Early this morning, I opened my eyes and saw 7-year-old Jack’s eyes looking right at me, just inches from my face.
“Mom,” he whispered. “I need to tell you something.”
“What is it, Jack?” I groaned sleepily.
“The Tooth Fairy didn’t come last night,” he said. “My tooth is still there under the pillow and there’s no money!”
I bolted upright in the bed with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Mommy guilt flooded through me instantly. I’d forgotten about the Tooth Fairy’s scheduled visit. Jack’s wiggly tooth had fallen out early in the day and was a distant memory by the time I finally fell into bed the night before.
“Oh, really?” I said, desperately trying to think of a way to fix this. “I wonder what could have happened.”
Then, proving once again that I married well, my husband rolled over in bed and said groggily, “Jack, I bet the Tooth Fairy is just running late because of the snow. She’ll probably come while you’re at school today.”
“Oh! Okay, that makes sense,” Jack said. “I’ll just check when I get home from school.”
Jack went downstairs to eat breakfast and watch for signs of the Tooth Fairy flying through the light snowfall outside the kitchen window. I thanked God for winter precipitation and then congratulated my husband on his quick thinking at such an early hour. I can think on my feet, but not before 7 a.m. and definitely not before a cup of caffeine.
It wasn’t the first time something like this happened. A few years ago, I got caught in a Christmas situation that required some fancy footwork. Late one night, I’d wrapped all the kids’ gifts and put them under the tree, but I’d forgotten to hide the ones that were marked “From Santa.” The next day, our oldest son (who was by then able to read), noticed the tags and asked me how come there was a gift under the tree from Santa, since Santa only comes on Christmas Eve.
With as much conviction as I could muster, I explained that Santa’s sleigh isn’t big enough to carry all the gifts for all the children in the world at the same time. So sometimes he has to send the gifts to your house a few weeks early.
“But how does Santa get them here?” Adam asked.
“Fed Ex,” I said.
And that’s why, to this day, my kids are thrilled any time they see the Fed Ex truck in our neighborhood, hoping that, even though it’s February, perhaps Santa is sending them another really early Christmas gift.
That’s the thing about parenting. It requires us to make judgment calls about whether it’s more important to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or if—in some cases—it’s better to protect your kids’ sense of childhood magic and wonder. When does the Tooth Fairy hang up her wings? When does Santa stop using Fed Ex? How does the Easter Bunny get off the bunny trail?
Sometimes I worry that one day—when the kids start piecing together the facts—we’ll have to come clean about all these creative explanations we’ve shared over the years. Will it take the sparkle out of their eyes? Will they become jaded and disillusioned? Will they wonder if they’ve been raised by pathological liars?
I hope not. I hope they forgive us these fibs of affection. And I really hope they don’t adopt our “creative explanations” when they become teenagers and need to get themselves out of a jam.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Her book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile,” is available on Amazon and at Nightbird Books. Email her at email@example.com or write to her in care of this magazine.
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