It's a running joke in our little family that my oldest daughter, Macy, and I are pretty much the same person. Obviously, I understand that we're not but our temperaments only differ in one area that we can see (I'm organized; she's not). And while being so similar seems like a bomb waiting to explode (who knows), for the most part it's been fun and fine. The weird thing I hadn't quite put together until today was that her difficult experiences would potentially trigger my difficult experiences because she's more likely to process them the same way I did as a child only now I'm the mother. It's giving me a new way to see my own mother and re-process my childhood through the eyes of the mom versus the little girl. So, so strange. And humbling. And sad. And triggering.
This morning we got to revisit one of my most upsetting childhood memories - when I found out that Santa wasn't real. Most kids are bummed or angry when they find out. I was devastated. I felt betrayed, like I couldn't believe my family willingly deceived me. I found out on Christmas Eve when my older brother wasn't quite thrilled enough about Santa and I could tell he was summoning enthusiasm for my benefit. So I asked the questions and I got the answers. And while I knew in my heart there was doubt lurking there about flying reindeer and black coal, I was honestly totally shocked. It had become a fundamental truth to me that those things existed. And so to find out that the magic of Christmas was basically contrived, the world became a place where sometimes my favorite things are actually charades.
Macy lost her 7th tooth last night. So I got out the glitter and replied to her note and snuck in her room for the 7th time. And when she woke up, I asked how it went and if she heard back from the Tooth Fairy. This was on the way to school this morning (first Macy, then Penny on preschool days). I had a migraine and had had to get both kids out the door in 30 minutes flat so I wasn't exactly on my A game. I believe this is why it did not occur to me to tell her we should talk about it with Daddy later that evening. And so when she asked me if I was the Tooth Fairy, I asked her if she wanted me to answer that question. Sometimes kids throw questions out there (with devastating answers) but they don't really want to know yet. And Macy, like me, loves fantasy and enjoys the benefits of belief to the highest level. I figured she had suspicions but that at 8, she had chosen to believe this far and maybe didn't want to let go of that. I fully support that as a viable choice with belief.
Apparently today was the day she wanted to cold hard truth and as I got her consent and verified she really did want to know, I told her. I didn't want to deny her the truth when she said she wanted it and I was unwilling to lie to her. That was always the distinction for me, that I could encourage a fantasy for fun, but that when my kids asked me point blank and it was evident they really wanted the truth for themselves, I would not deny them that. At this point, we were in the car drop off line and the tears started to roll. It was not ideal, to say the least. So we decided to drop Penny off on time and I would bring Macy back to school afterwards so she would be late. That decision afforded us 30 more minutes to process, discuss and get her head and heart in a place where she could go have a good day at school. She's been reading a 150 book series on fairies and for some reason, I thought she already knew that fairies weren't real. Apparently not. So not only did she find out that it was her mother sneaking in her room with glittery money, but she also found out that all the woodland creatures she's fallen in love with through the joy of reading are also not real. Shit. So I stepped in a bit of a landmine there. I felt really bad about that. She was crushed about the Tooth Fairy because that was the only fairy that she knew personally. How sweet is that?
And so we began a conversation about how technically, I can't definitively say fairies aren't real just because no one has ever seen them, how I'd never lived in the forest, and that maybe humans are shielded from that reality. I was totally on board for that. So she decided she still wanted to believe in the existence of fairies. Cool. She got to keep that one. The other massive fuck-up was that she then came to the question of the Easter Bunny and Santa and while I thought I'd gotten her consent to answer that question honestly, apparently her asking twice was still her version of musing and I answered it when she wasn't ready. Damn. So then we unpacked that and we discussed my experience at her age with finding out. She became angry with me and I told her that was okay. I was willing to be the problem in her process. We talked about her feelings of sadness and her shock that we had all done these things under the guise of it being Santa. She wondered if Santa was in fact real and we were just getting in his way. Maybe. We talked about the inspiration for Santa and that Saint Nick himself was a real person and that what he represents (generosity of spirit, kindness) was still very much real in how we celebrate Christmas. We talked about the magic of childhood and how Dad and I believe in the value of infusing magic into her experience and all the beautiful memories she has of that time of belief (hello church baggage!) And we talked about how she could still choose to believe, pretend to believe, participate, not participate, join us in our role with her sister or any combination of these things. That was her decision and she gets to decide what to do with her new information. We talked about the value of hard conversations and our willingness to pull back that fantasy veil as she gave us her consent to do so. That we believe in sitting in those painful realities and that not every family does that. That's why we talk about sex and changing bodies and death and belief and loss of belief openly. We talked about there being space for her anger and grief. We talked about growing up and the process of lifting veils and how the world becomes bigger and smaller, more real and less fantastic. We talked about her choices and her ability to guard her beliefs as she sees fit. We talked about being stewards of other children and not intercepting their process by shouting these new truths from the rooftops. She talked about her desire to be the one to tell her sister when the time came because "sisters give the best snuggles." And by the time we pulled back into her school parking lot, the tears had dried and she hopped out.
And that's when mommy called daddy and felt a little teary and decided to write it all out.