Did you hear the news? There is no Tooth Fairy.
Yet there’s a good reason why our kids — and, frankly, ourselves — hold onto the dental myth: It is a source of comfort and coping.
But the other day, a friend’s daughter’s world came crashing down when she stayed up late to see the Tooth Fairy in action but instead caught her mother red-handed, cash in hand. Naturally, there were tears, but there was more to it than merely catching her mom in a lie.
“I just want to believe again,” she said.
So the mom thought fast and devised a fib that both sides could live with: The Tooth Fairy always sends in a parent as an assistant if the child isn’t fully asleep.
A lie to perpetuate another lie? Sounds like bad parenting — but it is anything but. Belief is a great survival tactic, and kids have it in spades. As parents, it is our difficult task to help our children navigate through the hard truths with some sort of hope intact. Belief in belief is important, essential even.
In my house, I mostly let my kids take the lead in determining what myths will help them through.
“Everyone in our neighborhood is nice,” Eli said to me the other day. I didn’t dispel this myth because, let’s face it, he’ll figure it out on his own. And when he does, I will help him cope, guiding him as I try to guide myself to think that the things people do and say have far more to do with them than us.
My kids differ greatly in their beliefs. Eli is a facts man mostly, figuring if you can’t prove it, it’s probably not true. He offers examples of neighbors’ actions that support his “nice” theory and, without such concrete evidence, he cannot support the existence of Santa, the Tooth Fairy or even God.
Oscar, on the other hand, is buoyed by the more intangible. He happily buys into the idea of Santa and his chimney-shimmying, cookie-loving ways, despite my Jewish disbelief. He holds fast to a firm faith in the Tooth Fairy and the Great One Above.
Eli will support my efforts to keep Oscar’s hope alive in the Tooth Fairy arena, winking at me knowingly over Oscar’s head whenever a tooth is lost and the talk of the Fairy begins.
About Santa and God, though, he is far less afraid to express his doubts. Luckily, though, Oscar is not cowed. Theological discussions are common in the backseat of our Subaru. Each boy stands his ground. I rarely weigh in unless asked specifically. Even then I can only offer up the theories I have come to that make me feel better.
Keeping hope alive is never more challenging than in the discussion of death. I don’t avoid the subject or dance around it, but death is a reality of life too difficult to deny. The kids ask often, “What happens when you die?”
I try hard to keep my cool composure. “No one knows for sure,” I usually offer up — lame, but, in my mind, true. “What do you think?”
Eli has developed an amazing belief in reincarnation despite a lack of tangible proof. By his telling, he has been almost every animal in a past life. His list is specific and he knows so many facts about his former iterations that in talking about them, for example, “When I was an eagle…,” he has me completely convinced.
Pets offer up a great opportunity to see how kids deal with the concept of death. The kids want one, so why not make it a “teachable moment”?
We headed to the pet store, where the boys first considered getting a fish.
“Fish die,” I said, remembering my own shock and dismay when my school festival goldfish ended up floating on top of the bowl within a few days.
I did feel bad as we walked around looking at little creatures’ habitats and I offered up a litany of death sentences that sounded like a sad-but-true stand-up routine. But, having their own faith, the kids took a chance on love despite inevitable loss. They picked out a mystical-looking black fish with big eyes and called him Kirby.
As predicted, Kirby was a member of the family for just one week, leaving the rubber SpongeBob snail, Gary, lonely amidst the purple rocks. We had a brief ceremony at toilet-side and sent Kirby on his way through the pipes and beyond.
The kids were not devastated. They were sad, but resigned. Kirby could come back as a cat, or might be headed off to a better place. Either way, it was fine. They were fine.