I think mythical creatures are a part of every kid’s childhood. The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, mischievous leprechauns…. I remember waking up on Christmas morning, astounded by all Santa had been able to fit into his sleigh. My dad would always wait to light the fire, and us kids would ooh and aah over the boot print left in the ashes. Santa would always leave us a personal letter addressed to each of us, telling us how we’d been such good kids, and giving us pointers on how we could help our parents more. He’d always thank us for the Cob feed and carrots we left for the reindeer, and could never quite finish the eggnog we left him, complete with crumbs in the bottom of the glass. One year he left us a piece of the sleigh – a red piece of felt with bells sewed on. We believed with all our hearts. And thanks to a Santa movie we had seen once, we would leave letters for him by the fireplace and watch for them to float up the chimney onto the North Pole. Despite our dedication to manning the fireplace, the letters never did disappear until we left the room. And eventually we’d get a letter back. This was especially amazing in the off season when Santa was probably vacationing in Tahiti, like in April or May.
Warning: if you are reading with small children, please stop reading for now and return when you are by yourself…..
I stopped believing on my own, mostly because other schoolmates insisted to me that Santa was pretend. And once you stop believing in Santa, everything else kind of falls in place. For about 6 months I had this secret inside of me that I couldn’t even share with my sister. But eventually she did find out. And she cried. My youngest sister had to be told by my mom because she would have gone on believing forever.
When my kids were young, I decided that I really didn’t like the idea of introducing them to the idea of Santa Claus and the like. It felt dishonest, maybe because it is. But rather than tell them that mythical creatures didn’t exist, I just didn’t say anything. The image of Santa was just that – an image. But when my youngest was 3, my grandmother asked him if he was excited for Santa to come.
“Who’s Santa?” my son asked.
My grandmother was taken aback. I think I committed the biggest sin of all, denying my kids the joy of believing in Santa Claus. She went on to tell him all about Santa, and how he had to be a good boy or Santa wouldn’t come. He asked me if this was true. And under my mom’s and grandma’s watchful eye, what could I do? Call my grandma a liar? So I told him it was, in so many words. I told him about Santa from long ago that left gifts for all the children in his village, and how the spirit of Santa still brings Christmas cheer to all good boys and girls. My son had a hard time with this, and I’m not really convinced he ever believed at all. But he seemed pleased with this answer for that year.
But each year got harder and harder, with every single mythical creature. The tooth fairy was the biggest sell. Please tell me how to remember to rescue a tiny tooth from deep underneath a pillow in the middle of the night when all you can think about is collapsing in bed after a very long day! Not only that, the kids always seem to lose teeth just when I have no dollars or quarters on me. I inevitably always forgot, and would end up doing it in the morning before he woke up, occasionally borrowing from one of their coin jars until I could pay them back without them noticing. Hey, it wasn’t me, it was the tooth fairy, remember? The kids seemed to think it was cute to put it in a little box or pouch, and then stick it all the way under their pillow, usually right underneath their head. I would have to strategically slip my hand under without moving their head (impossible, I tell you…), take the tooth, put the money in whatever contraption they were using, and then slip it back into the same spot. I finally had to tell the kids that the tooth fairy was just too small to lift a big, heavy pillow and retrieve their tooth, and it would help her out if they placed the tooth on the edge of the pillow.
My son, a light sleeper except for when it’s time to wake up for school, always woke up just as I was removing my hand, catching me right in the act.
“I knew it was you!” he’d exclaim. I’d just insist I was seeing if the tooth fairy did come, and LOOK! She did! He’d forget all about it as he’d count out his treasure and put it in his piggy bank.
By the way, the going rate in our household was 50 cents to a dollar per tooth. If it was a pulled tooth, it was $5. I felt that was fair since they had to go through the trauma of having the dentist reach into their mouth and yank out something that really wasn’t ready to come out. As soon as the kids stopped believing, though, the money went away. Christmas is different, though. I do still buy the kids presents even if they don’t believe. Occasionally I am even tempted to give them coal….
We had several huge events that cemented the idea of mythical creatures in the kids’ heads. There was the one Easter when we had stayed at a friend’s house overnight and saw the “Easter Bunny” (a little brown jackrabbit) hopping away from the house and into the vineyards. There was the year that we were driving home on Christmas Eve and Santa’s sleigh (a large white owl) barely missed the top of our car. There was the year that Santa himself (my neighbor from across the street) made a guest appearance in his Santa suit, peered in our windows, and then told us he’d be back later since we were still awake.
My conscience was getting the better of me, though. I hated lying to the kids about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, and every other made up thing. Why couldn’t we just celebrate milestones and holidays without making up stories of fairies and bunnies that give gifts? And, let’s face it, why did these pretend creatures get all the credit? What exactly prompted parents to lie to their kids in the first place and tell them stories of a fat man in a sleigh giving presents or a tiny fairy heaving huge teeth back to her castle? Was it to bribe kids to be good and to brush their teeth regularly? Did we really need to trick our kids into doing something they were already supposed to be doing (alright, that’s a dumb question, I know)?
I made a decision that the very next time that he asked me if Santa was real, I would tell him the truth. And I must have known it was coming because he asked me shortly after. I gave him the very first answer I told him that one Christmas Eve when he was 3 – that Santa was a real man long ago that was generous to the town’s boys and girls. But I made it clear that it was me that was carrying on the Santa tradition, not any kind of spirit or ghost. He asked about the Easter Bunny too, and I admitted that this was also me.
But he forgot all about the Tooth Fairy and didn’t ask me about her until he lost his next tooth.
“Sorry honey, the tooth fairy is me,” I told him. His eyes got really big. I thought that maybe I had scarred him by telling him these lies, admitting now that none of it was true. But he grinned really big.
“I can’t believe my mom is the Tooth Fairy!” he exclaimed. “But how do you get to everyone’s house in one night?” he asked.
Oh jeez. This was too easy. Do I mess with the kid? Do I let him momentarily believe that every night I dress up in my little white tutu and magically flit from house to house, taking kids’ teeth and leaving them quarters? I was interested to know where exactly he thought I was getting all this money, as well.
I only paused for a second, and then told him, no, there was NO tooth fairy, I was just a regular old mom collecting her son’s teeth and leaving behind whatever change I could find around the house. I think he was disappointed. For a second I was a celebrity, one of the most known “people” in the world, and in the next I was just plain old mom.
Now that my kids are older, I don’t really have to worry about the rights and wrongs of believing in mystical creatures. And my kids know enough to not mention it out loud in case a younger kid overhears them. And if my kids carry on the tradition of Santa and friends with their own kids, I know I will be giving him the credit for the gifts that I am picking out and purchasing for under the tree. Is it wrong? Is it ok? Is it lying? Is it adding that little bit of sparkle and magic to the holiday season? I don’t know. Thank goodness it’s all behind me, though, and I no longer have to decide! But am I alone here in grappling with this? Are there other parents out there feeling guilty for going along with the rest of the world and letting them believe in Santa? Do you tell your kids right from the beginning that Santa is make-believe? Or do you have a reason I may not have thought of for why we should let Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, and the bridge trolls that you tell your naughty child are her real parents (maybe that was just mine…..) into your house and into your child’s belief system?
Join in on the discussion about Santa in the Santa Rosa Mom forums.