My 10 year old daughter believes there is a magical entity that sneaks into her room in the middle of the night to purchase her baby teeth.
It never occurs to her that this might not be reasonable.
She also believes that on one particular Sunday every April, a giant, partially-human hare hops up to our front door and delivers a basket filled with chocolate treats, just for her.
This to me is not sensible.
And like so many other young people at this time of year, my daughter accepts as absolute fact that there is an all-seeing, all-knowing gentleman who flies around on magic reindeer once a year to deliver presents to all of the children in the world.
She does not find this – any of it – to be absurd. Here’s a portion of her latest note to Santa:
Yet this is the same 10 year-old young lady who will loudly and proudly proclaim herself, at every opportunity, to be an atheist, because of “science.”
“Daddy – everything that Christians believe, can be explained by science. For example, the big bang was responsible for creating the universe, not God.”
This selective rationality can be a little bit frustrating sometimes, particularly when, one minute I hear her lecturing our local vicar on how there is no actual proof of an afterlife and the next she is filling out a wish list for Father Christmas, that she addresses “to The North Pole,” with full confidence that it will reach its destination.
One recent day, I confronted her on this contradiction:
“Why is it that you are so quick to dismiss the idea of a God, and yet you never have any kinds of questions about how Santa Claus manages to visit every child in the world in one night? Where’s your cynicism about that?”
“But Daddy, Father Christmas probably has access to very advanced technology.”
See what I mean? Frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m okay with her believing in the existence of magical entities that bring her gifts – after all, I’m complicit in it, since it’s often me who places the money under her pillow, arranges the chocolate for her basket and stuffs presents in her stocking. And I’m not about to try to coerce or convince her to believe in God. She has to find her own way.
But I wanted to at least understand why her belief system was so contradictory. Why is she guileless and accepting of some things, but shrewd and cynical when it comes to other things? In other words, I wanted to know why it was “yes Santa” but “no Jesus?” Where was Nancy Drew to help me solve this mystery?
Maybe science could help me find an answer
My best guess is that if she gets something out of it, she’s willing to believe, or at least to suspend her disbelief. And it does not seem to apply to abstract rewards, such as the promise of going to heaven. If my kid thought Jesus would bring her chocolate bars twice a year, she’d probably declare herself a devout Christian.
So I decided to test her faith system. One evening, as she gets ready to go to bed, I tell her about The Crockery Kraken.
“After I tuck you in, I’ve got to go do the dishes. I’m really keen to see if I can get the Crockery Kraken to show up.”
“What? What is the…crookery cracker?”
“Crockery Kraken. You really don’t know about the Crockery Kraken?”
“No – what is it?”
So I tell her.
Release the Kraken!
The Crockery Kraken, I explain – as everybody knows – is a magical cephalopod that lives in the pipes underneath your house and comes up out of the sink in the morning, before anyone wakes up, to check to see if the dishes have been washed. Clean, dry dishes please the Crockery Kraken. If he comes up out of the drain and finds an empty sink, with spotlessly clean dishes nearby, he will leave a shiny 50 pence coin as a reward.
She is a little skeptical.
“Is this real daddy? How come I never heard of the Crockery Kraken before?”
“Everyone knows about the Crockery Kraken. Maybe we never discussed it before because you were a little too young to do dishes. But sometimes I earn three pounds a week from doing dishes, thanks to the Crockery Kraken. That’s why Daddy is always doing dishes.”
“Are you just trying to trick me so that I do the dishes?”
It’s clear that I’m not raising a stupid child.
Put on defence, I start laying it on pretty thick. I tell her how I don’t want her to do dishes, because I’d rather have all that money for myself. I don’t care if she believes me- not only do I get a nice shiny 50 pence coin every time I do the dishes, but I also get a chance at getting Dishes Wishes.
“Dishes wishes? What are those?”
Dishes Wishes – as everybody also knows – are wishes that the Crockery Kraken grants in very rare circumstances to someone who has done a particularly thorough job of cleaning the crockery. I explain how I’ve not yet ever been granted Dishes Wishes, but I was hoping for it to happen some day soon. Just imagine – a wish – anything you wanted!
She still seems a bit unsure – looking closely at my face for any hint of a smile to indicate I’m joking. There is no smile. I’m not joking, I assure her, and I can prove it. I tell her we’ll look up the Crockery Kraken together on Google in the morning if she doesn’t believe me.
All myths & legends have to start somewhere
This could be the moment when you, my dear reader, might be thinking that I am taking things too far. After all, you are confident that there is in fact no such thing as a Crockery Kraken. And it probably occurs to you that I have made all of this nonsense up just to deceive a child into doing the dishes for me – just as she suspected. And further, you are probably thinking that I’ve overplayed my hand by daring her to search online for this creature, because, after all, kids are smart and she is going to wake up in the morning, type the words “the Crockery Kraken” into Google and discover that no such thing exists or has ever existed.
But you have underestimated me. At this point, I’ve already been working on creating a Crockery Kraken for weeks.
Three weeks before our chat, I created a Crockery Kraken website, which I made to resemble a Wikipedia page. Two weeks before, I made the Crockery Kraken Facebook page. And the night before, just to be extra thorough, I made another website – a Crockery Kraken ‘fanpage’ on Blogspot.
And even before that there was a lot of research that had gone into creating my mythological monster. In order to properly deconstruct my child’s belief system, I felt that I needed to invent a creature that was patently ludicrous, but one that still offered enough of a reward to tempt her.
Plus I hate doing the dishes.
So I came up with the idea of a magical entity that would give my kid money in exchange for her doing the dishes for me. Science plus self-interest. Genius, I thought to myself.
So I created…the Dish Dwarf. No that didn’t sound magical enough. The Flatware Fairy? Too similar to the Tooth Fairy. The Tableware Triad…The Sink Centaur…the Plate Pixie? I finally settled on “the Crockery Kraken,” which sounded impressive and ancient, and with more than a hint of menace, so he would be taken seriously. At least that’s what I thought.
The Kraken in action
With all that work having been done, I was able to launch my experiment, tell my child about the Kraken, kiss her goodnight, close the door to her room, and go to the kitchen to wash the dishes, secure in the knowledge that all my bases were covered. All that remained to do was to place a shiny 50 pence coin next to the sink when I was done, for her to discover in the morning.
But the next day, instead of going to the kitchen to check for coins, my daughter wakes up and immediately searches for “The Crockery Kraken” on the computer – and she doesn’t find any results.
I had forgotten that websites need traffic to show up in search engine results, and apparently, no one else on the planet had ever typed the phrase “Crockery Kraken” into Google before. My experiment was in trouble, and I needed to act fast.
“Hey kid, you must be using Google wrong, give the laptop to me and I’ll show you how much information there is on the Crockery Kraken.”
This buys me some time. I proceed to pull up all three pages I have created and hand the laptop back to my kid. She reads, her eyes wide in amazement, but after just a minute or two, her brow furrows and her expression changes to outrage.
“Wait a minute Daddy – this webpage has the URL ‘Do the Wrong Thing Dot Com’ – that’s your blog! You did this! This is all fake!”
My Kraken goes down the drain
I was sunk. The experiment was a failure and my daughter had caught me in a lie. A really elaborate and completely unnecessary lie.
This kid was more cynical and more observant than I had anticipated. I had assumed she would be so caught up in reading the content of the sites, that it would never occur to her to check their origins. For all my work, I hadn’t bothered to cover my tracks enough. This 10-year-old had a nose for fake news.
“I knew this was a joke. Daddy, it just didn’t make sense. How could the Kraken fit down the drain?”
“Of course it didn’t make sense. That was the point. But a lot of things don’t make sense. How does Father Christmas fit down all those chimneys? Does that make sense?”
“He just fits – and if he doesn’t, he uses magic!”
Frustrating. Again. We were back where we started. Some things she just believes, for other things, she carefully checks website URLs.
I started thinking to myself how it had all gone so wrong: “If I really wanted to make this work, I should have started in with the Crockery Kraken slowly and gradually and built it up over a few months. Years even. Built a tradition out of it over time. And it would help if I could have gotten other people to talk about the Crockery Kraken as well, so she didn’t just hear about it from me.”
And that was when it hit me, like a sloppy wet tentacle across my face.
The answer had been in front of me the whole time. The reason my daughter believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy is that I had been priming her for those her entire life. And not just me, but her family, her friends, books that we had been reading to her since she was an infant, and an entire industry of television shows, songs and movies – all working for the same thing – to get her to believe in magical creatures. All she had to do was believe, and she would get rewarded.
I still didn’t quite understand why this system worked so well for the Easter Bunny and not for Jesus, but clearly, my Kraken was an isolated Johnny-come-lately and never stood any chance at all.
You’ve got to get started on them when they’re young. Really young. Offer them a concrete reward to sweeten the pot. And even then, you may not be able to convince them. And you can’t do it alone.
A few websites would never be enough. It takes a village… to brainwash a kid into believing in really stupidly obviously fake magical monsters. That’s what I learned from all of this.
Oh, and I learned one more thing:
A few days later, my daughter was doing one of her chores, which involves taking clothes off the drying rack and putting them into a hamper to be put away. My wife and I were in the room, reading, when she called over for our attention.
“Wait a minute – mummy, daddy, look at this!”
She had a sock in her hand from the laundry and she was turning it inside out. As she did so, a shiny, new, one-pound coin dropped out neatly into her hand.
“Look! It’s a one-pound coin FROM THE LAUNDRY LOCH NESS! Everyone knows he gives one-pound coins to whoever has put away the laundry. Which is me! So I get one pound!”
She then popped the coin into her pocket and ran off to her room, slamming the door behind her. This was mockery of the highest order. It was also revenge. It had required planning, patience and comic timing. All just to get back at me.
I had indeed successfully created a monster, just not the one I had intended to.