We’ve been having a bit of trouble with magical creatures at our house.
First, the Tooth Fairy took my eight-year old son’s tooth, but forgot to leave him any dinero.
“Maybe she forgot what she was doing,” I suggested. It happens to the best of us.
A few minutes later, his father found a five-dollar bill lying on the kitchen table, but Felix wasn’t convinced.
“Why’s it so much?” he asked suspiciously. The usual rate—for the last two years—has been one dollar per tooth.
“Maybe she didn’t have any change?” This seems plausible to me, now that everything is plasticized.
I thought that Felix was far more disgruntled than he ought to be, getting five times the going rate. Later on that week he was aiming some pretty serious scrutiny at Santa Claus.
We’d had some issues before, with Santa Claus not bringing exactly what was requested at Christmas, like a jet pack or rocket ship or electric scooter. I’d had to explain that Mr. Claus had many children to provide for, and might not have the budget for Big Ticket items for each and every kid. Furthermore, “Santa Claus has reasons for what he does. “He likes to give you things you’d never even imagine you’d want.” Like the shimmering green iguana puppet he got last Christmas that he dearly loves.
Felix accepted this explanation without much protest. But last week, he was questioning the authenticity of Saint Nick himself.
“Does Santa give us presents, or do you?” he asked on our way home from his first Science Club meeting.
“We both give you presents,” I asserted. “Santa Claus gives you one and we give you one. That’s how it works, remember?”
Maybe my voice rose a little too high, too quickly, because Felix looked wary in the rear-view mirror.
“I believe in Santa Claus and everything, but I was just wondering…” and then he trailed off, ashamed by his lack of allegiance.
I finished the thought for him, as mothers are wont to do: “Is he real?”
Crap. I was not prepared for this while driving. Do I make a U-turn on this holiday business, or just keep on going? Because I don’t even know if I’ve gotten the directions right!
The truth is that I’ve never been comfortable smearing on the myths, knowing that there would be a day of reckoning. This alliance we have with magical creatures seems to have questionable long-term results: If I lie to my son when he’s tiny, will he learn to not trust me when he’s older?
So why not come clean the first opportunity I get?
Because once Santa Claus disappears, so does the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy and who-knows-what-else, and that seems like too much to lose, all at once. And then there’s the matter of my four-year-old daughter, who might suffer some collateral damage.
I turned off the radio. “Did someone tell you he wasn’t?”
Felix nodded. “Noah. He said, ‘Your parents probably give you the stuff.’”
“Oh,” I said with dismay. Noah is ten. Felix is eight. I knew this multi-age science clubs would expose him to ideas that were over his head, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.
Don’t get me wrong: Eight is an entirely respectable age to be inducted into the world of rational thought. But my son still resides very much in his imagination, spending a large portion of his free time in fantasy play. This is one reason we decided to home-school in the first place. We felt like it was important to preserve that charmed world for as long as possible. So he and his father have been reading the Narnia series, and he and I have just finished reading the fourth Harry Potter book, rewarding ourselves with the library’s movie version. Felix’s favorite part of The Goblet of Fire was Harry exultantly declaring: “I love magic!”
Was I really about to yank magic away from him?
“Well, what do you think?” I stalled.
“I’m not sure… I’ve always wondered, how does he get around to everyone’s house in just one night?”
“It does seem sort of far-fetched, huh?” I said hollowly.
“But so do a lot of other things, right?”
I was thinking about things like electricity and sound waves and satellite images and digitalization and other modes of technology, many of which will explained to him in science class some day. But I was also musing about the hibernation of bears and communication of whales and the migration of butterflies and all of the other natural mysteries of life—like birth and death—which are still so beautifully nebulous.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he agreed.
“Because…do you really want to know, or are you just wondering?”
He hesitated a moment, and then said, with some trepidation: “I want to know.”
“Well,” I began, suddenly tapping into some ancient holiday scripture provided by the alliance for just this very purpose: “Santa Claus is kind of like a myth or a fable that encapsulates the spirit of Christmas…” blah-de-blah-de-blah…I droned on like a seasoned politician for several minutes (wow! I didn’t know I could do this!), using euphemisms and elevated language to put my son into a trance of boredom and confusion—ending lamely but succinctly with: “It’s like God: You can choose to believe in him or not.”
“Okay,” he said, looking relieved.
I felt chagrined, but happy, too, knowing that Felix had recommitted himself to the Alliance of Magical Creatures—at least for another season.