My 8 year-old neice decided last month that she was going to write to the President to tell him that she felt (in her words) sad whenever she thought about all the kids whose mommies and daddies were far away from them in Iraq for such a long time, and that she misses her mommy and daddy if they go away for a weekend, so it must be so sad for those kids who don't see their mommies and daddies for months and could he please do everything he could to bring the mommies and daddies home to their children? She also added that she felt sad for the families in New Orleans who had no money and what could she do to help him help them?
It was so sweet when she said she wanted to write to him. She's a really smart almost wise-beyond-her-years kid (we are sometimes quite sure that she has the soul of a little old lady who now and again makes her say things that she most definitely did not hear in her house, like, "Lolly (her nickname for me), that is a very flattering color on you.") So when she said she wanted to write to the President, my sister sat down with her and helped her with her penmanship, with looking online for the White House zip code, looking up how to spell a few words correctly, etc. A real all-American moment.
Well, yesterday was The Big Day. As she said, "George Bush wrote back to me!!" She handled the envelope with the White House return address so carefully, so reverently. She had my mom open the envelope so as not to rip it haphazardly. She pulled out the letter, unfolded it, and squealed with delight that The President of the United States had written back to her and SIGNED THE LETTER HIMSELF. She was delighted that he had included a photo of himself coming out of a helicopter, and told her dad (who suggested putting it on a dart board) that if he did, she would write back to the President and tell him about her dad's disrespect for the Office of the Presidency (again--little old lady, anyone?).
And then it all came undone. As we all know, the letter from the President was sent from a staff of 20 year-olds who first skim her letter for key words and then send back the appropriate form letter. Unfortunately, they missed the part about Iraq and soldiers, opting instead to send her a Katrina-themed form letter. Well, this 8 year-old was not havin' it. She was furious. "He didn't even mention the mommies and the daddies!" We all knew it was a form letter cranked out by the Correspondence Office and that George Bush no more knew about the existence of my niece than he did about the existence of WMDs. But how to tell this to a child? We all felt like I'm sure Christian parents do when the question of Santa Claus arises. Is now the time to pull back the curtain of fantasy and wonder on this child's belief? Or do we wait until the reality of who Santa Claus is has already begun to sink in to the child's intellect; to the point where the child herself is wondering, "Okay, really. He can't possibly fit down our chimney. Hey--wait--we don't even have a chimney..."
So we decided to let the fantasy exist. Believe me, reality will be painful enough when it hits, for so many reasons. Why inflict it on an 8 year-old?! So if you see my niece: George Bush personally received and read her letter. He was probably very busy and forgot to mention the mommies and the daddies when writing back to her. We're sure he feels bad about that. But he was kind enough to put in a photo for her, which she can show her friends at school, and isn't that neat?
Oh--and because I am the crazy aunt who, come to think of it, sometimes uses older-lady words like "flattering" in front of her, I offered to help her write another letter to the President to thank him for his recent reply but to tell him that he didn't give her an answer to her original question, and she is still wondering about the mommies and daddies in Iraq.