Almost a year ago to the day, this happened:
We sat down to dinner with our friends and talked about our children who enjoyed each other's company so much. We talked about their schooling and their interests and their friendship, and then, because it was the season, we talked about the Great Lies we tell them. I was surprised and not surprised at how important the Lies were for them. Surprised because I thought they'd care less then they did, not surprised because i feel the weight of the lies on my shoulders too but am myself also reluctant to shrug it off. I think because preserving the lies preserves our children's innocence and youth, and allows us to slow the passing of time that every parent agrees 'goes by too quickly'.
A week later a second set of friends were visiting our house from out of town. The kids sat at the table and started to chat. Their oldest boy is in a 'bad' stage. Everything is "STUPID" and he has forgotten the manners his parents taught him. He knows how to do everything even if you have to help him do it, and he snatches things out of your hand without a word. It's irritating. I'm positive i was EXACTLY like he is at his age. I'm positive EVERY boy is exactly that way at his age.
"There's no Tooth Fairy," he said, "that's STUPID." He appeared about to launch into a dissertation about the subject. He started to talk about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny before his parents jumped in, horror stricken and redirected and began damage control. Emma sat, unfazed.
The following night as we decorated the Christmas tree, Emma pounced. . . on her mother, because i think she senses weakness. She was very careful. She knows we talk in circles. She's picking it up. She senses redirection and attacks when we temporize.
"I need you to tell me the TRUTH." (She really emphasized that word). "I just want to know, once and for all, and I want you to be totally honest with me. . . "
We waited with baited breath, tension in the air. I was hanging an ornament on the tree as she spoke, trying to "act naturally". Santa was about to die. My little girl was killing Santa tonight.
"HONESTLY. . . do you and daddy put money under my pillow when I lose a tooth, or is it a tooth fairy. And please tell me the truth. I really want to know."
There was a hush in the room, broken only by Christmas music, the Glee Christmas album, playing softly on my office computer. Thank god thank god thank god repeated in an endless loop in my head.
"I promise i won't be sad."
From my vantage point on the other side of the Christmas tree, i could see my wife, a proverbial deer in the headlights of the truck full of dreams my daughter was about to crash into her, but my daughter couldn't see me. I gave her a head nod. We'd been expecting something like this ever since the visit. She floundered. Though she'd not responded to my nod, I stepped in and said, essentially, this:
The tooth fairy is a secret that only very mature children are allowed to know. Parents put money under their children's pillows to surprise and delight them, and when they're old enough that they can be trusted to keep the secret from their friends and little brothers and sisters and other children NOT mature enough to know, then they are told. And the way parents know their children are ready, is when they ask, as Emma had, in no uncertain terms, for the truth. I also told her, that knowing the truth didn't mean that she wouldn't get money under her pillow after her next tooth, just that she'd know where it came from.
She accepted this truth and promised not to divulge it to her friends/sister. And we waited for the next hammer blow. Because what IS Santa, but a wingless magical fairy delivering presents to good little boys and girls? But it stopped there. Is it wrong that I was excited she only killed the Tooth Fairy? I was.
I think i've said this before. I want her to hold on to the magic as long as she can, but I don't want her to be teased because she's the last one of her friends to know the truth.
To paraphrase a quote from the movie "Dave", "I can kill a fairy. I can kill a hundred fairies." Santa though. . . that's tougher.