Why do we insist on scaring the living daylights out of our children with the Magic of Childhood? It’s no wonder they’re all in a hurry to grow up. You would be too, if every time a milestone or major holiday came around it was marked by somebody sneaking into your home or bedroom at night, and either leaving something behind or taking a body part of yours.
You’ve got the Easter Bunny, who caused some serious panic at my house last spring, because apparently some children dislike the thought of a human-sized lagomorph hippity-hopping into their home in the night in order to hide hard-boiled eggs (which they hate). They flat out refused to go to sleep until finally, at about 10pm, I gave up and told them that I had just seen a bunny tail hopping back down the driveway away from the house, and the Easter baskets had been delivered OUTSIDE.
I congratulated myself on averting yet another crisis with the help of a teeny little white lie (the cornerstone of effective parenting), but have been paying for it ever since with a daily barrage of questions from my bunny-obsessed daughter Janie (who is four): “What color was the bunny? Pink? Purple? Do you think it was a girl? Was she wearing anything fancy? Is it Easter again tomorrow? Was she pink? Was she purple? Did she sparkle? Did she have fingernails? Were they painted pink? WERE THEY PAINTED PIIIIINK MOMMYYYYY???!!!!??? Do you think she likes princesses? Was she wearing shoes? Party Shoes? Were they pink? Was she beautiful? Is it Easter again yet? Will it be Easter after lunch?”
Of course there’s Santa Claus, but he’s not any more unnerving than any other bearded, overweight gentleman taking a break from his seasonal work at the mall and his busy life breaking elf labor laws on the North Pole to slip down the chimney into your living room in the dead of night. His increasingly annoying sidekick, The Elf-On-The-Shelf (whose creator, I’m pretty sure, is sitting on her own private island sipping Mai-Tais and ogling her oiled-up poolboy, while collecting another cool million for every time one of us sucker parents wakes up at 2am in a cold sweat because we didn’t move the God D@*n Elf again) is also pretty innocuous, and definitely no more disturbing than your average garden gnome who’s been sent to spy on you for a full month before Christmas.
Although our elf did have to send twice-weekly notes to the kids in order to assuage their constant fear that he would sneak into their rooms and watch them sleep. But never, NEVER did our elf consider suspending operations in our home. He is kind of like a Navy Seal of delivering Childhood Magic without hesitation or fatigue.
Then there’s the Tooth Fairy, and to be honest I kind of get where that’s a little bit unsettling:
“Yes, honey, I know that it’s strange and kind of scary that one of your teeth just fell right out of your head. But here’s where it gets SUPER freaky: Tonight a winged stranger is going to sneak into your room and take that dead tooth right out from under your pillow while you’re sleeping. Hmmm, good question: Actually I don’t know what she looks like. No, I don’t think we should ‘Google it.’ No, I don’t know how big she is, yes, probably bigger than a hamster…but with wings. Yes, I guess like a beetle that’s bigger than a hamster. Don’t be afraid though because you might get a dollar! No, that won’t buy you a Wii. Nope, pet armadillos cost more than a dollar too. Well, no, I don’t know what she does with the teeth, but if we ever go to somebody’s house for dinner and they’ve got a lampshade made out we of baby teeth, we’ll know that we’re closing in on her.”
When we adults reach a certain age, our bodies start to morph as well, and not in a good way like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. More like a caterpillar turning into a Sophia from the Golden Girls, or Gary Busey. But I don’t think many men would toss their beer across the room and do a Tom Cruise-style couchdance of excitement if we told them: “Ooh, that’s so exciting you lost three more hairs! That bald spot is really beginning to take shape; you must have a lot of testosterone, big guy. Now here’s what’s going to go down: When you go to bed tonight, put those hairs in this adorable little pouch I made just for you, and a creepy little dude is going to come in and take it from right under your increasingly shiny noggin. But don’t worry because he’ll leave you a Starbucks gift card for like eleven cents! No, I don’t know what he looks like, but he may very well be wearing a hockey mask with little metal bars over the mouth. Maybe he’s a huge, spooky antique baby doll, you know the kind whose eyes are always rolling back into his head. Or perhaps he’s just a giant clown with X’s for eyes. But remember: Starbucks gift card! Sleep tight.”
When my son Ben lost his first tooth last year, he was overjoyed and beside himself with excitement! Oh, wait — no he wasn’t. He Freaked The Hell Out AND the other kids threw tantrums too, just for good measure. These weren’t just any run of the mill crying fits like kids have when they find out that you snuck vegetables underneath the cheese on their pizza and they accidentally ate something green. No, these were full blown meltdowns, like they have when they are already strapped into the moving car and they’re told that their destination is the doctor’s office for S-H-O-T-S.
Anyway, after the lost tooth tantrum waned, Ben immediately posted a note on his bedroom door that read: “No Tooth Fairy allowed because tooth is downstairs. Please leave reward in kitchen.” He then made me sleep with the tooth under MY pillow, while Janie refused to sleep in her own bed on the off chance that the Tooth Fairy wanted her teeth too, which were clearly secured in her mouth.
We all enjoyed this experience so much that the next time Ben lost a tooth, which happened to be during a large extended family holiday dinner, he immediately threw it under the table in hopes that nobody would notice… and I really, really wanted to let him get away with it. But I couldn’t, because at the end of the day I had to uphold my parental responsibility to make him suck it up and endure the Magic of Childhood. Abra-Ca-Freaking-Dabra.