable Santa Claus, creating videos for both of my children. Yet after I went to bed, I lay awake agonizing at what I had done crystallizing this fantasy to such an extent that it will be forever lodged in their imaginations.
The questions at hand are: To what extent do we as parents keep these childhood myths alive? Do we become liars or tricksters when we show them such technologically advanced videos that make it seem that Santa Claus is really watching them from the North Pole? Or does this “high-tech” imagery just match the society that we now live in, further highlighting and upholding these childhood myths in such an advanced manner that children have no way to deny the “realness” of these myths anymore? Can we now make imaginary figures so real that there is no room left to simply imagine them? And how does this affect our children’s psyche when they discover just a few years later that Santa Claus or Unicorns were not real after all (despite all the “realness” they were shown)?
We are children for only a few short years. And as we become more and more technologically advanced this span of time can become even shorter. Children age four own ipods, seven year olds read their books on Kindles, 3D movies can make kids’ imaginations literally come alive. This technology can both add to our children’s growth as well as stunt it, stimulating their brains to operate more efficiently, yet leaving no room for them to imagine what Santa Claus would look like if he were real– because they have already received a personalized message from him via their parent’s email. They are simply given too much and shown too much, making it almost impossible for them to think up their own images of what is real and what isn’t.
My conclusion therefore is two-fold. We must keep our children’s imagination as raw and as alive as possible, challenging them to think of their own versions of these mythical stories without offering them all the answers. Yet we must also not turn our backs away from the technological world that we have now created. In Freud’s “Civilization and It’s Discontents” Freud addresses the fundamental paradox of Civilization: it is a tool we have created to protect ourselves from unhappiness, and yet it is our largest source of unhappiness. We have created a society that relies on the Internet and social networking to feel connected yet we are more disconnected as we have ever been. We have introduced hundreds of gadgets that seemingly make our lives more efficient and easy, yet our children feel their lives are more overwhelming than ever.
I am not going to be hard on myself for showing my kids these portable videos. I highly doubt that it will have a lasting affect on their psyche. Yet, we as parents must be exceedingly careful in how we use technology with our children. Technology can never and should never replace imagination. In Robert Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom and Dream he reminds us that we “have become prisoners of our own creations, prisoners in our own dreams.” Technology has become a symptom of this imprisonment and we wind up with “an interiorized soul without a world, and an in-animate world, a world without soul.”
We must challenge ourselves to weave our imaginations with our growing “technologized” world. We must help our children keep their soul alive (both internally ad externally), contextualizing childhood myths without diminishing the power of these stories.
In my novel The Gossamer Thread a magical realistic Feather who falls from an angel’s wings serves as one of the narrators. When one reads the story they know intellectually that this Feather did not really fall from an angel’s wings. Yet, the reader buys into the story because of the power of myth. The story takes place in a very real world, a world surrounded by prejudice, sickness, murder and love, tenderness and a connection to other human beings and to the Divine. Yet the Feather is just as real of a character as the psychologist who questions her identity, relationship and connection to God.
Myths, which are introduced in childhood help us connect to the Divine, to that unknown, otherworldly place that nobody can clearly imagine or define. Keeping myth alive in childhood helps us as we grow into adults tolerate and bear the world that we inhabit.
And as we close our eyes and enter our night dreams, who is really to say that Santa Claus is not real? That Unicorns do not exist? And that Puff the Magic Dragon does not inhabit a dark cave hidden somewhere in the interstices of this world space? For as we march forward toward Death, perhaps our dreams, imaginings and myths are just as real as the day world that ultimately we will all leave behind.