It is coming to an end and fast. Not to sound too Don Henley about it all, but he does sing about being "poisoned by these fairy tales" in his hit song "End of the Innocence". Despite his past penchant for bending not one, not two, but three simultaneous prostitutes over his couch and entering them like so many glory holes in a truck stop men's room, I suppose he knows about innocence lost as much as the next rock star.
But that isn't what I am talking about.
I am talking about the genuine article, the purest sweetest kind that still believes in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy: kid innocence.
It never occurred to me not to perpetuate the myths of my youth. I have no recollection of when and how I discovered the truth, but I am certain that I hold no grudges for being lied to, nor am I scarred by my belief in any of it.
I hope the same is true for my children.
I will never forget the look on Big's two and a half year old face when she came out on Christmas morning and the cookies and soy milk we had left out were gone, carrot bites were strewn about as if reindeer had been tramping around our tiny living room, and the coffee table had been moved aside as if some large fat man in a red suit had really visited us in the night. She froze at the sight of it, momentarily processing that someone had been in our house while we slept. The pile of glittery wrapped presents superseded any residual fear she might have had but for a short lived aversion to giant fuzzy mascots. She and, later, her sister happily accepted the unspoken deal that if they were good and followed the rules, these unseen characters would reward them with stuff a few times a year. It's been almost six years and Santa is still real, for now. The Easter Bunny is going strong, but I had to change the baskets last year because kids retain details like some sort rogue computers and spit it all back out: "how did the Easter Bunny keep the same baskets?" " how come the fake grass is always the same color?". So much for reduce recycle and reuse. How are these kids even noticing with all the crap jammed inside the basket anyway?
The Tooth Fairy is in serious trouble, though-I give her a couple of weeks. A few years back, Big panicked when she hadn't lost any teeth by five, or six and was overjoyed at seven when the two front teeth finally came out. The Tooth Fairy came and left money or gifts which Big stores in a shoe box in her dresser drawer. I have yet to be detected and have even gone so far as to reply to a note Big left in mini handwriting answering the burning question of her Fairy's name and favorite color. The problem is that other kids are starting to get wise, and she is starting to ask direct pointed questions like " Is the Tooth Fairy real, tell the truth...Mooooommmmm".
I know that the right thing to do is to tell her the truth and bribe her not to tell her sister (who just lost her first tooth), but the truth with regard to childhood lore is a slippery slope: Once the Tooth Fairy is exposed as the boozy, lying fraud that she is, the other myths will follow suit and then it's over. Since we aren't religious, all of those holidays will just become about over consumption and acquisition. Blech.
I came close to ruining Christmas last summer when a note that Big had left for Santa showed up weeks later in a folder full of old holiday cards. I was cleaning out a box of crap and the note was in there, likely jammed in on Christmas morning before they came downstairs. She had taped a calculator to a piece if paper so he could figure out how many miles he had left to travel and scrawled something adorable next to it. She saw it under a small pile of stuff and seized it indignantly-"My NOTE! Didn't Santa take it?" I stammered and came up with some lame excuse that it must have gotten blown into the holiday cars when he opened the door to leave. She bought it, and we moved on, but this Tooth Fairy Inquisition is hardcore. If there is a quiet moment, she tries to pin me down. I deflected the first round with an impromptu discussion about puberty, going so far as to show them a picture book about reproduction. They were sufficiently grossed out by the cartoon drawings of girls and boys at the various stages of growth, and- despite being repeatedly compared to the drawing of the grandmother, whose breasts sagged at her wrinkled, old belly button-my diversion worked. Things got quiet when I explained that they, too, would grow hair on their private parts-possibly as early as fourth grade. "There goes childhood!" proclaimed Big, leaving the room in disgust. Little just giggled uncomfortably, thankful at last to be the younger one. From the mouths of babes...
We got a break from all the questions and "Come on, Mom, you can tell me the truth"-s with the puberty talk, followed by Thanksgiving/ Hanukkah/Christmas, but this is not over by a long shot. I would have taken her aside months ago and explained, but since I am one half of a parenting team- the less romantic, more practical half- I need to convince my husband that it's time to tell the truth.
But it's not that easy. Santa squeaked by with some inventive use of 99 cent store labels that say "from Santa" and special wrapping paper that is now hidden in our garage until school starts so it can be donated. They were thrilled by the sit on bouncy balls that Santa brought them- the "surprise gift" from their carefully written letters where they proclaimed themselves worthy of their requests. "That Santa is a genius," I said. "I'm Good! I'm Good!" cried Little, bouncing wildly around the living room. My husband beamed. Yep, innocence is awesome.
Just after Christmas, the Tooth Fairy came for Little. As I scrawled out the teeny words in response to Little's note: "Dear Tooth Fairy, What is your name and what is your favorite color?", I did have a pang of regret. What are we protecting? Who is being served? I got an answer the next morning, when Little crawled into bed at 4:12, exhilarated from the receipt of a ten dollar bill and a response from her very own Tooth Fairy. It was confirmation from a trusted, widely acknowledged non-parental source that she was good, worthy, deserving. Big read the note and tossed it aside- " it looks like Mom's writing". I then spent an embarrassing amount of time writing out the same words the Tooth Fairy had written on a separate piece of paper, emphatically pointing out the differences and joking with her that hand writing analysis is not in her future. I think, hopefully, that Big wants to believe. Yes, she will be confused by our choice to deflect rather than explain. There are significant issues of trust and respect that will definitely need to be addressed, but I will ask her to join in on keeping it all alive for her younger sister and hope that in doing so, she will come to understand the magic of myth and its infinite whimsy, imagination, hopefulness, wonder, escape. If that makes me a lying sack of shit, so be it.