I overheard my daughter talking with two friends yesterday about their classmates who *pish posh*;) don’t believe in Santa. With world weary sighs, they gave each other “the look”, and began to come up with proofs that Santa is. These included staying up as late as possible on the stairs with a computer and built in video camera-until of course it got very late (and the camera operator succumbed to sleep); empty cups of coke (apparently, in one house, Santa gets sick of the milk and appreciates the variety), and-the topper, a friend saw him, and reported it. I think the eye witness takes the cake.
David Duncan wrote a marvelous short story in his collection River Teeth called “The Garbage Man’s daughter”. It’s about a wary little girl who doesn’t believe in any of the usual suspects-not the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, nor Santa. However, what she does believe in the garbage man’s daughter. More specifically, she believes that the garbage man’s family subsists on the items he picks up from people’s homes, and thus begins a campaign to make sure said daughter is properly clothed and fed by leaving small well wrapped bundles of quality stuff on the top of the garbage can. I love this little story, because it so accurately captures the inner workings of a child’s mind, and the elaborate logic that children employ to make sense of their worlds. It is just like my daughter being absolutely convinced that faeries exist, and in the same breath disdaining unicorns.
Almost as much fun as the questionable logic of 9 year olds are age old traditions that are so familiar, we rarely stop to ask why. In his gift to long road trips, David Sedaris wrote a brilliantly funny collection of short stories called “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” which includes an essay called Jesus Shaves. (Click the link to read the whole thing, but make sure you don’t have any liquids in your mouth when you do!). This little gem narrates Sedaris’s trials and tribulations learning french with a sadistic teacher, and in particular, their discovery of the absurd practices we take for granted. My favorite section is when the students begin to compare holiday traditions, and find each other’s equally confounding.
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears.
“You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country.
“No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?” (Sedaris, 2000).
It’s a good question, right? I mean, we all know the bunny doesn’t really bring the eggs, but why did we decide it should be a bunny? Why not the easter lamb, or donkey? Wouldn’t it make more sense? At least France’s mythology makes sense! Rome=church=resurrection=celebratory candy from Rome! I don’t recall Jesus ever being referred to as the great bunny of Judah. Here’s another thought to contemplate-why the tooth fairy? In Chile, where we currently live, it’s the tooth mouse. (And right here, I’d like to give a shout out to Disney for the addition of Cheese the mouse to Tinkerbell’s back story. It has made our cross cultural transition much smoother;)
I should admit at this point in my rambling that I have strong suspicions about the origins of these stories. When my daughter was smaller, she was a prolific “artist,” and while I appreciate her efforts, I do not need a painting a day, no matter how sentimental I may be. And so I created a little convenient fiction for her (i.e. a big fat lie!) to get those paintings out of my house sans tears, that she continues to believe to this day. Are you ready for it? (You just might want to take notes here, moms and dads): I told her about the art fairies. You know-they pretty much live in the same time zone as the tooth fairies, only they collect art. In fact, they probably hold exhibitions in conjunction, exhibiting the best art and teeth they have collected. And the really great part is that they collect all this world class art for a very small fee-less than they’d pay for a tooth, and sometimes as little as a piece of gum. It works, its fun, and it adds to the little canon of fantasy that already populates her childhood. Now, just in case you are taking notes, let me tell you what NOT to do. Don’t leave those little teeth or pieces of paper where little hands and eyes can discover them “after.” I made the mistake of keeping my kiddelinks teeth with my jewelry (does that seem creepy?) and one day when she was rooting around to make mommy fancy, her eyes got very big. Our conversation went something like this:
H: “MOMMY! HOW did you get my tooth?”
Mommy: “Well, um, H, the fairies know that mommies are sentimental, and sometimes leave us teeth as a little momento.”
H: “Nah uh mommy-this is MY tooth” (as a Gollemesque greedy little glint stole into her eye).
Mommy: “Nah uh H-you got your money, fair and square. Tooth’s mine.”
H goes away for a little while, and comes back later.
H: “Tell you what, mommy, let me borrow that tooth, and I’ll share the money with you.”
Mommy: “H! You can’t scam the tooth fairy! That’s a mean trick, and you’ll never get money again if they find out.”
So, later on that evening, as I’m checking on my sweaty, sleeping little scam artist, I find a tiny note in tiny print right next to the tooth. “Deer tuth farie, this is my real tooth but I already gaved it to yu, but pleez give me just a little money. Love H.”
My small criminal will soon be 10, and is still a naïve, gullible, whimsical kid. Just yesterday, we were going down the street and she handed me her “leash” so she could be my baby dragon. These are behaviours that the “too cool for school” crowd will slowly erode sooner than I would like. I’ve seen it already, when H walks into a group of kids holding a baby doll. It’s like sharks, as they sharpen their teeth and get ready to attack the soft one. And equal parts of me want her to be calloused and hard, so they can’t hurt her, and open and vulnerable, so she is her authentic self. What solution is there to this conundrum? We are going home in just a few short weeks to spend some long anticipated time with our American family-including Haley’s much younger cousins, who for a few wise and sensible reasons, do not believe in such nonsense as Santa Clause. And I am bracing myself for the beginning of the end, as it seems unlikely the 4 year old will “keep the secret” from the 9 year old.
The wonder years set for each of us, but I suppose I can look forward to conspiring with my kiddo some day when she tells her own children about the “art” fairies, and be reminded about her own wonder years. And perhaps that is why some of us take so much pleasure in the shine in our own children’s eyes when they talk about “el viejo pascuero” or the tooth fairy. When H asks me if “he” is real, and I ask what do you think, I love the little light of possibility that illuminates her face-it’s the light of innocence. It makes me think of the lovely Emily Dickinson poem on the topic.
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
May we all dwell in possibility this holiday season!
Sedaris, David. “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little,
Brown, 2000. 166-173.