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My 6-year-old just came home from school sobbing. Apparently her teacher had the kids write letters to Santa today asking him to not bring presents but make their wish for coronavirus to go away. My daughter could barely tell me about it, she was crying so hard.
I feel this is f*cked up on a variety of levels — especially because my daughter was crying that she feels bad, but she wants coronavirus to go away AND to get the Barbie rescue set.
I feel like I have to talk to the teacher, right?! Like I have to tell her, "That was kind of traumatic for my kid, and now she's convinced everyone's going to die because she wants a Barbie and also SHE STILL BELIEVES IN SANTA, PLEASE DON'T RUIN THIS FOR HER." I mean, what happens when coronavirus doesn't go away on December 26? Did Santa just ignore everyone's wish? Jesus.
Dear Can't Even,
JESUS. WHAT WAS SHE THINKING.
It just so happens I'm watching Big Little Lies, a TV show about a community of rich, mostly White, cis-het moms in Monterey, California, all of whom have kids in the first grade, just like you (or not like you: Do you spend thousands of dollars on a Frozen birthday party?). So I have some ideas about what not to do when there's trouble brewing at the local elementary school: Don't start a petition. Don't barge into the principal's office threatening a lawsuit. And don't try to solve a problem by shoving, throttling, or eye-gouging.
But yes, talk to the teacher. The question is how, and what to say.
My first instinct is to try to figure out where the teacher could have been coming from — to imagine what possible goal she might have had.
Some ideas: She was thinking that writing to Santa was an opportunity for the kids to practice empathy. Or that the exercise would become a chance for them to express their feelings about a shared experience (the year 2020) in an age-appropriate format (letter to Santa).
Or, the teacher has slowly been losing her mind since the spring, when the schools shut down, her livelihood was put at risk at the same time as her health, even her life, depending on whether her state mandated in-person classes and what protections were required (or even allowed), at the same time she was separated from her support system, expected to parent and school her own children full-time at the same time as schooling other people's children, which suddenly involved learning a whole lot of technology, shifting all her lessons to something both accessible and engaging online, creating paper versions each week for the kids without reliable internet and/or appropriate devices for learning and then traveling all over tarnation in an attempt to deliver them and connect with the kids sitting in the dark all day with relatives too old or too young to take care of them while their parents went off to essential jobs, attempting to distribute laptops and shelf-stable meals to families, and buying, sorting, and distributing school supplies, and maybe after eight months of the government bumbling the pandemic response and more than 250,000 deaths and a third wave of coronavirus cases sweeping the country, she is spiraling with fear and exhaustion and imagines that thirty or so extra letters to Santa Claus asking for it all to stop couldn't hurt.
Couple problems, of course. First, the not bringing presents. I suspect that, in her delicate state, the teacher has retained only a loose grasp of the concept of Santa Claus. Santa Claus is an emblem, a manifestation, of our consumer culture. This is why he appears in malls, including the conference room of the mall in Quincy, Illinois, down a long tile hallway next to the bathrooms, where girls much cooler than this writer would shellac themselves with hair spray and lip gloss. He's a guest of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, another White male hero, a fantasy, a capitalist shill. He is not a magician. He takes orders and makes sh*t in his workshop. He brings kids toys. He does not grant wishes.
Second, Santa does not distribute gifts equally in the first place, so this exercise may have been particularly hard for the students who do not experience multitudes on Christmas morning (or eve, depending on tradition). To wit: I wait all year for one lousy present donated by the Salvation Army, and now this b*tch tells me I can't have it?
Also, HELLO NOT EVERYONE CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS. Were the Muslim kids in the class made to do this assignment? The Jewish kids?
This is what I suggest: Take a breath. You've probably already had a conversation with your daughter, but you can talk with her as much as she needs, for as long as she's upset (and she may have internalized this, so feel free to bring it up when she doesn't appear to be upset). Reassure her that Santa brings presents, that that's his only job, that it's fine for her to wish for other things — a good practice, actually — but granting wishes is not within Santa's power. That her getting a Barbie rescue set is not connected to the coronavirus. That it is not within her power to control the coronavirus — but that what she's doing already (wearing a mask, washing her hands, and socially distancing — right?) is a huge help.
As for the teacher? I would start by sending her a gift card and thanking her for everything she's done so far, for your kid and the other kids, during this horrible time. And before you light in, ask for her version of what happened — there's the slight chance a 6-year-old misinterpreted a teacher's directions.
Then, just tell her what happened on your end: That your kid came home crying after the assignment. That the assignment may have been well-intended, but the impact was that your kid felt responsible for the coronavirus, confused to be made to ask for something she didn't want (WHO WRITES A LETTER TO SANTA ASKING FOR NO TOYS ONLY KIDS UNDER DURESS), sad that she might no longer be getting a toy, and then guilty for being sad because she wanted a toy.
And that's it.
Don't get me wrong: The teacher messed up. But the more important thing is your conversation with your kid. Focus on that. As for the teacher, it should be enough that 1). you're reaching out about this, 2). you're telling her she made your kid cry. Next steps, if there are any, can be left up to her.
I'VE LEARNED A LOT FROM PEOPLE TELLING ME I MESSED UP. I HEARD IT BEST WHEN THEY WERE NICE ABOUT IT. WHEN THEY WERE ANGRY OR SELF-RIGHTEOUS OR FLAMED ME ON FACEBOOK AND THEN BLOCKED ME I HAD TO WORK THROUGH MY DEFENSIVENESS FIRST. WE ARE ALL IN A FRAGILE STATE AND A LOT OF US ARE MESSING UP RIGHT NOW. THAT REMINDS ME I OWE MY PARTNER AN APOLOGY ABOUT SOMETHING BRB. YOU GOT THIS.
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