A parent’s primary responsibility is to make sure his children are safe, sheltered, well-fed, and have the best childhood possible. (Hold that thought; I hear my two fighting upstairs and I’d better intervene before someone gets hurt). Ok, I’m back and all are safe.
In return for providing everything they need to grow and become well-adjusted adults I get to watch them explore the world with their innocence and wonder as they learn its lessons. One of the most gratifying aspects of parenthood is getting to experience life through my daughters’ eyes.
The truth of the world, as well all know, is handed out slowly, as your children become able to accept it. And parents resort to white lies, ostensibly to protect them until the proper time. But just when is the proper time?
Playing Santa by leaving an empty plate and glass, with a note expressing your gratitude for the milk and cookies is part of this protective charade. You figure your child will let you know in her own way when she is ready to know the truth.
But life is not so clear cut. Our oldest daughter, now eleven, has hinted she knows the facts, but then is eager to leave those goodies for Mr. Claus. Does she or doesn’t she know? When she loses a tooth, she leaves a questionnaire for the Tooth Fairy before accepting her dollar bill (five dollars for front teeth). Is she taking us for a ride, gathering as much loot before fessing up? As parents, we must play along. That is until we forget to play along because we’ve fallen asleep on the couch before the late night news has even become the news. We’ve had a few very close calls.
With our nine year old we’re on more solid ground. She believes in no uncertain terms. We have been visited by the Tooth Fairy three times within the last two weeks (two by nature and one due to a near dental emergency). And we had been successful parents (for playing these roles the high mark of parenthood), that is until the other night.
We forgot. Yes, we simply forgot to play along. Like her older sister, she left a questionnaire for Ms. Fairy and her expectations were high for the next morning. But when the sun rose, she came running out of her room. The expression on her face said it all. The Tooth Fairy had forgotten her. A double whammy for her mother and father: guilt at our failure to meet her needs and horror as we watched her new reality unfold before our eyes.
You scramble to salvage her innocent childhood with any excuse that will be convincing enough. Luckily, we had an out: I had been sleeping in her room and she had bunked with her sister because my wife had had a bad cold. “The Tooth Fairy was confused when she came into your room and saw your father sleeping there,” my wife told her. Great save! Yeah, that could work. And it did.
But then the incredible happened: our eldest snuck back into her room and quickly filled out her sister’s questionnaire, making sure to disguise her writing just enough to convince (she’s learned well from the masters of disguise). When our youngest returned to her bed to check one last time before leaving for school she found the note with a dollar bill. She ran back to my wife screaming joyfully: “The Tooth Fairy did remember!”
My wife thought I had done the saintly act just before leaving for work. And she was ready to call me to coo. It was my shining hour as a parent. But it was short-lived. For my eldest daughter was her sister’s savior that day. With her act she had taken one giant leap towards adulthood and extended her sister’s childhood just a little bit longer. Her parents were grateful and proud to watch her move into this part of her life. And she picked the perfect moment and the perfect way to let us know.