It’s not lying, it’s adding magic to childhood +Andrea Kleine’s “Calf”

I’ve told my girls lies for years. The same lies year after year, time after time.  And, when I look around, I think most of the people I know tell their kids those same lies.

About Santa, especially. Also the Tooth Fairy. And finally, the Easter Bunny.

Let it be known loud and clear that I have no problem telling these lies. Thinking back, when I found out truths about these entities, I did not feel lied to or betrayed. I felt like I was old enough to be on the other side of it, to spread these stories of belief and magic and wonder to younger children. It was my turn to give back, in some way.

So this isn’t a post about how bad I feel about these ‘lies.’ To me, they thumb (1)aren’t really lies. There a way I, and other parents, can make childhood more magical. And everyone needs magic in their life.

But to that end, I do have a problem. I forget to do things that add to the fun and magic of these fantasy creatures. Because my brain is full of other fun stuff that gets in the way, and, at some point, I need to sleep (and it seems like kids don’t sleep until they’re done believing).

In other words, I’ve lied to perpetuate the lies.

And I’m pretty good.

The Tooth Fairy forgot to get your tooth (many, many times)? You get a note on the breakfast table explaining that because you were sleeping soooo soundly and hard that the Tooth Fairy couldn’t get under the pillow. My older daughter got that note  enough times that I swear she still believes that no one can touch her pillow because she’s such a sound sleeper.

She’s 12. And no longer believes in the Fairy of Teeth.

My younger daughter has a loft bed, and the tooth fairy can’t get up there (because she forgets). Before the loft bed, though, she caught me putting money under her pillow one morning (because I forgot the night before). I told her I was “checking” to see how much her tooth was worth.

She bought it.

And my Eater Bunny story. The girls had gone to bed, so I put there baskets out in the kitchen and went up to bed. Their dad, my husband, was still up, but oblivious to what was going on as far as the Easter Bunny went. So, when Libby got up to get a drink of water and headed to the kitchen, he didn’t stop her (even though she walked right in front of him). She came running out, screaming, causing me to run downstairs and to get Ted’s attention. “The Easter Bunny must be going backwards with the alphabet this year! He’s already COME to our house!!!” (Our name starts with U). It was about 10:30. She was about 6 or 7.


But I’ve never had to lie or make up stories about Santa. (Well, other than the basics of Santa, and the one about the elves, and the one about Santa’s helpers at the mall and on the street dressed like Santa–just those lies.) I think it’s because I believe in Santa somewhere in my heart.

We did one time make a story about an elf. Just before Christmas, the screen on Libby’s (older daughter) iPod Touch cracked. It was my old one, she was 7 (I think), and we already had her big ‘gift’ done. There was no way she was getting a new one. My brilliant handy husband figured out how to replace the screen, so we had the beginning of an idea.

I had her put the iPod in a box, and write a note asking if it could be fixed. On Christmas morning, the iPod was returned with a note from Santa’s tech elf “Steve,” who got it taken care of easily and in time for the sleigh.

That bought us a few more years of belief.

Talking about elves, we’ve never done The Elf on The Shelf. Katy (younger daughter with Down syndrome) got freaked out by them for a few years, so I skipped that trend. So glad–I would be making up lies daily as to why our elf never moved and didn’t do all the fun things other elves did.

I’m not going to go into an Elf on the Shelf rant. Not today, at least.

The point of this is that I’ve lied about these mythical creatures in order to keep the myth alive. But I’ve never had to lie or spin stories about why Santa let the girls down, because I believe in Santa. He’s in my heart–he’s a part of me. He lives in me in my love of giving, his heart shows on the smiles on my girl’s faces on the day we put up or Christmas tree, on the eager, loving looks in their eyes as they give me the ugly earrings or smelly bubble bath they bought for me with their own money, remembering that I love candy canes and baths.

Feel free to look down at me because I ‘lie’ to my kids about these myths. Feel free to do it your own way, or don’t do it at all. I do it because I think that kids deserve a little magic in their lives. Childhood is too short and hard truths come fast. If I can give my girls a little magic before and during those truths, I will.

Even if you take away the others, I will lie about Santa all day long. Because Christmas is magic, and Santa is Christmas. Putting Santa into my girls’ hearts is the least I can do.  And, if I do it right, that magic won’t go away, and my girls will hold the joy of giving (Santa’s real magic) in her heart forever.

Okay, onto Andrea Kleine’s Calf, a deeply unsettling novel. And not Santa-ish at all.

 A fiction based on the author’s own memories of tragic events in the 1980’s, Calf is a well researched look psychosis.

The Premise

Eleven year-old Tammy is a young girl on the verge of everything. Living near the ritzy homes in a Vriginia suburb of Washington DC, she’s on the verge of being popular. She’s on verge of growing up. She’s on the verge of losing it and exploding on her mom, stepfather, younger sister, and little step-brother.

We watch her little sister Steffi slide smoothly into popularity with her new best friend Kirin, a girl with a ditzy mom (Valerie) and an absent father living next to Tammy’s new, popular, snotty friend Gretchen. When the girls’ spend the night at Kirin’s house, Valerie tells her all about the angels that guide her life.

What she doesn’t tell them is that the angels are telling her to kill Kirin and herself.

On the other side of the country and then nearby, we also meet Jeffrey Hackney, a young man unable to find himself who spirals into obsession. The reader is along on his journey from Dallas to Hollywood back to Dallas and then to DC, where his mental illness becomes obsession with a young actress. And that obsession turns deadly when he thinks he has to save her.

Told in dual voices that are very different, Calfgets to the heart of mental illness and how it affects those near and far.

My Thoughts

In the 1981 John Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan in an assassination attempt, and Andrea Kleine’s young friend was killed by her socialite mother, Leslie DeVeau, in an apparent psychotic break. They were both sent to St. Elizabeth’s hospital after being found guilty by reason of insanity. The pair met and became lovers while there.

Kleine does a great job of telling these two stories in a fictionalized way. The character Tammy’s story is told in more of a teenage girl’s diary kind of way, getting into the mind of an adolescent girl watching mental illness from down the street. Her story is the story of mental illness affecting not only the family (in the killing of a young child), but also those all around: neighbors, friends, friends of friends. How far that mental illness can push a group of young girls.

I can imagine the author looking at her diary from this tempestuous time in her life and coming up with Tammy’s story.

On the other side is Jeffrey, the character most similar to John Hinckley Jr. Kleine must have done a ton of research on mental illness, obsession, and stalking, because she seemed to nail Jeffrey’s state of mind (I don’t know if it was right on, because I’ve never been there, but it sounded good!).

The book starts off really slow, but it kind of has to in order to get the character’s stories and worlds set and understandable. Once the story gets moving, though, the reader is in it, which makes the slow moving background understandable.

Both Tammy and Jeffrey are believable, their voices and stories understandable and varied.

My only issue with the book is in the ending. I wanted more of Jeffrey and Valerie in the hospital, a little understanding of their treatment and how they meet (we know that John Hinckley and Leslie DeVeau meet and fall into bed, and the ending kind of foreshadows that happening with Jeffrey and Valerie).

Calf is depressing and thought provoking, but very engrossing, highlighting a time before good mental health, when stalkers weren’t taken too seriously. This snapshot of the early 80’s shows an more innocent age, even while the country dealt with the Cold War and a recession.

I give Calf 3.5 stars, because of the slow start and the ending without the rest of Jeffrey and Valerie’s story. Despite those missteps, it is a superb look into madness.



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