Monday, November 14, 2011

Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Imagination

I believe in make believe.

I believe in introducing a sense of wonder and play to my children. I believe in letting their imaginations flourish.

I believe in the power of stories. I believe in myth.

I believe in the Tooth Fairy. What the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth she collects and what her source of funding is, I don't know. My mother sewed my brother and I special pillows for the tooth and money exchange. In another year or two, I look forward to sewing a special pillow for Cullen and then for Finnian.

I believe in things that are unseen. That are unexplainable. That are euphoric coincidences.

I believe in Santa Claus - or, in our house, the Winter King. There is a spirit of sharing and giving. It is part of humanity. A special part. I anthropomorphize it and call it a name, but I believe it is bigger than me or you or the Western world. It is a part of something, something special that we gift to those we love. It brings a smile to our face. I share that with my children.

I believe in personal myths. Introducing the ghost house in our neighborhood:

Walking by this empty lot with Cullen one day, I told him it was the ghost house. It has a driveway, but the house is invisible. His imagination has been captured by this. When we drive by it, he tells me what is going on in the ghost house. Who lives there. The games they play. He asks to go by the ghost house on our walks. I have not contributed to this process beyond that initial conversation when I pointed the lot out to him.

I love seeing their imaginations fly - going past things seen on tv or in books to a landscape of their own creation. I love hearing their own explanations of the world.

When I was a young girl, my uncle took me to a storm drain and warned me about the BIG GREEN ARM that would reach up and snatch me if I stood too close. Years later (after the delicious terror had subsided a little), I shared this with my father. Turns out my father and uncle were taken to the edge of a cliff by their uncle and told a BIG GREEN ARM would snatch them off if they stood too close. Yes, I will continue the tradition and scare the bejeezus out of my own kids (or better yet, my brother's kids should he ever have some) with the tale.

Why? Because to be human is to tell stories. To open our imaginations to things seen and unseen. Stories are what give us character and form. What did you learn about my uncle in the story above? That he had a puckish sense of humor and that he had a huge effect on my life.

There is power in facts. There is power in science. I do not deny this. I share the wonder of the world of facts and science with children on a daily basis. If they ask me a question, I try to answer it as accurately as possible. But, in my opinion, if I left things there I would only be opening them up to part of the world around them. There is a shared sense of story within our culture (some argue that shared stories ARE culture). The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, ghosts, goblins, are all a part of this.

I do not understand the sense of anger and betrayal some have expressed with learning Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy are not real. Some of my best childhood memories are tied to these ideas. The excitement of seeing those gifts under the tree - wrapped in different paper than the gifts from family - or waking up to see a quarter rather than a tooth (I understand there has been marked inflation over the past 25 years) added joy to the proceedings. Even as I figured out that it was a "lie", I had a sense of a rite of passage taking place. Suddenly, I was on the adult side, viewing this as a story to share with children. I was moving into the adult world, away from the magics of childhood. But I never felt angry or betrayed by it. Instead, I liked feeling like I had participated in something bigger than myself. I hope my children feel the same way.

Some people do not want to "lie" to their children. They say that by not telling their children about these cultural myths they are building a foundation of trust that will always be there. I agree that trust and honesty is integral between parenthood and child. But parenthood is about so many moments, not any specific one. I try very hard to be honest with my children. If I am asked a question, I try to answer it as completely as possible. One day, I will be asked whether the Tooth Fairy is real. I will most likely turn the question around and ask if the child thinks she is real. That will help me determine the response I need to give at that moment.

Until then, I will indulge in the magic of make believe. I will share stories and lore from my own family and from our culture and other cultures. I will listen with open ears and mind to the descriptions of the ghost family and cherish the expression of wonder and awe on my child's face when he wakes up on Yule. I do it for them and I do it for me.


  1. Sometimes I tell my kids it will be alright. Even when I know it is not true.

  2. I should add: this is how I choose to raise my children. How you raise your children is your own business. You can look down your nose at me as a person who imposes her own misguided values on her kids and I can secretly think you are a scrooge and a person who imposes his own misguided values on his kids. So long as we do it tacitly and respectfully. :)

  3. The ghost house thing is really cute and sounds fun.
    I feel pretty much the same way you do about this. I don't remember the moment I found out that Santa, Tooth Fairy and crew where not real. But I don't remember any anger or sadness about it at all. And a part of me still believes in all of them,
    For me childhood was not great, but at least I had these things. And I think the idea of these special people who go around doing nice things for kids might have helped me be the person I am. If I look at every nice thing that happens to me now as a gift instead of random chance the world seems a little more shiny. My family did not push these ideas, but they also did not steal them away from me at the first chance they got.
    This is what I see in my head when people say they don't lie to their kids about Santa. A little girl or boy watching a Christmas special with Santa in it right before Christmas. They are filled with excitement about the whole thing, and here they are finding out about this nice magical guy who does these crazy neat things to bring kids toys. They are so happy they are almost buzzing. Their minds are going lightspeed thinking about everything. Then the parent comes into the room. The kids starts talking about Santa, and the parent says "You know that is not real right, you know that is all made up and a lie? I buy your toys and put them under the tree. There is no magic, no flying sled, no fat man in the chimney, no spirit of human kindness. All there is money, which I have enough of to buy you some toys."
    To be honest I think I would cry now if someone said that to me, but as a kid, that would have broke my heart.

  4. I know that it may not seem to be true, but your view and my view on this topic are not so far apart. I like to teach myth to kids. I like to make up stories, make up games, tell stories about the way out ancestors viewed the world. However, I won't even pretend that these things are REAL, as in actual people and things that exist in the way you or I do. The myth is important, but it is not truth.

    I do have a personal issue with using myths to scare the beejesus out of a child. Children do not have the cognative ability to understand that there is no big green arm that is going to snatch them up, but you are using it to 'protect' them in some way. Tell a scary story, fine, make sure that you child understands that it's make-believe, but to tell them that there is a big green arm that is going to snatch them up and then let them be scared of that because they think it's real... is not something that I can see my way to understanding as okay.

    To my mind there is enough amazing and potentially scary things in the real world that I don't need to make things up and pretend they are real just to tell my kid.