Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adieu, Sweet Innocence of Youth

M. Peevie lost one of her front teeth recently. Finally. That thing had been hanging on like a Chicago winter.

With the confident innocence of a seven-year-old, M. Peevie put her tooth under her pillow that night. The next morning she was disconsolate.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come last night,” she said. Oh crap, I thought.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said. “Maybe you got to sleep too late. Or maybe she just had too many pick-ups last night.” She soon smiled again.

The next morning, M. Peevie checked optimistically under her pillow. Again she found the tooth and no dollars.

“I don’t know, honey,” I said guiltily. “Maybe she took a day or two off. Maybe she went out of town to visit relatives.” She smiled again, eventually.

The next morning I remembered that the tooth fairy had still not visited my daughter’s room. (What is the matter with me?!) I hurried downstairs.

“C. Peevie,” I said, “Can I borrow a couple of bucks?”

“Sure,” he said generously, “What for?”

“The tooth fairy. I don’t want M. Peevie to be disappointed again.” He just looked at me knowingly, and shook his head. “Uh, huh,” he said. He gave me two dollars. (Why do children always have better cash flow than their parents?)

I crept into M. Peevie’s pink room and felt around under her pillow. I removed the envelope containing the tiny tooth, slipped the money in its place, and crept back out.

Later, I went in to wake up my morning sleepy-head. When she found the money, she smiled a wide, gap-toothed smile. But seconds later, she frowned.

“Mommy,” she said, with a serious expression on her face, “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”

“What do you think?” I hedged.

“I think you are. I think you come in here at night and take my tooths and put dollars under my pillow. Fairies aren’t real, so I don’t think the tooth fairy is real.”

“Ahhh,” I said, avoiding giving an actual answer. Of course, she noticed. Girlfriend should be a lawyer.

“You didn’t answer my question, Mommy,” she cross-examined. “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”

“Do you really want to know the truth, M. Peevie?” I asked, because I did not care to be the shatterer of sweet childhood dreams.

“Yes, I want to know the truth,” she insisted.

I really didn’t have a choice, now, did I? “Yes, M. Peevie,” I said reluctantly. “I am the tooth fairy.”

Her face fell. “I thought so,” she said glumly. She was quiet for a few seconds, and then she said, “You’re probably Santa Claus, too.”

I did NOT want to go down that road, so I tried to distract her. “M.P.,” I said, “It’s time to get ready for school.”

“Wait just a minute, Mommy,” said the future District Attorney. “Are you Santa Claus, too? When there are presents under the tree and they say, ‘Love, Santa’—that’s really you and Daddy, isn’t it?”

“The truth?” I asked.

“The truth,” she said.

I hated to do it, but I didn’t see a way out. “Yes,” I admitted. “Daddy and I play Santa.” I could see that this was really hard to take, even though she already knew the truth. Her beautiful brown eyes filled with tears.

“But M.,” I said, “I still love to pretend that there really is a tooth fairy! I love the idea of Santa Claus! I love to pretend to hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh at Christmas!”

Not good enough, when pretty much all your best childhood fantasies have been crushed into oblivion. M. Peevie, at age seven, already knew the truth about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. What was the point of going on?

She was still melancholy when she came down for breakfast. Nothing could break through cloud of woe. Nothing, except possibly the delicious sweetness of a cheese streusel muffin.

“M. Peevie,” I said, “Do you think a muffin might help you feel better?”

She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, and looked up at me mournfully. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ll try it.”

It was only later that I realized that offering food to help with emotional pain was not an excellent parenting technique. Great. Not only did I crush her childhood innocence, but I have started her on the road of lifelong eating disorders.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Laughing toooo hard, on the last comment of starting little M on the road to life-long eating disorders!!

An aside, (not laying judgment here--okay, I realize that I actually AM laying judgment here), I have never been able to figure out why parents actually tell kids there is a Santa or Tooth Fairy.

Talk about wanting to get off on the right foot in parent-child relationship by teaching, exhibiting trust, honesty, etc... Never for a minute of my life did my parents say there was, or even make implication of a Santa or Fairy. Yet I always had the best Christmases ever.

As I have said in the past, If I get reincarnated, I would want to come back as a Peevie child. So my comment isn't meant to be a ding on your parenting so much as a comment on how I could never figure out why anyone really would tell their kids that stuff.

I got plenty of Christmas gifts, and a dime when my tooth fell out, but it was clear from the start they were parental gifts. (Yeah, inflation. That sort of dates me.) Posted by your friend SLD.

E. Peevie said...

SLD,

I can't speak for other parents, but I don't actually think we DID tell our kids there was a Santa or a tooth fairy. But they are such common myths in popular culture, that kids get exposed to those ideas practically from birth.

So then parents have to make a conscious decision to contradict what kids already believe and derive pleasure from. We chose to go along with their ideas--just like when they tell us stories about imaginary friends, we choose to play along.

When my kids ask me questions about cultural myths like Santa, I'd always answer their questions with a question (kind of like Jesus did!): "What do YOU think?" It was always sufficiently distracting.

Until this time, when M. Peevie suspected the truth, and asked for it.

E. Peevie

Anonymous said...

Ms. Peevie, this was too funny. I felt your pain all the way through. I do agree with you that once a child is old/mature enough to ask the questions, we can't lie to them. BUT...
Here's one problem with society today: Some people believe that telling our kids there is a Santa Clause is wrong because that is lying. COME ON AND PLEEEEASE!! Children love the magic and mystery that is Santa. They love the whole chimney story and leaving the cookies and milk. It's even more fun to leave magical food that the reindeer eats(it's actually just glitter and oats).
Heaven forbid we tell our children this because it is all lies. Lies, mind you, that spark imagination, curiosity and excitement in children.
These parents who refuse to tell such "lies" to their children are most likely the same parents who believe that their children are their equal. For example, every adult decision regarding parenting and disciplining children should be discussed thourougly WITH the children. Here's a wake up call: Children are not equals with their parents. Sometimes the answer to a child's argument does not need to be explained in great detail. Sometimes the answer is just a good old fashioned No! And when the child asks why not, the answer is, because I am the parent and I said so!!!!
Ok, now I am done ranting, but oh it felt soooo good!

E. Peevie said...

Anon, I know. I love the imagination-inspiring childhood myths, too.

I don't necessarily think that there's a correlation to faulty parenting or friend-parenting, though. I have friends who don't do the Santa thing with their kids, and they are definitely not in the parent-as-friend camp.

I swore that I'd never say to my kids, as my parents frequently said to me, "Because I said so!" I remember being horrified the first time I did say it, and it has gotten easier every time.

Not that I think it's always the right answer, but sometimes it is.