Magical Gifts and Growing Older
Today is my eldest son’s birthday. I would not have been surprised yesterday if my husband had convened a secret gathering involving anyone other than the birthday boy. I was surprised when my husband told me that we needed to meet with the eldest without the younger kids involved.
When my son came into my bedroom, he was in tears. We closed the doors and huddled, my husband, myself, and this crying boy. I asked why he was crying and he said, “I think the Tooth Fairy is a sham.” He went on to explain that he had lost a tooth the day before, put it under his pillow, and not received anything from the tooth fairy – and that this was the second time this had happened. This was the first I had heard about either of these teeth. The tooth fairy had not been notified of the need to deliver.
With care and compassion, I explained that the Tooth Fairy was a game that parents play to help young children deal with the bizarre experience of losing a tooth when they are too young to really understand that this is an inevitable and miraculous part of growing up.
We promised him that we will continue to give him money for his teeth as long as he keeps the secret from the younger kids in the family. It was clear that the loss of the money was far more important to him than any betrayal of his belief in the Tooth Fairy.
I was not surprised.
It Started with Santa
This child started questioning the logistics of Santa Claus at 4. But, he wanted to believe. He wanted the magic. He didn’t want to doubt.
When he was 6, he watched The Polar Express. At the end of the movie, the hero talks about the bells on Santa’s sleigh: “At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe. As the credits rolled, my son scrunched up his face, clenched his fists, and conjured up as much conviction as he could muster and said, “I believe.” Watching him, it was clear he was committed to believing at all costs.
Since then, he has studiously avoided any fiction or logic that might detract from the possibility that Santa and the Tooth Fairy might exist. Willful denial has been the order of the day.
But, the failure of the Tooth Fairy to deliver when Mom and Dad were not informed was too much for him to fight. Reality won, as it should for all of us eventually.
I am assuming the death of belief in the Tooth Fairy will also mean the death of belief in Santa Claus. But, I don’t expect my son to tell me about this change in belief.
I am expecting Santa will continue to have exactly the same role in our lives as he has had since we became a family with kids – an excuse for the adults to give the kids extra presents.
I am expecting my eldest son will feel a growing sense of pride and superiority that he is in on the secret and that he will play up the magic for his siblings. In fact, now he knows it is game we play for their enjoyment, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes more elaborate in his support of the magic. Having moved from willful denial to game play, he can let his imagination run wild again. And he just might.
Until one day, some time in the future, my children will all know about the magical games their parents have played and we will invent new ways of creating family magic and gift giving rituals.
The Tooth Fairy is Not a Sham
The Tooth Fairy may not be real, but the game brings joy. Young children are magical thinkers. The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus enrich the magical thinking years and give people who have developed beyond magical thinking a chance to revisit the wonder of childhood.
And that is a special magic all its own.