“It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and almost the only thing known for certain is that there are fairies wherever there are children.”
J.M Barrie, The Little White Bird
“To be, or not to be…?” That is the question, as penned by William Shakespeare.
To be, or not to be the tooth fairy? That is the question I had to ask myself.
As a parent, I am not immune to that age-old struggle of balancing the magic and whimsy of childhood against honesty and cold, hard facts that await them just a few short years down the road. It’s not easy! At my house, I only have to contend with the Tooth Fairy, but many families are also faced with conversations about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
Finding the right time and the right way to unmask these bastions of childhood is hard enough. Add to that, Abigail is my youngest child, and she may be my last opportunity to play the tooth fairy. It is the end of an era.
But let me start at the beginning. Having four children, I’ve paid for a lot of lost teeth over the years. My first three children are close together in age, and I had them all in my 20’s. Cut to 10 years later, and here came Abigail. I can say that the experience of parenting Abigail has been unique in that I really savor every phase of her development, from first steps to first lost teeth. Perhaps, you can chalk it up to experience or wisdom gained over time, or just knowing that she is perhaps my last opportunity to experience childhood alongside her. (Until grandkids come along, of course, and may that be many, many years down the road!) Abigail is imaginative and joyful with an insightfulness and empathy far beyond her years. I want to continue to encourage her to dream and define what is possible for herself and challenge everyone else’s definition.
When Abigail’s first baby tooth started to wiggle, I reprised my role as tooth fairy with relish. She made a little wooden tooth fairy house to keep by her bedside, ready and waiting for that first lost tooth. On the big day, tooth in her little hand, we sat down together, and she wrote a letter to the tooth fairy. Then she placed her tooth in the little house and her letter next to it. I tucked her in, and she fell asleep with great anticipation of what would await her when she woke up in the morning.
“To sleep, perchance to dream…” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
I went downstairs, rummaged through my wallet for cash, and then wrote her a letter back. Signed: The Tooth Fairy. This was perfect. It was just the right mix of magic and whimsy. The perfected formula for all her future Tooth Fairy visits!
It went that way one more time. Then she lost her third tooth.
Every child eventually asks, “Is the Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny/Santa Claus real?” And just like that, almost a loss of innocence, a chapter of their childhood closes, always ending with that same question. When children ask this question, there is always an unspoken but powerful subtext, “I want it to be real, and I don’t really want to know if it’s not, but it’s more important that you tell me the truth.”
As readers, you know how I feel about choices. There is always more than one choice available if you look for it. I decided there was a better way. So, when Abigail lost her third baby tooth and asked, “Mommy, is the Tooth Fairy real?” I took a moment and carefully chose my words. At first, I was so saddened by the asking of this inevitable question. I explained that I believe the Tooth Fairy is real but that it may mean she only exists as energy, an unseen force. I explained that I was the Tooth Fairy’s helper. That it was me who put the money in the little house and left letters. Because that is how fairies and angels need our assistance. They need our help to do good.
This conversation with her was back and forth over a few days. And she wanted so much to believe, but more important for her was that she wanted to know she could trust me and that I would never lie to her. I was torn because, of course, being close and open and honest with my kids is number one for me. Always. For them to know I will always tell them the truth but at the same time, seeing that look in her eyes with tears welling up, saying she wanted to still believe in fairies, reminded me of me in my childhood. I remember that pain I felt when the magic, whimsy, and overall believing in something bigger started to fade. And I had to work really hard to get that back.
I chose this approach because we lose our awe too easily. We miss the magic that exists in the universe all around us. And telling a child that miracles, angels, and spirits don’t exist in the world wasn’t a message I believe, and it certainly isn’t a lesson I want to teach. I want her to believe in and recognize the magic moments in life. To smile when decade-long friendships erupt in laughter over inside jokes. To be grateful for the promise of a sunrise and the majesty of a sunset. To see the light in her soul—and in all those around her. I believe the more you recognize the miracles in life, the more miracles will arrive.
After we came to our new understanding of fairies, we cried, laughed, and then sang a song about how we believe in fairies (from Peter Pan). When Abigail woke up and looked in the Tooth Fairy house to see what had been left, she found money and a letter. This time, signed: The Tooth Fairy (or Mommy).
Hilarity then ensued, as it often does with children. Abigail has a playmate named Sarah, and about a week later, I received a call from Sarah’s mom. It seems that Abigail was trying to explain the truth of the Tooth Fairy to Sarah, but somewhere the message went awry. Sarah’s mom explained that Sarah now believes that “Monica is the Tooth Fairy,” and that I’ve been the one leaving money under Sarah’s pillow every time she loses a tooth!
When I retold this story to Abigail, I expected her to find it as funny as I did. But she always surprises me. Abigail, the empath, felt terribly sad that Sarah had misunderstood and that I had been given all the credit instead of Sarah’s mom! Abigail suggested we tell Sarah her mom is the Easter Bunny.
“Science seeks to explain everything–but maybe we don’t want everything explained. We don’t want all the magic to go out of life. We want to remain connected to the secret parts of our inner beings, to the ancient mysteries, and to the most distant outposts of the universe. We want to believe. And as long as we do, the fairies will remain.”
Skye Alexander, Fairies: The Myths, Legends & Lore
The moral of this story? Who is to say what is real and what isn’t? So, go ahead and let your children have a little magic in their lives. You might just experience more yourself.