Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Twilight

I love vampires and vampire stories. I love Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I love Angel even more. But I'm a little conflicted by these Stephenie Meyer vampire stories.

I'm conflicted because the writing is lame to the point of distraction; but I really wanted to like Twilight because many of my reader friends like it--"can't-put-it-down" like it; "read it again and again" like it.

The gist of the story is that this girl falls in love with a vegetarian vampire--a vampire that doesn't feed on humans. Ha ha. He reciprocates, even though she is a clumsy dork who has never kissed a boy. They engage in lots of adolescent sexual tension: shivers, cheek touches, hair smelling, meaningful glances across crowded rooms, and a couple of kisses. It's very chaste.

It's also repetetive and harlequin romance-esque, with eyes that brim with unshed tears and lips that quiver, hearts that pound, and innocent touches that send electricity coursing through lovers' veins. Yada yada yada. For example:

"Bella?" I turned and he was leaning toward me, his pale, glorious face just inches from mine. My heart stopped beating.

"Sleep well," he said. His breath blew in my face, stunning me. It was the same exquisite scent that clung to his jacket, but in a more concentrated form. I blinked, thoroughly dazed. He leaned away."

I was unable to move until my brain had somewhat unscrambled itself.

Meyer uses the word "glorious" to describe vampire Edward's beauty at least four times. In the first 80 pages. She also overdoes the beauty adjectives when describing the perfect features of her ancient blood-suckers, as though she has never heard the first rule of writing: show, don't tell. For example:

"devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful" p. 19
"dazzling face...flawless lips" p. 43
"his livid, glorious face" p. 65
"his stunning face" p. 65
"his too-perfect face" p. 74
"his eyes were gloriously intense" p. 84
"his deep gold eyes" p. 89
"his heavenly face" p. 107
"his burning gold eyes" p. 108
"his flawless features" p. 162

Edward also smiles crookedly about once per chapter, and don't even get me started on his muscular chest and his cold skin. Apparently I'm not the only one who likes to catalog literary flaws, and who noticed the insane amount of adjectivizing going on in this book. You will thank me if you click on that link, and especially if you scroll down and read the parody, entitled Duskiness.

Compare all of this with Stoker's subtle but compelling sexual subtext:

With a mocking smile he placed one hand upon my shoulder, and holding me tight, bared my throat with the other, saying as he did so, "First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions. You may as well be quiet. It is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst." I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the horrible curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim. And oh my God, my God, pity me! He placed his reeking lips upon my long this horrible thing lasted I know not; but it seemed that a long time must have passed before he took his foul, awful, sneering mouth away. I saw it drip with the fresh blood.

It's no excuse to suggest that Meyer's writing is more simplistic because it's targeted to a juvenile audience. JK Rowling writes for the same audience without insulting them, and without pissing me off.

And maybe I'm just an incurable anti-romantic, but the intensely intoxicating effect that Edward has upon Bella is completely insipid and unbelievable; and not only that, but the relationship is characterized by an unhealthy dependence and a ridiculous lack of awareness. Bella gets all loopy when she doesn't see Edward for 24 hours. I hate being minus Mr. Peevie for very long--but does "desolation hit me with crippling strength"? No, it does not.

This is not to say that I don't think that Twilight could make a good movie. It's only getting 50% on the TomatoMeter, but I might give it a try.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Have Got to be Kidding Me

Last Friday, C. Peevie removed his Velcro boot cast and put on two shoes for the first time since he spiral-fractured his tibia on September 2. Three days later, M. Peevie slipped on the stairs, smashed her foot into the wall, and fractured her tibia.

That's our story and I'm sticking to it.

I expect a visit from DCFS at any minute.

Apparently, this is the year of broken bones in the Peevie household. This is fracture number three. I had specifically forbidden any further bone breakage, but my disobedient daughter totally disregarded the prohibition. And not only that--she did it 12 hours before we were scheduled to depart for our Christmas Aught Nine: Philadelphia Edition road trip.

C. Peevie and I went running when we heard "Thump! Thump! Thump! Ow!" as M. Peevie catapulted down the stairs, crashed into the wall, and cried out.

"It hurts!" she cried. "My ankle! I felt the bone move up! Wah! Wah! Waaahhh!"

We carried her to the couch, elevated her leg, and gently laid a bag of frozen corn (nature's ice-pack) across the already-swelling and tender-to-the-touch area. M. Peevie continued to weep, and I called the pediatrician, who recommended that we take her for an x-ray since she was unwilling to even attempt to put weight on her leg. I dosed her with Children's Tylenol (t), splinted her leg with a St. Andrew's phone directory and an ace bandage, and headed off to the hospital.

I thought the splint was a nice touch. I sort of felt like an army medic applying a field dressing during combat--only without the field and the combat. I was hoping somebody at the hospital would notice and comment on my heads-up treatment protocol--but no.

We arrived at the ER about 40 minutes after the accident. M. Peevie sat patiently in her wheelchair in the uncrowded waiting room, her face bearing the strain of pain and fatigue.

"I'm going to have to unwrap your leg," Nurse Jane said kindly when we finally reached triage about a half hour later. Not one word about how great the make-shift splint was.

"OK," M. Peevie said in a small voice, with a tiny hiccup.

"What's your pain level, honey?" Nurse Jane asked, showing M. the sad face/happy face pain chart.

"Seven-and-a-half," M. Peevie said. "Maybe eight."

"Well, you're being very brave," Nurse Jane said, unwrapping the ace bandage. When she got the splint unwrapped, she held out the school directory. "I hope this isn't homework," she said, amused. "How did you hurt yourself?"

I liked how Nurse Jane talked to M. Peevie. She spoke calmly and directly to M., and gave her the opportunity to speak for herself like a big girl. It did cross my mind, however, that hospital personnel are trained to watch for signs of abuse when children come into the ER with injuries; and I arranged my face into a concerned and guilt-free expression.

"No," M. Peevie said. "It's my school directory. I fell on the stairs," she continued. "I slipped and went all the way down and crashed into the wall with my foot. I felt the bone move up." She was very believable.

The nurse looked at me meaningfully, and we both noticed that the swelling on M. Peevie's leg had an uneven indentation in it. I knew we were in for a long night, and even though I reassured M. Peevie that it might just be a sprain, I was confident that we were dealing with a fracture.

Three hours, an x-ray, and four or five re-tellings of the Fall Down the Stairs later, including two tellings to each of two maintenance personnel who stopped by the room, we headed home with a little girl in a temporary cast, discharge instructions, and a prescription for Tylenol plus codeine. Yay. Hope she has some left over.

Meanwhile, Mr. Peevie finished packing, wrapping presents, and organizing us for our trip to PA. He is the true hero of the story. Our original plan was to get out the door by 6 a.m., but we allowed ourselves a little more sleep in the morning, and delayed our departure by six hours.

Brave broken-tibia girl barely cried after the initial trauma. We managed her pain primarily with ibuprofen and occasional doses of T3.

After this auspicious beginning, Christmas Aught-Nine: Philadelphia Edition was a piece of cake, even with the crazy relatives and the too-close quarters for too much time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas, Aught-Nine: Pekin Edition

The Peevies usually celebrate Christmas twice: once with Mr. Peevie's family, and once with my family. Both celebrations involve lots of eating, the opening of many presents, and irritation levels ranging from the I-will-mention-this-to-Mr.-Peevie-and-then-get-over-it variety to the to the hold-me-back-or-I-will-bitchslap-him/her assortment. More on the lattermost situation later.

Both celebrations also involve the driving of long distances in a tinier-by-the-minute minivan with five persons in varying stages of sleep deprivation, crankiness, constipation, and snot production. These are the times that try men's souls, these times of long-distance auto travel in sideways-blowing blizzards and patches of black ice and frequent pee stops. And the souls of women, as well.

So we have just survived our first Christmas of aught-nine; and after a day of laundry, re-packing, errand-running, and last-minute shopping, we will embark upon our second aught-nine-Noel. (Our house sitters have a large, hungry Dobermann and a loaded Remington, in case any of you Internet Lurkers out there have any funny ideas. Of course, I'm not talking to my loyal Green Room readers, who are all not merely law-abiding, but also above average in intelligence, beauty, and integrity.)

The first Christmas had a minimum of irritation and a high level of kindness, generosity, and sweetness. And--bonus!--there was no bleeding, and no broken bones! So I am bracing myself for Trouble in Christmas #2, because statistically, we are due.

Three kinds of soup simmered fragrantly on the stove, and 17 kinds of holiday cookies awaited us when we arrived in Pekin Friday night. The little cousins greeted us with joyous shouts and enthusiastic hugs. It's always curiously wonderful to me that cousins who see each other maybe three times a year have such warm and close-knit bonds with each other. Why does this happen?

On Saturday we attended the Big Game, in which little cousin Ri-Ri's team narrowly defeated the opposition in a nail-biter, 14-12. These 7- and 8-year olds are seriously cute basketball players, and some of them actually have skills. One tiny point guard on the other team dribbled like a Globetrotter, cleverly stutter-stepping his way around defenders and exploiting inadvertent picks to approach shooting range. (That's the point at which his skills more closely resembled those of a typical 8-year-old. Hence the score.)

After an unfortunate toilet-clogging situation because of yet another gigantic bowellian output from a Child Who Will Not Be Named, in which Roto-Rooter had to be called, but not until after the amateurs tried their hand at unclogging and succeeded in flooding the bathroom with fecal matter--I say, AFTER this unfortunate incident occurred, we took the kids out for some wholesome fun at Striketown in North Pekin.

I have to say--as a girl from the big city, I love this small-town bowling alley. The place was clean and friendly and uncrowded. When we arrived early in the afternoon, only two other customers were bowling in the 20-lane, out-of-the-way stand-alone building. Between the nine of us, we bowled about 16 games, rented eight pairs of shoes, drank a pitcher of Coke and about five beers--and the whole thing cost about $60.

The big winner was six-year-old cousin Tiny, with 112, as compared to my measely 102. I attribute my embarrassing micro-score to my aging, arthritic hips and the bowling ball that I carry taped to my abdomen. Mr. Peevie came through with a respectable 150-something, but he arrived late after some much-needed shoe shopping, so I'm giving Tiny the win.

And it is all about winning, isn't it?

Oh, wait. That's not very Christmasy.

Anyway, we had Christmas dinner at the SIL/BIL's lovely home overlooking a lake. SIL laid out a spread that would feed a small country, and we ate ourselves into comas. Then we opened presents from youngest to oldest, which used to put me in a good position, but now I'm one of the old folks.

The sun set on Christmas number one as we drove the three-hour distance home in about 2:40, unpacked, and got ready to to it all over again 24 hours later.

And then M. Peevie broke her leg.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Oh, I'm filled with Christmas spirit, all right. That's why I'm up after midnight, wrapping gifts, doing laundry, washing dishes, and caulking windows.

Oh, I'm not really caulking windows, but that's one way my friend spends her late-at-night-after-everyone-else-is-in-bed-and-the-house-is-quiet time. Strange, right? But also a tiny bit wonderful at the same time.

The dishes have been piling up faster than usual. The microwave oven broke, and we have to put food into pans on the stove or in the oven to heat it up. Hence: more dirty dishes. Annoying.

[How did people ever live without microwave ovens? I remember the first one Mr. Peevie and I ever bought--we gave it to each other for our first anniversary. It lasted for over 20 years. The next one lasted a couple of months. This one is now about three years old, and the stupid door-opening button took early retirement. M-waves are so cheap now that it's not cost-effective to repair them; but it's still a hundred bucks we don't have.]

Since I'm co-room-momming for the sixth grade class, I'm also putting my secret talent to work arranging a lovely gourmet gift basket for Mr. Santa. Did you know I had this talent? Now it's not a secret anymore. I don't know what teachers like and don't like to receive from their students for the holidays, but this has got to be a good choice: gourmet goodies from Trader Joe's, including spiral ham, lovely cheeses, assorted crackers, nuts, sparkling juices, and some other crap. I mean yummie treats.

Meanwhile, my uterus is doing origami with itself, and I'm allergic to the painkillers that actually work for menstrual cramps, so I'm moaning softly and yearning for menopause.

There are ten jillion more things that need to be done in the next week, and I can already tell I'm going to have to double up on the Lexapro, and maybe add in a few Xanax, to get through it all.

Ah, the holidays. The most wonderful time of the year.

I would love to be that person who is totally focused on the reason for the season (even though that phrase makes me throw up a little in my brain every time I hear it). I would love to be all Jesusy, reading through parts of the Christmas story with my children every night before bed; making care packages for homeless people and delivering them to shelters; baking cookies and wrapping them up in festive containers for all my neighbors; creating and mailing homemade Christmas cards.

But I can't even get my dad's birthday card in the mail. His birthday was two days ago. I can't even brush my hair every day; and forget about getting even store-bought cards in the mail.

I don't know how other people do it: wear holiday-themed jewelry, get their shopping done before Thanksgiving, French braid their daughters' hair and tie it with ribbons that match their outfits, and generally appear to have all their shit together.

Fortunately, I do have a secret for surviving the holidays, and indeed, for surviving any stressful or challenging time in life. Do you want to know what my secret is?

Low standards.

Try it. It works.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Conversations About Health Care

Jacob Weisberg recently compared the Republican response to the current pending bill to the 2003 Medicare Part D bill in Slate magazine. It's very illuminating, and here's the most telling line:

"Medicare recipients are much more likely to vote Republican than the uninsured who would benefit most from the Democratic bills," which is why the Republicans overwhelmingly passed Medicare Part D at an estimated 10-year cost as high as $1.2 trillion, but won't support the current bill.

"That figure," Weisberg continued,
—just for prescription-drug coverage that people over 65 still have to pay a lot of money for—dwarfs the $848 billion cost of the Senate bill. The Medicare D price tag continues to escalate because the bill explicitly bars the government from using its market power to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers or establishing a formulary with approved medications.
I had a conversation recently with a guy who opposes the health care reform bill because, he said, it would cause his health insurance premiums to increase by $700 per year. First of all, I doubt that he--or anyone--knows enough about the impact of the bill to be able to calculate a specific individual cost.

But aren't there more important considerations at stake here than the anecdotal alleged impact on one wealthy family? Such as health care bankruptcy for tens of thousands of Americans? Such as millions involuntarily uninsured or under-insured?

He would say no. He would say, "That's socialism. That's redistribution of wealth, and I'm against it." But as we have pointed out before,this is not socialism, it's progressive taxation. It's what we do here in this country to help take care of people who are poor, of children, of families who are struggling to keep a 10-year-old car running, not driving late model Beemers; who sometimes have to choose between buying medicine and buying food; who get non-emergency health care at the emergency room because they can't afford the cost of an office visit.

Health care reform is imperative because health care in this country works great for some, but there are too many left out in the cold. Health care reform is an issue of social justice.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Annoying TV Commercials

There are certain TV commercials that make me wonder if the intern that wrote them had a hangover, grew up on Pluto, or was intentionally trying to sabotage his client. Or maybe all three.

1. Charmin' Ultra Strong--I just do not want to think about "the pieces left behind," thank you very much. That's just...nas-tay.

2. Six Flags/Great America. "Six Flags! More Flags, More Fun!" says the loud, annoying, creepy guy in the Harry Caray glasses. I know I'm not the target demographic for these ads, but I am the likely source of funding and transportation--and these ads make me want to run, not walk, in the opposite direction.

3. The Eddie and Jobo United Auto Insurance commercials that air here in Chicago. Who the hell are Eddie and Jobo? I realize that these two knuckleheads have--had--a radio following on B96 (Chicago) for 20 years; but seriously. The non-E&J demographic--and I believe I'm speaking for all five million of us--just doesn't get it. When Eddie (or Jobo) show up on my little blue screen saying, "Eddie and Jobo here!", I just mutter, "Not any more!"--and change the channel.

4. Every single lawyer commercial ever made, or at least those that air in my town.

"Hi, I'm Roni DEUTCH. I don't own a hairbrush, but I will help you fix your taxes!"

"Hi, I'm Peter Francis Geracy. I have the most annoying Chi-keeah-go accent in history, but if you can stand to listen to my nasally blended soft a vowel sounds, I will help you declare bankruptcy! It's the answer to all your problems! Call for my free info tapes NOW!"

5. The Scooter Store TV ads that say, "Call for your pow'r churr today!" What the heck is a churr? Why can't Mr. Scooter say the word "chair"?

6. The new Steak-Umms pitch that frames the frozen alleged steak slices as your ticket to keeping up with the Joneses: "It's time to tell the neighbors you're eating steak again."

Apparently, I'm not the only one (nor the first one) to comment on the stupidity of this totally unpersuasive line of advertising.In his critique of the ad, Moons in Leo recently observed that Steak-Umms may not even count as meat because they're "about as thick as two-ply toilet paper." Heh.

There's probably more, but that's all I can come up with at the moment. But how about it--you got some? I'd love to hear about them.

Awful Christmas Music

I confess: I love Christmas music. When WLIT switches over to their holiday music programming, I play that station all the time. The kids and I sing along. It's very corny and lame.

However, I am not so lame that I don't recognize truly awful Christmas songs when I hear them, and I've heard a few this season that provoke the same type of response as
ipecac syrup.

One of them is Christmas Shoes, written and performed about 10 years ago by a group called NewSong. It's about a little boy whose mother is dying, and he wants to buy her shoes so she'll look great if she "meets Jesus tonight." It is awful for many reasons, but primarily because it is more manipulative than a tween with a joystick.

Hilariously, the guy in the video almost rolls his eyes at the little boy (at 2:20 in the vid) when the little boy looks up at him and asks him, "Sir, what am I gonna do?" If the song had gone dark at this point, it would have at least had entertainment value. But no. We're stuck with horrifying theology suggesting that God sends pathetic, poverty-stricken children and cancer as object lessons to teach a cynical, shopped-out guy "what Christmas is all about."

And what is Christmas all about, anyway? From this song, I gather it's about waiting until the last minute to buy a useless gift that the recipient will never use. Or sending your unwashed child out after curfew to do your Christmas shopping.

Another Christmas song I love to hate is
My Grown Up Christmas List, made popular by Amy Grant and covered by dozens of artists hoping to cash in on its sappy manipulation. It's like the interview portion of the Miss America Pageant set to elevator music:
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list
These are all good things to wish for. But there's nothing compelling, nothing personal, nothing challenging or new about saying, "I want all war to end." It's kind of a "duh" thing to say, even if you say it in a song.

Then there's a version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas out there--maybe Mariah Carey sings it?--that's set to such a slow tempo that you can leave your house when the song starts, drive to St. Charles to chop down your Christmas tree, bring it home, and finish decorating it before the song ends. Or you can just switch the station, which is what I do.

This one might get some flack, but I absolutely hate
The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas, a bastardization of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, set to sappy instrumentals. It's just simplistic, manipulative, clichéd rhyming. Here's a sample

His face so gentle, his room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I'd just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

I couldn´t help wonder how many lay alone
On a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.

I think those who serve deserve a far better tribute than this lametastic sentimentality. There are plenty of poems that honor the sacrifices that a soldier makes without resorting to maudlin clichés.

So, there you have it. I'm a giant Scrooge. Songs that are supposed to move me and touch my fossilized heart instead trigger cynicism and ridicule. But I suspect I'm not alone. What Christmas songs do you love to hate?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Life Lessons from Spongebob Squarepants

A. Peevie had told me last week that he wanted to be a leader among his friends, but he didn't know how to make it happen.

When this conversation started, I was thinking to myself, "Oh, that's so honorable, so beautiful, so mature that my boy wants to be a leader! He wants to help people make good choices, even though they might be hard ones. He wants to set an example for his classmates. He wants to inspire others to dream big dreams and reach for their goals!"

I was getting all Winston Churchill-y in my mind--but it turns out, A. Peevie had a different kind of leadership in mind.

"Mrs. Faker told us once that some kids are leaders, and some are followers," he said. "And I always end up being a follower. But I don't WANT to be just a follower! I want to be a leader sometimes, too!"

This sounded a little weird to me. Some kids are leaders, and some are followers? Did she really say that? And if she did, why? Was she trying to inspire, um, mediocrity? A sense of entitlement? A philosophy of determinism?

"Well, A. Peevie," I said, "I think it's possible that you may have misunderstood Mrs. Faker. I don't really know why she would say that."

"She did, mom," he insisted.

"Well, if she did, then I disagree with her," I said. "I believe that all kids are leaders sometimes, and all kids are followers sometimes. So you can be a leader, too!"

And here's where my dreams of Churchillian greatness started to crumble.

"But mom!" A. Peevie objected. "Every time I try to lead, nobody wants to follow!"

"What do you mean, A?" I asked.

"If I want to play a game, I tell the kids, but nobody ever wants to play what I want to play," A. Peevie explained. "They just follow The Archangel, or Xander, or Trog. I don't ever get to be the leader!" he finished with a decidedly un-leaderlike whine.

Later, I asked C. Peevie to give his perspective on A. Peevie's dilemma. "I don't know, Mom," he said, "I've never had that problem."

"But what would you do, C.," I asked him, "if you wanted your friends to follow your lead, but they didn't want to?"

"Talk louder," he said, with brutal simplicity, "and keep talking until they give in." And he meant it.

"A. Peevie," C. Peevie added, "You should take a lesson from Spongebob Squarepants. Remember when Plankton was teaching Spongebob how to be more assertive?"

"What's assertive?" A. Peevie asked.

"Assertive means saying what you want loud enough to get it," C. Peevie said. Or something like that.

"Plankton offers to teach Spongebob how to be assertive," C. continued. "He stands in Spongebob's mouth and yells at a little kid to give him his ice cream cone! 'Hey kid! Gimme your ice cream!' And the kid screams and drops his ice cream, and Spongebob says, 'Hey! he dropped his ice cream!'--and then Plankton laughs evilly because it's all part of his evil plan! 'Bwah- hah-hah!'"

By this time A. Peevie had forgotten his leadership woes and was cracking up in the back seat. C. Peevie continued with his slightly mis-remembered retelling of Spongebob's adventures in assertiveness, and any opportunity to add actual value to our discussion went up in giggles.

It was worth it, though. One kid was in his element, talking, telling tales, and entertaining his audience; and the other one was, for a brief moment, forgetting his sadness and frustration.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Santa Question, Revisited

When your kid believes in Santa, how do you deal with her inevitable encounters with the testimony of doubters and disbelievers?

Yesterday at school, a mom approached me and asked if M. Peevie still believed in Santa Claus. I told her no.

"She's been telling the little kids that Santa's not real," Mom of Little Kid (MLK) said.

"Oh," I said, feeling a little, but not a lot, guilty. "She shouldn't do that."

"Yes, I know," MLK said. "I thought I'd talk to you about it since I saw you here." And what? And then I can cast my forgetting spell so that the younger kids will have no memory of what she told them? And then I can tell M. Peevie (again) to be very careful not to talk about her mature belief system in front of the still-deluded?

MLK continued, "Yeah, my kids were telling me that a big kid at school was going around saying that Santa wasn't real, so we got the yearbook out and went through all the pictures to see who it was, and they pointed to M. Peevie."

Sooooo, you didn't just happen to see me and decide to have a little conversation about it; in fact, you spent time doing research to figure out which ill-mannered child had crossed the Santa boundary, planning to accost the bad parent who obviously neglected her parental duty to strictly instruct M. Peevie to keep the Santa Secret on penalty of...of...of something really bad.

OK, I'm probably overthinking this. But still. Instead of talking to me about my daughter's big mouth, shouldn't you be talking to your child, who will continue to encounter opinions, stories, and data that contradict her fond, innocent fantasy? Isn't it part of your job as her parent to help her make sense of her world? Surely M. Peevie isn't the only third-grader who has made the intellectual transition to reluctant realism.

Here's the real kicker: when I talked to M. Peevie, and asked her to please use discretion about her Santa skepticism around the younger kids, she told me that one of the playground moms had already had that same conversation with her. Wait, what? Really? This bugged me more than MLK having her kids pick M. Peevie out of a grade-school line-up. I asked her to tell me what happened.

"The little kids were talking about Santa," M. Peevie said. "Playground Kid asked me if I believed in Santa."

"What did you say, M.?" I asked.

"I said, 'No, I don't believe in Santa because he's not real'," she said simply. "And then Playground Mom talked to me and told me I shouldn't say that."

"What else did she say?" I asked, irritated. "Did she think you should lie to Playground Kid?"

"No," M. Peevie said. "She told me what I could say instead of saying that Santa wasn't real."

"Like what?" I asked.

"I can't remember," M. Peevie said. And this is exactly the reason that adults should not put it on a nine-year-old to protect their children's Santa-believing innocence: because she's been taught to tell the truth. Even though she doesn't exactly have to lie to avoid telling the painful truth, she would have to behave, think, and respond in a way that is beyond the mental and emotional capacity of many adults, let alone a third-grader, in order to avoid giving a direct and truthful answer. It's not fair to her.

Ironically, on the way home from school today, A. Peevie, who just turned 12, asked me if Santa was real.

"What do you think, A.?" I dissimulated, as I usually do when confronted with direct questions about the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and any other childhood larger-than-life fantasy figures. In fact, it's exactly what I did last year when he asked.

A. Peevie did not bite. "I don't know, Mom," he said. "That's why I'm asking you."

"He's not really real," M. Peevie asserted, and A. Peevie quickly and peevedly cut her off: "I'm not asking you! I'm asking mom."

"Well, A.," I said slowly. "I like to believe in Santa."

"That's not really an answer, mom," A. Peevie observed accurately. "Is he real, or not?"

"Hmm," I said, stalling for time. "Well, don't you think you're kind of Santa, when you give a gift to someone?"

"Um, no," he said. "No, I do not think I'm Santa. Is he real?"

"A.," I said, "Do you really want to know the truth?"

"Yes," he said, sadly, "Even though I think I already do."

"Yeah, I think you already do, too," I said. "But in a way, he's real, because he's an idea, a symbol of giving and generosity. He reminds us that God gave us the best gift of all, Jesus."

"So he's not real," A. Peevie concluded, and sighed a huge sigh of sorrow.

"Does that make you sad, A?" I asked.

He slumped in his seat and looked out the car window at the twinkling holiday lights flashing by. "Yes," he said; and then he was quiet the rest of the way home.

M. Peevie chimed in again, remembering our conversation about The Santa Question from a year ago. "When mommy told me that Santa wasn't real, I cried and cried," she said.