For most of my life I’ve been led to believe that I have a great imagination. In my younger years, thanks to parents and unauthorized parties and boyfriends and unauthorized other boyfriends, and minimum wage employers and unauthorized hangovers, I came to discover that I’m a pretty good liar. Yet one crucial element of parenthood completely throws me for a loop – the benevolent imaginary creature- the Santas and Tooth Fairies.
In my defense, I did not have a lot of reference material from my own childhood. As Jews, we didn’t have Santa Claus. From an early age my parents were very clear that Santa was make believe but I probably shouldn’t tell that to other kids my age. We lived in Kentucky and being a Christ-killer was hard enough without also being a Santa-killer.
I did not start losing teeth until the middle of second grade, and I was a second child and my mother had pretty much lost patience with the whole thing by then. So, when on my second or third tooth I got a note from the tooth fairy, written not only in my mother’s handwriting, but also in the green pen that she used for grading student papers, I was pretty aware that the Tooth Fairy did not exist (although I continued to pretend to believe, because, come on a quarter is a quarter).
When my own children were born I became very worried that if I didn’t tell them the truth about Santa they would feel left out, but if I did they might accidentally spill the beans to non-Jewish children. So, I very carefully answered every Santa question with “I don’t know, I’ve never had Santa, you’ll have to ask your friends.”
Miraculously, it worked. But then, came the fairies. My daughter started believing in fairies and wanting to bake cookies for them, and leaving them notes. “Hooray!” I thought. My chance to help my child believe in childhood magic. But, that meant writing notes back, and arranging for fairy visits while were were gone, and somehow inventing names for fairies. Harold Mookey, I invented a fairy named Harold Mookey, that’s how bad I am at this stuff.
Then came the Tooth Fairy. I couldn’t figure out how the Tooth Fairy knew about lost teeth, so I invented the Tooth Fairy hotline. Then my daughter thought maybe if I was calling the Tooth Fairy hotline I could tell them she wanted a sleeping bag for her doll instead of money. So there were rules about presents for your first two teeth and money thereafter. It all became way too complicated, way too quickly.
Then this year, after a hiatus, my children, at seven and nine, have been bringing up Santa again. My seven-year-old has been telling me that he doesn’t exist. I’ve kept to my line of “I don’t know, I’ve never had Santa. What do your friends think?” My nine-year-old though has been speaking wistfully of Santa. Of how you can ask Santa for anything and he brings it, of how a friend of hers got an iPad from Santa.
There are four things about Santa I have never understood. 1. How do you explain that Santa isn’t bringing something expensive that you don’t want to buy? 2. How do you explain that Santa brings nicer things to wealthier kids than he does to poor kids? 3. If you’re going to buy your kid an iPad for Christmas, don’t you want the credit? 4. Why? Given how much trouble all the minor make-believe stuff is, why take the busiest time of year, the time of year the most filled with expectations and disappointments, and add in this insanely more complicated wild card that could come crashing down on you at any minute?
I’d had enough, and I figured at almost ten, if she tells a classmate the truth, it isn’t the end of the world. So, I said it, “Honey, Santa did not bring her an iPad, her parents bought her an iPad. Santa does not exist and you don’t need an iPad because you use mine.”
The look on her face was pretty clear. She already knew Santa wasn’t real. She hadn’t been talking about Santa because she thought he was real, but because she sort of wished he was. She sort of wished she could believe in something a little magical that makes dreams come true.
For a brief minute I kind of got it. I kind of understood why other people put themselves through this. My guess is, if the kids and their friends have figured out Santa, they’ve probably figured out the Tooth Fairy, too.
My hope is that when they grow up they won’t feel like they missed out on the magic of Santa or the Tooth Fairy. My hope is that they’ll think their childhood had a different kind of magic. The kind of magic that can only be brought about by a fairy named Harold Mookey!