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Fairyland Lost

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Just how honest should a parent be when her daughter says to her, "Mom, is the tooth fairy real? Be honest, I want to know the truth."

Ouch. That brings make believe into the realm of really lying all of a sudden. She was so earnest last night when she asked it, her face so serious, her conviction so sure that I would never lie to her.

I changed the subject.

The murky waters of make-believe holiday entities arose for the first time last Christmas. We'd always just avoided the topic of Santa Clause before, never saying one thing or the other about it. I don't know if she ever really even knew about him before she started Kindergarten. But last year she was surrounded by kids talking about him. I still didn't say anything one way or the other: I didn't want to be the parent who was vilified for ruining all the other kids' Christmases. But then one day during Christmas break she came out and asked me, in almost the same words as yesterday, "Mommy, is Santa Clause real or not?"

I hesitated and tried to maneuver around the topic. I think I said something evasive like, "Well, we like to have fun with him," so as to not outright lie to her direct question.

But she wouldn't let it go. "Mom, tell me! I want to know!" She was very insistent and was getting very angry at me for not giving her a straight answer.

Finally I asked her, "Would you be sad if he wasn't real?"

She answered in a very exasperated tone, "I don't care, Mom! I just want to know the truth!"

And so what could I do? I told her the truth. When asked outright like that, I found I just couldn't lie to her. Besides, Tim and I felt somewhat ambivalent about Santa anyway. Tim pointed out that the whole point of Christmas is about how God sent Jesus to us, His son to sacrifice for our sins not because we had done anything to deserve it, not because we had earned it in any way, but simply because of his unfathomable love and grace. Santa is the exact opposite: Work hard and be good, and you'll get presents. Isn't that the complete antithesis of the meaning of the Christmas? he said. .In that light, Santa looks like a replacement God, someone who is all knowing and all seeing, who knows all you do (like God) but who makes you work for good things from him. I was very impressed with his insightfulness. That's usually my department, but I was willing to share

So, I told her all about why we celebrate Christmas, and that Santa kind of takes away from that meaning so we don't talk much about Santa, but she shouldn't tell anyone else about that. She listened very carefully and asked deep questions about it all that astonished me, and I saw her faith and understanding in Christ deepen incredibly over last Christmas. It was amazing to see as a parent.

Then on the first day school started back up, the woman who I carpooled with brought Emily home and said that Emily was really mad, because she had been saying that Santa wasn't real, and her friend Riley said he was, and Riley's mother was upset that Emily was taking that away from Riley when she was only five. I apologized profusely and when we got inside I said to Emily, "Honey, I told you not to tell anyone!"

Emily was sobbing uncontrollably. "But, I don't want Riley to go to heeeelllllll!" she wailed. Oh, my heart broke. I reassured her that no one was going to hell just because they believed in Santa, and told her sternly not to say that to anyone else, but I was full of love for my daughter who so loved her friends that she was filled with grief over the thought of them going to hell.

Fast forward to September, when Emily lost her first tooth. Naturally, the question arose of what to do: tooth fairy or no tooth fairy? We opted for the tooth fairy, reasoning that she wasn't a substitute for a fundamental Christian truths the way Santa and the Easter Bunny are. But, Emily style, it of course had to be more complicated than that. She was upset at the idea of having the tooth taken away, so she decided to strike a bargain with the tooth fairy. She put her tooth in the pillow, but also left a note asking her to not take the tooth (actually, it was about seven notes.) And she said that she was leaving a sticker book of fairies for her to take instead, thank you very much. It was very funny, and of course I kept the entire pack of letters for future amusement.

So, last night when, knowing her second tooth was soon to come out, she asked about the tooth fairy, I didn't know what to say. It was so fun the last time, and I hated to see her childlike belief go away. But, she insisted on knowing. I eventually told her something like she would have to find that answer out for herself, or something similarly evasive. It was an answer that didn't require me to lie to her. Because I simply couldn't, when told, "Mommy, tell me the truth!", tell her a lie.

This afternoon when her tooth came out she was immediately talking about the tooth fairy and asking how she would know to come get the tooth, so her doubts seem to have subsided for now. And so, tonight, the tooth will go into the pillow, probably with a couple notes of instruction, and I'll play my role again as the tooth fairy. I have a feeling that it may be my last time though if, knowing Emily, her relentless quest for the truth continues.

Maybe she'll be an investigative reporter one day.
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