The magic of childhood is kind of totally freaky

Guest post by Mary McKenzie Rekosh
Ben's Tooth Fairy Note

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 [email protected]*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.

Comments on The magic of childhood is kind of totally freaky

    • It’s a “doll” that you move everynight, positioning him in precarious situations like dying the milk green, unrolling the TP, etc… as if he’s been to the north pole and back in a night. Ours’ name is Sheldon!

      • Seriously? That’s a thing? I have enough trouble remembering to move the freakin’ presents on a single night; I don’t think I could be trusted to move an elf more than once…. Plus, it IS kinda freaky…

        • OK, that is officially the scariest thing I have ever seen… why in the hell would you put that in a child’s room! ha ha

          • Be careful: I posted my opinion about Elf on the Shelf being completely freaky on facebook and lost two friends — including a family member — over it. I was accused of ruining my children’s lives by not doing EotS — nor do we do Santa, Easter Bunny, etc etc. They get the stuff, but the surprises all come from the same place, us, with no secret or made up origins. I think the proliferation of adult tricks for children’s “joy” is really strange. At St Pat’s everyone on my facebook feed was talking about a “leprechaun” visit to their kids (dying milk green, etc). WTF.

    • It’s a weird looking doll that you’re supposed to place in an area of the house to “watch” your children to make sure they’re being good, because he reports to Santa. Extremely unnerving, even for grown adults.

      • Hey all: while I don’t do the Elf on a Shelf thing, I know plenty of families that do and their kids totally love it. Different strokes & all of that. 🙂

        • I hope I didn’t come across as judgey about the Elf on the Shelf!

          Maybe my future kids would love it; I just know I would find it a little scary (hello irrational fear of puppets, dummies and clowns!). Heck I have a Stephen Colbert cutout in my house, and he makes me jump every once and a while!

        • Our niece LOVES her Elf on a Shelf. She cried on Christmas Eve when she had to say goodbye to him for the year.

      • I have NEVER heard of this until now. Is it a US thing? In the UK we just have that song, “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake” and that does the trick.

  1. Well, while this piece did make me laugh…it also made wonder and worry about something. Are many children nowadays scared of these things?

    When I was growing up, I can say 100% that I was not, knew no one, knew no one growing up, and currently do not no any children who are scared of these things. I mean, I think my little sister might have been a little worried about the tooth fairy for about 5 min until my mom told her the tooth fairy only takes teeth from under your pillow. Here’s how I, and every other child I knew saw these imaginary characters:

    Santa = like your friendly neighbour from across the road, except he’s magic and gives you presents!

    Easter Bunny = normal-sized bunny that has a basket on it’s back and gives you free chocolate!

    Tooth Fairy = gives you money for your gross teeth!

    I mean, every kid I knew had, at one point or another, attempted to knock more teeth out of their heads just to get the cash.

    Although to be fair, Elf on the Shelf is pretty effin’ terrifying. Puppets are freaky. And if I was a kid, I would most definitely be crying a lot because a puppet was stalking me. Even now at 25 Elf on the Shelf freaks me out. This also probably stems from when my mother had 3 string puppets that were hung in the hallway, so they were STARING AT ME when I was trying to go to sleep.

    • When I was little I never considered Santa , Easter Bunny or Tooth fairy to be a stranger, I considered them to be friends that knew and loved all the children so much that they wanted to leave us presents. They aren’t any more scary than the idea of God (Personally I’d be a lot more scared of God if I believed in him).

      I hadn’t even heard of Elf on the shelf until this year and my son stopped believing in Santa |Claus this year too, so I don’t have to worry ’bout none o’ that anymore! I wouldn’t have started the Elf on the Shelf business anyway, cause like you said, remembering to do that every day? I’ve forgotten the tooth fairy enough times, and have dreams during the month of December where I forget to buy and put out the presents on Xmas eve…

    • Could have something to do with the current culture where EVERYTHING is scary and where we’re supposed to protect kids from everyone and everything. Growing up with that would make anyone afraid of something like the Easter Bunny, I think.

    • I wasn’t scared of Santa, the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny – but the poster in our basement of Mr. T terrified me.

      • Oh man, I grew up living at my grandma’s in what used to be my mom’s bedroom as a teenager. There was a big sticker with KISS on the closet door that freaked me out so bad they had to cover it with a fish picture I drew at school.

        Santa and all that never scared me though, and I was afraid of EVERYTHING.

        • I would often hang out with my mom at the office where she worked, and in one of the conference rooms, FOR SOME REASON, they had a poster of Alf. It was also always dark in there, so yeah. Terrifying.

    • I recall many conversations between mothers at my old job where they refused to read their children certain fairy tales or let them watch old Disney movies in case their kids were scared of them.

      I think it’s great for children to be interested in the world around them and want answers for how big the Easter Bunny is, for example, but I do wonder if our hyper-connected world, combined with a reduction in telling children fairy tales and nursery rhymes is effecting their relationship to things we as children maybe didn’t question in the same ways.

      I was enamoured with the idea of the tooth fairy (or indeed any fairy or sprite or elf) when I was little and didn’t think it at all weird that he or she would want my old teeth. In hindsight this does seem strange – but only because I am looking at it through my adult eyes.

      I hope that I can let my son’s world be one of magic and wonder, whether with the tooth fairy, Santa, or just the buds pushing out at the start of spring and the rustle of golden-brown leaves in autumn.

      • My mother didn’t want me to see The Lion King when it came out because she thought it was too violent. Even at the age of 8 I thought that was silly. They’re lions!

    • I didn’t want the tooth fairy to take my teeth when I was a kid. I had a strange psychological attachment to inanimate objects probably due to the amount of anthropomorphic cartoons I watched.

      • Me too. I recall making a deal with my parents (acting as negotiators with the Tooth Fairy on my behalf) that I would be allowed to keep my teeth and get the money as well.

        I was a shrewd one, even as a little kid.

        • I did this too! I wrote a lovely letter (which my Mum still has) asking the tooth fairy to let me keep the tooth and still get the cash (50 cents). I wanted the tooth so I could give it to my grandmother to add to her collection of teeth she’d kept from my dad, uncle and aunty.

        • My mother gave me a choice: Teeth or money. I was too attached to the idea of collecting my teeth to give them up, even for money. She never tried terribly hard to sell me on the tooth fairy idea though. I think there was a mention that we were both clear on being a fantasy. At 6 I definitely didn’t believe in Santa anymore either. I was always a sceptic.

    • When I was growing up, I was never afraid but WAS highly suspicious of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I always wanted to catch them in the act (and obviously never did).

    • The only time I ever heard of a kid being scared of losing their teeth it was because another boy in school told him it was the first sign of a rare disease where bits of you keep dropping off until theres nothing left.

      Learning about the tooth fairy was actually part of making him feel better about it. (Although probably secondary to being told everyones teeth fall out, it’s totally normal and nothing else is going to fall off.)

  2. I suppose I never really got freaked out about santa or the tooth fairy, even though I WAS always terrified that a stranger would be in the house on a fairly consistent basis (no real basis for this fear, it just terrified me). The difference to me was that things like Santa and fairies are MAGIC! They’re not real people (and I definitely never thought of the Easter bunny as life-size, which IS horrifying), and magic is good and fun and not out to hurt you ever. I suppose coming from a religious family probably helped, just because I was already comfortable with the idea of things being there that I can’t see. But anywa, magic fairies can sneak into my house any time! 🙂

  3. This is amazing. When I was little my mom sang me the “I see the moon and the moon sees me” poem, once. She then had to pin my blinds shut for a year because I didn’t want him looking at me. I also hated Santa, though I was fine with him leaving presents in the livingroom – so long as he stayed in the living room. Hopefully, my son will get his father’s sense of wonder instead of my pragmatic sense of dread.

  4. Very funny article, I love how different parents view these cultural traditions! We are still debating whether we are going to buy into the whole Santa thing.
    Magic is part of being a child, I was never that bothered by Santa, tooth fairy etc I was more excited about the characters I loved in books. That was were the magic lay for me 🙂

  5. This is really funny! I never believed in any of those things, (because my mom just can’t bring herself to tell even a white lie). But I do remember that those characters were part of a kind of fun “game” of pretend. Except Santa. I have always hated him!

    • Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were all a game in my house – we used to leave cherry liqueurs and a glass of port out for santa because that was Dad’s favourite, and Dad would often hop into the kitchen one day over easter and announce that the easter bunny had arrived and to check our beds (where chocolates were now hidden). The tooth fairy was always mum though.

      I plan on it all being a game for my kids too (our first is 6.5 months baked). Kids make their own magic!

      • Santa was definitely a pretend that we continued to adulthood
        We used to stay with my Aunt and Uncle for Christmas so Santa used to get 2 whiskys, a tia maria and a sherry left out for him!

  6. This seems like such a crazy idea to me, since I never knew anyone scared of holiday characters, but really, such fears must have been around for ages. Look how many kids cry when their parent plops them down on the lap of some stranger in a costume at the mall for a photo-op. (Although that’s sort of a different case – I believed in Santa for YEARS later than most kids, but it was always pretty darn clear to me that the guy at the mall was not magic and not Santa.)

  7. I never believed in those childhood magical things. My parents didn’t want to lie to me. And you know what? I don’t really miss any of it. I still got my Silver Dollar for my tooth, but my mom just handed it to me. And we still got presents on Christmas, we just knew who to thank. And Easter… we got to pick out our present! Way cool if you ask me.

    As a Christian family, my parents didn’t want me confusing the holiday myths with the Christian truths behind them. Christmas was about The Birth, and Easter about The Ressurection.

    Also, I was homeschooled up until high school. So there wasn’t 32 other kids insisting Santa was real. So that was easier.

    Now that I’m a parent, I’d like to follow the same rule my parents did. But my DH wants the munchkins to have that magic for a while. And I’m fine with that. Millions of kids grow up believing in Santa and they’ve all turned out ok. Mine will too…

    • This is how Husband and I want to raise our kids and for the same reasons. Truth is a really important concept for us. My parents did the whole Santa and Easter Bunny thing, but as a young child, I never really believed it. I remember asking Mum if he was real and when she said yes, I insisted she tell me the truth.

  8. This made me laugh until I cried. It’s so true, the magical childhood stuff is actually pretty terrifying when you think about it. And we didn’t even talk about the Krampus, who is SUPPOSED to be terrifying!

  9. There was never much talk about Santa or the toothfairy or all the other guys when I grew up. We still had a lot of fun, like my dad always hid easter eggs for us, and we got stockings with candy on christmas, but there was never a “This IS from Santa”-case around it.

    Mostly it was just “this is from us” or an intriguing “I don’t know, who do you think did it?”.

    But we did believe that pirates regularly hid treasure around our house and left maps in our livingroom.

    I work with kids and have had parents approach me with ” he has started to not believe in Santa, can you convince him?”.

    Why? Santa IS not real, why insist on convincing a non-balieving or scared/sceptical child otherwise?

    What I mostly go with is this “No, (insert here) is not real, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend”.

  10. Oh my God, I think I almost peed myself laughing reading this. Thank you for that.

    Brings back memories of when I was little, and my mom would ring sleigh bells outside my window on Christmas Eve after I’d gone to bed. Every single year. And, for some unknown reason, this TERRIFIED me. I didn’t tell her for years, but I lived in irrational childish fear of those bells outside my window.

    Oddly, Santa himself didn’t scare me. Neither did the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Although my mom did forget to swap my tooth for a coin the first time I lost one, and when I was all distraught the next morning, she quickly saved her ass by shouting, “Oh, no wonder! We forgot to leave the window open for her!”

    Needless to say, every time I lost a tooth from then on, I slept with the window open so the tooth fairy could get in. Ah, childhood…

  11. I don’t remember being scared of any holiday characters, however NONE of them came into our bedrooms (think this was just my parents way of making sure they didn’t wake us up)
    The tooth fairy collected our teeth from the mantlepiece and we hung our stockings up in the living room for santa to deliver presents. The easter bunny isn’t as big a tradition in england but I think we once had easter eggs on the back door step from him.
    I also have vague memories about a “birthday man” but I’ll have to ask my Mum about that strange one!

  12. Exceedingly funny post! 🙂

    Although I don’t understand… “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.”

    If it’s that much of a big deal that no-one is enjoying it, why keep it as a tradition? Why not change it to something that won’t be so scary?

  13. I loved this post. Both my husband and I laughed out loud several times.

    You know, with all the hair he’s lost over the years, we probably could have gotten ourselves a couple cups of coffee if only we’d played it right…

  14. RE: The toothfairy
    My brother became obsessed with trying to catch the toothfairy, not out of fright, just curiosity. Once he put his tooth in a dixies cup and stapled it shut, assuming the toothfairy could slip in to the cup. I think my dad ripped it open and left the money.

    My parents still tell the story of the night my brother and I stormed into their bedroom demanding to know where the teeth were. I don’t know how they kept straight faces.

  15. My parents definitely kept the magic alive for my younger sister and I, even when it maybe taught the wrong lesson! When I lost my first tooth, my younger sister was quite jealous. I wrote the tooth fairy a note asking her to leave the tooth as a keepsake. She did, and I kept it in a little jar. Then my sister decided to trick the tooth fairy by putting my old tooth under her pillow. Imagine my surprise the next morning when my tooth was gone, and a dollar was in its place! I remember being quite angry with both my sister and the tooth fairy. I was never scared of the tooth fairy, but I definitely trusted her less. Then, a few years later, when I learned the truth, I couldn’t believe my parents let my sister get away with it.

  16. My brother and I always kind of knew that all these holiday beings were pretend. I’m not sure when we realized it, but even after we they were outed we still continued the pretense. I’m 30 years old and I still get presents from Santa. And I’m not allowed to thank my mother, I have to thank “Santa” in front of my mother. It used to annoy the shit out of me in high school, but now I can’t wait to do it to my own grown children some day. I wonder if my mom will let it go when I have kids of my own!

  17. I wrote lots of letters to the tooth fairy. His/her answer to “what do you look like?” was “I don’t know. I work at night when the mirrors don’t work.” Good answer!

  18. Thanks for all the comments, guys! I am loving them. I hope, at the very least, that the post made you laugh a little bit. Don’t all of us mamas (and humans) need that? Gotta go back to terrorizing my kids now; I’ve made an Easter Bunny mask with fangs dripping blood and I’m gonna debut it tomorrow night outside of their bedroom windows. (Just kidding! Please don’t take me seriously. I’m just doing what all of us mama bloggers do: Sharing my perspective on this wild ride we call parenthood while sitting around in my bathrobe, sipping Chardonnay and typing away. What’s that you say? Oh. Me neither. I was just kidding. Don’t smell my coffee cup.)

  19. When my sister was about 7 or 8 she ripped out the top four and bottom four of her teeth in order to get money from the tooth fairy. My mom’s response was, “the tooth fairy doesn’t reward little girls who rip out their teeth.” We still tell that story to this day. I guess she had the entrepenurial spirit?

  20. I never really believed in Santa, but I did have nightmares about the tooth fairy, long after I stopped losing teeth. I wonder why.

  21. This post reminds me of my first year in primary school.

    We were a good three months in, and the school staged a Sinterklaas party (Sinterklaas is a bishop who brings presents on the 6th of December, but he also punishes bad kids, by putting them in his bag & taking them with him).
    My teacher, a petite woman whom I loved, was selected as ‘bad kid’, so she was put in the bag & carted off.

    Hysteria in our class ensued…

    I still remember my sense of desolate confusion : I didn’t understand why Sinterklaas considered her bad, and if I didn’t understand, how could I make sense of the world ?

  22. How to handle holiday magic with future children became a conversation at our house after my sister-in-law declared that her children would not be visited by Santa. This did not go over well among the grandparents.

    I know some people have stories of feeling hurt and betrayed by learning that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy were not real and I’ve been trying to figure out how I avoided those feelings since I was particularly concerned with honesty and fairness as a child.

    I think my parents were always very playful about it and the concept of magic was a big part of the mythology which let it all be sort of deliciously unreal to me. Also, we didn’t have a fireplace and there was no way jolly old Santa could fit in our wood stove, so the story was suspect from the beginning.

    My mother was also really good at dropping hints about Santa being a metaphor for generosity. I remember being told that anyone could be Santa just by giving a gift without expecting anything in return, like Santa does (milk and cookies, and carrots for reindeer notwithstanding).

    So the transition from “the magical man who leaves presents if you write him a nice letter”, to knowing that the man wasn’t real but he stood for kindness and charity and they were real was actually pretty easy.

    I think if we do it, we’ll try to do something like that because both my husband and I love the trappings and traditions of the holidays.

    I do remember though, that when I was told that my father was the tooth fairy, I had this sudden mental image of my rather portly father in a pink fluffy tutu, tights, wings and a wand. That was a little scary.

    My mother thought it was hilarious though.

    • Yes my mom told me that the magic of Santa came from people’s spirit of generosity. I transitioned really well after finding out at the ripe ol’ age of 9 that Santa was not a real person. Although I had almost caught mom about half a dozen times during my childhood I honestly didn’t suspect untill I was nine and them mom sat me down and explained it all.

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