In 7th grade I was asked to write an essay about when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. One smart-alack in the back of the class piped up with, “What do you mean he isn’t real?” The teacher swallowed for a minute and then everyone started laughing.
But in reality, one of my classmates whose family was not Christian simply wrote only two sentences on her paper. “My family is not Christian. We don’t celebrate Christmas so I never believed in Santa Claus.” And the teacher apologized to her in class the next day.
Be it the Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, Elf on the Shelf, Jack Frost or the jolly bearded guy in the red suit, we tell our children these stories. Some have lessons behind them and some are purely for fun.
My 5 year old frequently borrows pennies from me in order to bait the Leprechaun traps he constructs of ladders, shoe boxes and other household junk. Together we write notes to the Leprechaun, who usually remembers to leave a note in return before taking the penny. It is all mischievous fun and trickery.
My daughter is 7 now and we are at the crux where some of her friends believe in these magical characters and others do not. Yesterday at the bus stop, a friend showed us the newest gap in her mouth. I mistakenly asked, “Did the tooth fairy come last night?”
To which the friend replied, “My mom is the tooth fairy. She told me.”
My daughter, who still believes, or at least still wants to believe, looked at me strangely and then back to her friend and said, “Well, we have a real tooth fairy at our house. Right, Mom?”
Knowing that the bus was about to arrive in 30 seconds, I simply agreed and gave her an extra large hug. But when the bus rumbled in, I felt as though it was picking her up from childhood and taking her closer and closer to grown-up land.
We all know the perils of grown-up land: mortgages, bosses, taxes, burned dinners, flat tires and diapers. In grown-up land, there is definitely no one leaving money under my pillow. And while I do love watching her grow up, there is certain sweetness when children believe and defend these characters with all their hearts. It makes their eyes twinkle and glow with curiosity.
And while The Conversation is clearly in our near future, I have mixed feelings about it. Yes, it is the end of her ‘believing era’ but it is also a moment for us to have a mature and honest conversation which will hopefully set the stage for the many more hard ones to come as she becomes a tween and a teen.
But I am also nervous, because I’m not exactly sure what to say.