Setting: last week. After school. The back seat of a crosstown taxi, sitting next to my first grader.
SEAMUS: Mom? Why do some kids say the tooth fairy is really your parents?
ME: (stalling) Hm? Huh? Who says that?
SEAMUS: Lots of kids.
SEAMUS: So is it? Is it really you?
ME: …what do you think Seamus?
SEAMUS: I’m not sure.
Mom isn’t too sure either. The cab driver looks at me in the rear view mirror, eyebrows raised.
ME: Seamus, you’ve only lost two teeth, so… I think you should keep believing in the Tooth Fairy for a while.
SEAMUS: (teary) I want the Tooth Fairy to come.
ME: She will! She will!
SEAMUS: But I just need you to tell me. Tell me the truth. TELL ME, Mom. Is it really you?
ME: Okay. Yes. Yes, the tooth fairy is really me and Dad. Me or Dad.
Seamus nods, looking out the window.
ME: But even though you know now, when you lose your teeth, we’ll still give you money under your pillow. Okay?
Seamus breaks down sobbing.
SEAMUS: No! I don’t want you to do that. You can’t do that!
MOM: Why, buddy?
SEAMUS: Because what if the real Tooth Fairy is looking in the window and sees you doing that, and then leaves? Then how will we EVER know she’s real?
The cab driver looks at me in the mirror again. He smiles. I smile back, ruefully. How bad did I just screw that up?
It is remarkable how, even in this hurry-to-grow-up world, a child can still find a scrap of innocence to cling to, a small piece of driftwood in a vast ocean of too much, too soon. I thought my son wanted me to help him grow up a little. But what he was really saying was I believe; help thou my unbelief.
I’m so glad he showed me how to help him stay little just a little longer.
Has your child ever asked for the truth, but not really wanted it?
tooth fairy photo from forbes.com