My daughter’s world came crashing down on her and it was my fault. She learned that the world wasn’t the way she thought it was.
There is no tooth fairy.
Actually, the exact phrasing I used was, “I’m the tooth fairy” as I handed her a five dollar bill.
When we first got married, my wife and I pondered the whole dilemma of propagating the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and Easter Bunny myths. The Easter Bunny was easy to toss out: he’s kind of lame. We understood the myths paved the way for disappointment for our kids when the truth came out, and the likelihood of damaged credibility once it became clear that we had lied to them.
I remember that disappointment when I was kid. I also remember the thrill of expecting Santa or the tooth fairy. Somehow their involvement made it all more exciting. My disappointment wasn’t that I had been misled, but that things weren’t as magical as I had expected them to be.
As I grew older, I decided that I liked those myths being part of my childhood. Santa to me was a great embodiment of the spirit of giving.
The tooth fairy is just fun. The magic of placing a tooth under a pillow and have it turn into a gift or money is just astounding. The seeds of the miraculous are planted in the already-fertile heart of a child.
In our home, we have mostly given small toys as gifts from the tooth fairy. This started from watching a Franklin DVD we checked out from the library. If you don’t know who Franklin is, you will once you have kids the right age (kindergarten). Soon, my kids showed tooth fairy gifts to their cousins who received better toys than we had been giving. Not extravagantly so, but it upped the ante.
I occasionally found myself rushing out to K-Mart before they closed to grab a gift from the tooth fairy because my daughter produced a bloody tooth a good hour or so after bedtime and still expected the tooth fairy to deliver.
It’s tough work being a mythical character and keeping a secret identity. I don’t know how Peter Parker does it.
After a while, I couldn’t keep it up so we began leaving cash. The standard price for the toys my girls received is about five bucks.
About a year ago, my daughter started having conversations with friends who didn’t believe in Santa or the tooth fairy. She came to me: “Is Santa real?” I decided that I wouldn’t make this easy for her as we stood in the training ground for later confrontations. At some point her friends are going to say they don’t believe in God and my sure answer one way won’t be enough anymore.
So, I asked her what she thought. She told me she believed, but it was very hard sometimes. I agreed. Sometimes it is hard to believe when others tell us it’s not true. I blessed her willingness to hold fast to her convictions though.
We talked about it, looking at this in terms of the logic I had at hand. Is Mickey Mouse real? Sure he’s fictional, but there is a Mickey Mouse. I did this in preparation for the eventual crash. I wanted a subconscious connection to Santa being fictional.
When similar questions arose about the tooth fairy, I told her that I know the tooth fairy personally. I once even said it was my wife. My daughters took that to be a joke.
Last December, when a toy “accidentally” fell under my bed, the girls found some of their Christmas presents waiting to be wrapped. We thought we were busted, but the girls accepted that some gifts come from us and some from Santa. We had always labeled some from us and had been more open about that as they grew older.
I really didn’t want to have to explain Santa at Christmastime anyway. I wanted to do it some point in the year when things weren’t so charged with expectation. Of course, that was the trap I laid for myself. Their expectations were built on what I told them, so if they crashed mid-December and had major emotional meltdowns, it was my doing.
This is what I faced as I sat on my couch, snuggling my oldest daughter as she wept over her tooth fairy disappointment. I cried with her, for another step in lost innocence. It was time to come clean though. She lost a tooth a few days before and because of busyness and exhaustion, I failed to make the required late night run to buy a toy. The tooth fairy failed to deliver, and I watched my daughter’s disappointment grow. Mostly, I felt compelled to confess that the tooth fairy wasn’t the one who messed up but me. We’ve tried to teach them about admitting wrong rather than letting others take the blame.
After she cried for a bit, we talked about it some more. I pressed my case that we gave hints, trying to ease her into this. She said she knew, but she didn’t want to stop believing yet. That broke my heart again.
Then she asked if, since I was the tooth fairy, I would still give her a present the next time she lost a tooth. I promised that I would.
The next thing out of her mouth was, “You’re Santa too, aren’t you?” When I admitted to that too she cried some more. Once again, she knew more than I expected but chose to hold to the magical belief of Santa.
Surprisingly, in all of this, there never was a question that God or Jesus might not be real as well. She had experience there. She had felt God’s presence and had heard God speaking to her. He had made Himself real to her in a way that I could not.
Of course, God didn’t need me to make Him real. He is. And He’s everywhere to be found by hearts full of expectation. Like my daughter’s. I didn’t need to stand in the gap as I did with the tooth fairy, filling in to prevent failure.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be disappointment with God, or that she will question His existence. So we keep the dialogue open. What is real? What do you believe despite what others tell you? How do you know God? And, it’s OK to cry when we’re disappointed because that’s going to happen a lot. With me. With life. And even with God.