Last year while walking down to school, my daughter, Riley and I were talking about inconsequential things, as we usually did in the morning, when without warning, she segued into:
“Debbie told me there’s no Tooth Fairy. Debbie’s brother told her that it’s really our parents only you will never ever ever admit it. Are you the Tooth Fairy?”
Keep in mind that I was still in the sweatpants in which I’d slept, my hair unbrushed and thrown into a sloppy ponytail. I might have been prepared for discussions about breakfast cereal at that hour, but I was totally and completely unprepared for a discussion entailing the loss of childhood fantasy. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be having the conversation with my innocent, fairy-loving daughter in the first grade so I was caught flat-footed between my commitment to honesty and my love of childhood innocence.
Why didn’t Riley want to discuss something easy, like where babies come from? I’d spent numerous hours preparing for that question. I would’ve hit that one out of the park. But Debbie Downer had stolen my opportunity for parental success.
Who was this Debbie? And why was she heading a massive conspiracy aimed at undermining my parental acuity? I felt the powerful urge to kick her first grade butt. She was ruining my morning.
Thanks to Debbie, I was under the gun with no time to Facebook my friends and set up some sort of parental poll regarding effective ways of navigating this crisis. I had to handle it on my own. Like an adult. I need to be warned before I’m asked to do that. Or at least caffeinated.
I longed desperately for someone to run out of their house at that moment and yell “I have something really important that precludes all deep family conversations!” but our neighbors were seemingly oblivious to my predicament. Unlike dogs, my neighbors can’t smell fear and desperation. I scrambled to buy myself some time while I wrestled with my moral dilemma.
“Wow. Really? She said that? Huh. What’s Debbie’s deal? She sounds like a very unhappy and possibly unstable girl. And what’s up with her brother?” (When in doubt, undercut the credibility of the source.) “Can you imagine me in a tooth fairy get-up flying around, and getting stuck in your hair while trying to wrestle your tooth out from under your pillow?” (Then deflect with humor.)
I added a visual demonstration of myself as a fairy struggling through Riley’s hair to sell the absurdity of the thought but Riley was unswayed by my comedic genius.
“Are you the Tooth Fairy, Mom?”
In that moment I was reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my own mother about Santa’s existence. A boy in my school had unloaded the “Santa is actually your parents” bomb on the whole 4th grade class and I felt the need to get reassurance from my mom. Her answer: “The spirit of Santa is real.” Not the definitive answer I wanted. I asked her about 50 more times and received the same answer on loop. I desperately wanted my mom to tell me outright that Santa was real. I looked into my daughter’s trusting blue eyes and remembered my own desire to keep believing.
“No, I’m not the Tooth Fairy, Sweetie.”
There it was. Bald faced lie.
I felt the weight of guilt crushing my skull and I realized that my mom probably had the right approach. She didn’t lie. She gave a nebulous answer that, while unsatisfying, did afford me the opportunity to decide for myself whether or not I was ready to let go of my childhood fantasies.
I hate it when my moments of clarity come just after I actually need them. It’s seriously inconvenient.
I tried to make up for my misgivings and feelings of guilt with a long, rambling speech about how different people believe different things and some people just don’t believe in magic and magic is important in childhood…yadda, yadda, yadda. I can’t remember the whole speech but frankly it was embarrassing. I think I included a whole theological discourse on the differences between Paganism and Christianity. I was in the midst of a shame spiral and could not stop talking. By the time we got to Riley’s school her ears were bleeding from my verbal onslaught. She ran onto the school grounds screaming “Please stop the madness!”
That last part might have happened only in my imagination.
Flash forward to this year’s Easter. The kids discovered their Easter baskets, which I had packed full of things specific to each of their tastes and needs. Riley pulled out a box of Altoids from her basket and said with a disturbing lack of incredulity,
“The Easter bunny must know I like mints.”
Translation: I’m onto you and your little bag of tricks, you bald-faced liar.
Cue shame spiral. Somebody please get me a muzzle.