I believe in Santa Claus. No, not that there is an actual hefty man/fairy from the polar regions that engages in breaking and entering around the world each Christmas Eve. But I do firmly believe in the magic that the legend embodies. Santa, the Easter Bunny, and other creatures of the fae made childhood something more for me. Life wasn’t bound by rules as long as there was a bunny carrying baskets and hiding eggs on one special Sunday a year, and I certainly appreciated the massive effort of a tiny fairy to swap bones that fell out of my face for crisp dollar bills.
Now, of course, the “mechanics” of these stories seem preposterous. A sleigh and reindeer to visit the billions of children in the world? A rabbit with enough dexterity to hide eggs in the tiniest crevices in the living room? A fairy with a large enough bank account to pay for millions of teeth lost each day? Beyond the science, there’s the cold reality of “seeing” the two most common holiday favorites with eyes open. The Easter Bunny at most malls is a TERRIFYING MAN-BEAST, for goodness sake. And Santa Claus? Well, the Santa Claus in the Westland Mall was taking a break a few Christmases back, I had I heard him drop several “f” bombs, which I am fairly certain were not a part of “T’was the night before Christmas…” (to be fair, it WAS the Westland Mall).
So when it came time to choose whether or not to share these ultimately disappointing tales with the next generation, my answer was an emphatic “YES”. Now, before any of you decide to leap down my throat for telling my children lies, I want you to know that your zealotry is not needed in this blog. You can feel free to visit again some day soon, when I am appropriately following the Rules of Life. For you see, I well know that these stories are not truths. I don’t need anyone to point this out to me. I figured it out with finality on the day I walked into my baby sister’s room and asked my mom, “Is Santa real?”
I knew as soon as she said the words, “Do you want the truth?”
It was a crushing blow, because some of the magic in the world died for me that day. I began looking for the reality behind the stories, and was sorely disappointed by what I found. Cynicism became a way of life – how well I remember mocking poor Christy L. (not my sister-in-law) in 4th grade when she told us what Santa brought her that year. I was now a seeker of truths, and fairy tales were for children.
At least, that’s the appearance I gave off. On the inside, I wanted the magic to come alive again. Those were the BEST days, the days when anything was still possible. So I nurtured the little spark of magic left in me. I feasted on books and stories that taught me that the myths are true if we take them into our hearts. I fed the spark until it became a small fire, and kept it burning long after science had taught me the so-called “truth” not found in these wonderful stories. And when my daughters were born, I wanted them to have the same sense of wonder I had nurtured within me.
Alas, fathers are not always well equipped to handle quick-witted daughters.
I’m happy to say that my daughters had a fairly strong belief in the triumvirate of fairydom – Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy – until around third grade. This is the same time questions began to form in my heart – we just know too much at that point for the tales to make sense anymore. Just as Reagan’s belief was waning, we experienced a lucky twist of fate – on Christmas 2010, some manner of beast traipsed across our garage roof in the snow, and I swear it really did look like reindeer tracks. In all likelihood, it was one of my archenemies – the neighborhood squirrels or raccoons – but it stoked the fire of belief for one more year.
Then came Christmas of 2011. Reagan’s doubts were bubbling to the surface again, and I did my best to keep them at bay. We made it all the way through bedtime on Christmas Eve. Then, the unthinkable: as my daughters were preparing to go upstairs so Santa could come, my Father-in-law leaned over to Reagan and said, “Now Reagan, you know Santa’s not real, don’t you?”
The heartbroken sobs revealed that she did NOT know that. Now, to be fair, my father-in-law is a wonderful, loving man that is truly beloved by almost everyone he knows. He wasn’t feeling really well at that point, and I’m sure he didn’t really think through what he was saying. But still, I felt the magic dim in my own heart as I watched a bucket poured over the candle in Reagan’s.
Hearing those agonized cries, I wondered for the first time if I had made the wrong decision in telling my daughters about Santa. I wanted them to have the magic, but what if I was wrong? What if when the magic died in them, if left a gaping wound? What if they wouldn’t forgive me?
The months of the calendar kept turning, and December became April. Somehow, “Pappaw’s” Santa admission didn’t apply to the Easter Bunny – Reagan still believed! Then, a lost tooth had her scrambling for bed so she could make some mad bank from the bone collector. The magic in her heart was resilient – like mine!
Just when it looked like the magic was strong in her heart again, mom and dad blew it. Another tooth was lost, and the Fairy forgot to make an appearance. Crushing blow! Wifie spun it well – “It’s because you were sleeping in Riley’s room instead of your own room,” but the doubts resurfaced anew.
Then, Christmas 2012. The season arrived with Reagan openly doubting Santa, but somehow overcoming Pappaw’s dreamcrusher from the prior Christmas. She wanted to believe so badly! On Christmas Eve, we left out Oreos and milk, and Reagan left a note asking Santa if he was real. They drifted to sleep, and the work of the real Santas began. Presents were brought forth, cookies were consumed, milk was poured out, and then Daddy Claus responded to the note:
Reagan and Riley:
Yes, I am real. You were very good this year! Merry Christmas!
I love you!
The girls came down the stairs the next morning, Riley blissfully unaware of anything amiss, Reagan seeking answers. Riley read the note and smiled and handed it to her sister. Reagan got a knowing look on her face. I knew that look. Something was wrong.
“What’s wrong, bud?” I whispered.
“Santa didn’t write this,” she said. “You did!”
“Why would you say such a thing?”
“Because,” she said, a sneer on her face, “Santa would NEVER say I love you!”
D’oh! Despite changing my handwriting, I never thought about changing the salutation.
“Santa DOES love you – he loves all children!”
“Um, no daddy. Santa saying I love you? That’s just a little bit creepy!”
We made it through Christmas, but the wheels were spinning in Reagan’s head. She had a loose tooth, and she knew it was a matter of time before she could entrap me again. She had planned exactly how to catch the fairy in the act, too. I was like an amateur going up against a professional.
The tooth came out. It made its way under her pillow, and she eventually drifted off to sleep.
As she slumbered, I held her head up while wifie slipped the tooth out from under the pillow… and also discovered a note. This is the note:
Wifie signed it and put it back beneath the pillow with a dollar bill. After all, she told the tooth fairy to – or “Your not real” (still working on the your vs. you’re thing – such a struggle). No “I love you”s this time. A simple business transaction sealed with a signature. We were keeping the magic alive!
Except that we weren’t.
The next morning, Reagan skipped down the stairs with a smile on her face. Wifie asked her, “Did the tooth fairy visit you?”
Reagan gave a smug smile. “No, but daddy did!” She bobbed her head side-to-side in mockery.
“What do you mean,” wifie asked.
“Obviously the tooth fairy is daddy, and he signed this.”
“Why would you think that? That’s not daddy’s handwriting.”
“THIS,” she waved the note in wifie’s face, “ was a trick! The tooth fairy is too small to hold a pen and sign its name. I knew if there was a signature, it would have to be daddy. I caught him.”
The magic was dead…
Let’s face it – the mythos of fairy tales cannot withstand the determination of a conniving child. I had tried to keep the magic alive for as long as I could, and had succeeded in my eldest daughter maintaining quasi-belief far longer than I had as a child. But the day of truth had arrived. Now, it was up to Reagan to keep the spark alive in her heart… or let it die, as so many do. (Side note: Riley remains blissfully unaware, and continues skipping through life with a smile).
Last week, Reagan lost another random tooth. She went to bed without putting the tooth under her pillow (in fact, she might have swallowed it – it’s definitely gone, as she looks like a total hillbilly – my fam is proud), and never mentioned the tooth fairy.
The next day, she came down the stairs with a dollar clutched in her fist, a wry grin on her face. “What’s that?” I asked her.
“The tooth fairy left me some money.” Her half smile made her face devilishly cute.
“Well, what can we use that money for?” I asked.
“Well, since we are building a treehouse this summer, I figure we can use it to buy some squirt guns for when we play pirates. Then, we can shoot anyone that comes near our ship. Plus, we can protect Princess Riley when people try to steal her away. Doesn’t that sound like fun, daddy, doesn’t it?”
Pappaw might have killed Santa, and the Tooth Fairy has been de-winged, but I think the magic will stay alive in my little buddies. I hope so. Because Captain Reddish-brown Beard has a Princess to kidnap, and some scallywags to soak, and these are the days when anything is still possible.