My daughter told me that she has a loose tooth this morning, and her words struck dread into my heart. Right now, I just barely have some holiday cheer going on up in here. We’re actually having a nice Advent instead of having the weeks leading up to Christmas be the stress-fest that they usually are — but we’re hanging on by a thread. I’m like a woman trying to walk a tightrope while juggling a lit Advent wreath with Christmas tree ornaments and a baby. It’s all going fine now, but the slightest breeze could send this whole show crashing to the ground. And the loose tooth might be that breeze.
The problem is not the tooth per se, but the fact that a shocking lack of foresight and self-knowlege led me to start the Tooth Fairy tradition when my oldest child was little. I am barely competent enough to do the things that earthly beings are supposed to do, so the fact that I willingly signed up to take on the responsibilities of a peppy fairy with magic powers was an inexplicably dumb move. It’s likely left my kids with the impression that the Tooth Fairy is somehow both legalistic and flaky, and maybe occasionally drunk. Since the trinkets that I attempt to keep on hand as Tooth Fairy gifts all end up going into the same black hole where half the kids’ socks go, and I rarely have cash on me, I’ve ended up throwing out a bunch of spontaneous limits on her visits that add up to a very bizarre set of regulations. My children must imagine that her service contract looks something like this:
And then there’s Santa, Ruiner of Attempts at Christmas Budgeting. I was all proud of myself for sitting the kids down and explaining that we won’t be doing a lot of gifts this year because money is tight, but that that’s okay because that’s not what Christmas is all about. They nodded sweetly and said that that’s no problem. It was a touching moment that warmed my heart…until they added, “We’ll just ask Santa for our presents!”
In theory, I like the idea of holiday fairies and elves and bunnies. The line between pretend worlds and the real world is blurrier for kids than it is for us, and just as I had an involved conversation with my four-year-old about the details of her imaginary friend’s personal life this morning, I think that talking to kids about men in flying sleighs and toy-making elves and reindeer on roofs can add a lovely mystical element to childhood. And in households run by people who can deal with life, I’m sure it does. In my house, the way it plays out is that the kids end up wondering what it is about fairy land that makes so many of its inhabitants so incompetent, and I end up totally maxed out because I have taken on the to-do list of someone who can fly.
All of this has left me to ponder the question: Why do I do it, then?
Nobody has to keep up the Santa tradition these days; in fact, about half the families I know don’t have any traditions involving pretend creatures. I even know plenty of people who started down that path but then switched gears one year, telling all of their kids the scoop about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny once and for all. Heck, maybe I could wrap it up with the birds and the bees talk and just get it all out on the table in the most horribly awkward parenting conversation ever!
I’ve been thinking about that option all through Advent, and I’ve decided not to do it. As much as all our fairies are ruining my life, I’m going to stick with them, at least for now. And my main reason is this:
It is the way our families have always done it. And I need — desperately, seriously, dying-man-in-the-desert-level need — one area of my life as a parent that I do not have to agonize about. As a modern mother, I am required to obsess over every. single. aspect. of my children’s lives. I have to make ALL THE CHOICES about ALL THE THINGS and I am EXHAUSTED.
Sorry for the caps lock, but seriously, people, I am supposed to be pouring all this energy into what food we eat and what types of shows they watch and what type of video games they play and how much time they spend doing those things and what sports they play and what sorts of clothes they wear and whether we should vaccinate and circumcise and pierce ears and…GAH! I can’t even send my kids to the school down the street without second-guessing it because now we have the options of homeschooling and charter schools. (And now that we homeschool, don’t even get me started on the opportunities for hand-wringing analysis. I seriously just had a conversation about whether our grammar curriculum is holy enough.)
There was a time when mothers just did things the way their own mothers did, and that was that. There are plenty of downsides to that kind of cultural environment, but I’d imagine that one huge upside is that you don’t burn up half your mental energy questioning everything you do. Ultimately I’m glad that we live in an age where we’re all free to break from tradition and do things our own way. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I’m drawing the line with our fairy traditions.
I asked my 99-year-old grandfather last weekend if they did Santa when he was a kid, and he said yes. People in our family have been having Santa come visit their kids for as far back as he knows. Same with the other side of my family; same with Joe’s family. There have been a mix of strong believers and not-so-strong believers, and I don’t see a correlation to the Santa thing, so I’m not too worried about that aspect of it. Therefore, in this one case, I am going to trust that our dozens of ancestors knew what they were doing. I’m going to assume that the fact that this tradition has had such a strong presence in our families for so long means that it had some kind of meaning or value to or forebearers, and I’m going to leave it at that.
And so when my daughter finally loses that tooth it will be whisked away by the Tooth Fairy, who will probably be a day late and have only a lovingly chosen and hastily wrapped toy from the discount bin at the nearest drugstore to offer. The Easter Bunny is going to keep littering the Easter baskets with stuff that looks suspiciously like old Halloween candy, and Santa is going to keep bringing the kids a haphazard assortment of gifts that are much less expensive than the ones they asked for. And when people ask me why, I am going to relish the fact that I have no involved defense for my choice, and I’m going to enjoy every word of it when I say: “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”