Do Stop Believing
A little before she turned eight, my daughter Q had a loose tooth succumb to a spoon full of lemon yogurt. As she wrote a note for the Tooth Fairy (asking for both the cash and the tooth to be left, please), Q announced: “There are no such things as fairies.” Instead, a “Tooth Person” exchanged cash for baby teeth. “So some person comes into our house. At night. For your teeth?” we asked. “Yes,” Q said, and calmly ended the note with her name.
My wife and I were both puzzled and disappointed by this in-between business. Puzzled because Q didn’t seem bothered by the removal of magic from the story, which (in our opinion) made it much creepier.* Disappointed because myth management is a lot of work, especially when you reside on the other side of the myth and have little personal investment in its truth. Myths are explanations by way of stories, and keeping the explanations satisfying (for yourself or others) means you have to anticipate the entailments and questions. We were prepared for the obvious: Our kids have grown up in apartments, and we knew they would wonder, after all the regular seasonal poems and TV specials, how Santa leaves them gifts in the night without a chimney.** Other questions (obvious now) caught us off guard, such as when they asked a few years ago: “What does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth?”***
I’m fine with telling Q and The Boy the truth of these things outright, offering them, instead, a competing explanation about deserved rewards and encouraged wonder and stuff like that. My wife, to her credit and wisdom, has insisted that our kids come to these truths on their own. She believes that the various fairies and magic bunnies and nocturnal elves greatest gift is the opportunity to discover their nonexistence.
This discovery is inevitable anyway. Beliefs and the stories that bind them tug constantly at each other. Beliefs that don’t square with the stories we tell ourselves tend not to last long; same with stories that don’t square with beliefs we have trouble giving up (time and speed constraints on Santa, e.g.). Childhood myths survive until the evidence nags and the desire to know overpowers the desire to believe in their truth or what would allow them to be true. Once doubt arises somewhere, a little thinking can quickly unravel the entire myth.
I figured the Tooth Fairy would be the first myth knocked loose for the kids since that fairy’s existence and purpose leads to more questions than answers pretty much right away. (What’s the money for anyway?) But, for them, the Easter Bunny went first. Its retirement proceeded as many belief revisions do, through a combination of salient empirical evidence and the compulsion to adjust the story to make sense of that evidence. The night before last Easter Sunday, my wife and I were in our bedroom filling plastic eggs with jelly beans and comically small Milky Ways, as we have done every kid year, when Q came in saying her room was too hot. My wife quickly (and, therefore, suspiciously) sprang up and threw a blanket over the eggs on the bed, which caused them to bounce and rattle. I took Q quickly back to her room to turn on the fan while trying not to look or sound like I had a mouth full of candy.
Once convinced that Q had gone back to sleep, we finished filling and hiding the eggs in our tiny living room, and we set out the larger sweets in their wicker baskets. Later, my wife decided we had too many beans left in the bag, and she went back to fill the eggs further. One dropped in the dark.
Q spotted it right away in the morning. She put on that look of hers, the one where she narrows her eyes and smiles, the word ‘clever’ written in the cursive of her lips.
“I see the Easter Bunny forgot one,” she said. Paused. “What were you two doing last night in your room with all those eggs?”
“What do you think we were doing?” her mother asked back. Lots of pausing. “Who do you think is the Easter Bunny?”
She didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure, caught in that unsteady state between believing and not believing, between wanting to know and wanting to not know, as the story began to rewrite itself.
We spent the rest of the day pretending noticeably to each other that the Easter Bunny exists, mainly via a running joke about him saving money on fun-size candy with his Walgreens discount card.
The pretending left me wondering whether I might have gotten it wrong, whether my picture of Q and The Boy, of us, of myself, privileges comfort and convenience over truth. Our story has the shape of myth, and I’ve grown comfortable with using it to explain just about everything.
Later that night, when Q and I were alone as her bath ran, she asked, “Are you really the Easter Bunny?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes.” I could see that she did.
“Yep, we are.” She nodded. Was quiet. “Are you disappointed?”
“No.” A pause. “Not really.”
“Well,” I said. Paused. “At least you know that no giant magic rabbit comes into our house at night while we sleep.”
Q said no more about it. She slipped into the bath and unfolded herself under the water, her toes tapping against the overflow plate, her head now almost knocking against the opposite end. She looked big, bigger.
After their baths, Q and The Boy joined us on our bed, all of us eating jelly beans straight from the Easter Bunny’s bag.
I don’t miss what they have given up. I prefer this story to all others.