I am the mother of two and I have always prided myself on being a very honest parent. We talk explicitly with our kids about death, sex, Divine authorship of the Bible, and other sticky subjects. The one glaring exception in this parenting policy has been in the language my husband and I have used with our now six year old daughter around the tooth fairy.
Age four – first tooth lost: “Do you think the tooth fairy will come tonight?!” “Yes she is magical.” “Yes she knows where you live.” I hate this lie, but I hear myself telling it again and again.
Age five – fourth tooth lost. My daughter has left a note for the tooth fairy asking her if she only comes while children are sleeping. In an effort to cover my husband’s faux pas in handling tooth number three, I delicately cut out sparkly stickers in the shape of the word “No,” leaving her a note in reply.
Age six – sixth tooth lost. My daughter comes home reporting that some of her friends from school say that it is parents who are the force behind the tooth fairy, not a winged being of light. “Do you wan to know the truth?” my husband inquires. “No.” is the response for tooth six, but by tooth seven, she wants to know.
Yes, we tell her, parents are the force behind the tooth fairy, but she must promise not to tell her friends and her little brother. Then, that night, accidentally, or perhaps as an expression of subliminal relief that the jig is finally up, we forget to replace tooth seven with a dollar.
We are awoken the next morning with the tears of a crying six year old.
“The tooth fairy did not come! My tooth is still here!” She had wanted to know the truth, and yet, facing her tears, it is clear that I have committed a parenting fail. Knowing the literal truth did not negate the magic nor did it suspend the game of it all for my sweet six year old.
How do I, a soulful rabbi, believer in past lives, angels and divine providence, teach my daughter about magic and about the tooth fairy? How do I keep her capacity for wonder in tact, and how do I balance the truth that the tooth fairy is fictitious with the truth that the world is suffused with magic, light and phenomena beyond our understanding?
The beginning of the answer, I believe, is found in my daughter’s ability both to know the truth and to still look with excitement for the dollar under her pillow the next morning. Fairies do not exist on this physical plane, dealing in the currency of teeth and dollars, but they do exist in the realm of a child’s dreams and imagination. They are real there, and in our hopes and dreams as well. As a teacher of Torah and a maker of meaning, I champion the value of sacred myth over that of historical narrative, and insist that the questions that animate our rational age are just as powerful as their answers.
In the meantime, I’m thinking of hiring a Santa Claus to come down our chimney this winter.email print