Children, as any mother would often say, are capable of saying anything.
It has nothing to do with how they’re raised. They hear things in the schoolyard, the playground and in the street, and they will repeat things that will utterly embarrass you.
The late Moose Jaw-born Art Linkletter used to celebrate this fact in a segment on his long-running NBC show House Party titled, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
On one occasion he was interviewing a young boy about 7 years old who had a forlorn look about him.
“Why so sad?” Linkletter wanted to know.
“My dog died,” the boy responded, his lip quivering.
Linkletter was taken aback, realizing that he’s blundered into dangerous territory. Fearing that the boy might burst into tears, he sought to reassure him.
“Well,” he said soothingly, “he’s up in heaven now with God.”
The boy looked at Linkletter quizzically.
“What would God want,” he wanted to know, “with a dead dog?”
During the 70s and 80s, my wife, Laurie, and I were raising our two sons in Oakville. I grew up in Sarnia in a big house with my parents and nine brothers and sisters, and Christmas was a time when everyone was expected to come home.
But our boys wanted to have Christmas at home, where they were confident that Santa Claus could find them. So, in order to satisfy both our two sons and my and Laurie’s parents, who were also in Sarnia, we worked out a compromise. We would open our presents at home on Christmas morning, then load the boys into the car for the two and a half hour drive to Sarnia.
One year, when we were back in Sarnia for Thanksgiving, my mother expressed the wish for us to have us all home on Christmas morning. By this time, I was in my late 20s. My youngest sister, Frances, and my youngest brothers, Paul and Cort, were still living at home, but my mother missed having a house full on Christmas morning, as in earlier times when all 10 children had been living at home.
So – we agreed to come home to Sarnia a couple of days before Christmas.
Michael, our youngest son, was not a fan of this idea. He fretted that Santa Claus wouldn’t know where he’d gone. This problem was alleviated only when a dear friend of ours decided to intervene. She sent a letter to Michael posing as Santa, letting Michael know that he was very familiar with the big house in Sarnia where his father and his many uncles and aunts had grown up. Michael’s fears were soothed.
But Christmas morning in the big house on London Road turned out to be a little jarring for my wife. She was brought up in a home in which everyone got together on Christmas morning to open their presents together, as a family.
It didn’t work that way in a family of twelve. People were constantly coming and going, eating breakfast at different hours, and opening presents in a haphazard manner. Friends came and went, and there were Christmas dinner preparations underway. It was a scene of only slightly controlled havoc. Laurie was disappointed by the lack of order.
One year later, as we were driving to Sarnia again, I warned Laurie that my mother would want to know whether we were going to come to Sarnia again prior to Christmas morning. Laurie told me why she didn’t want to do that again. We thought that we were having a private conversation. The boys were engrossed in playing games in the back seat.
Or so we thought.
In the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, with about eighteen of us at the big table,my mother asked the question we knew was coming. Laurie had prepared an elaborate response, designed to spare my mother’s feelings and to weave together a tale about guests coming to our place on Christmas Eve and the boys’ preference to be home on Christmas morning.
But that’s not what my mother heard. Before Laurie could say a word, my six-year-old eldest son, Colin, blurted out the words that tuned our blood to ice.
“No – my mother doesn’t like the way you do Christmas.”
Trust me. You may not think so, but they’re always listening.