Saturday, September 24, 2005

Leaving the Garden

“Daddy, can I ask you a question?” Meikina’s voice came from beside me on the bed as we both lay in the dark falling asleep. “Of course,” I replied. “You can ask me anything.” There were a few moments of quiet, and feelings of apprehension began to rise in my chest. I knew that the question in her mind was one of the “big ones”, since the last time she had posed to me that question she had asked about her birth mother in China. I patiently waited for her to finished contemplating her inquiry. At last it came.

“Is the tooth fairy real?”

The sound of her voice startled me. Her voice was at once soft, but nervous, as if she had an answer she hoped to hear in her mind, but knew in her heart that it would not be the answer she was going to get. I, on the other hand, had a quick answer in my heart that I wanted to give her, but knew in my head that I wouldn’t be able to.

“That is a good question, why do you ask?”

She explained that that day in class the teacher had asked for the kids to identify which things were “fantasy” and which were “reality”. One of the questions involved the Tooth Fairy. “I marked it as being real, but everyone else said fantasy. I want to know if I gave the right answer.”

I lay there in the dark wondering how I was going to answer her question. My mind reflected back to the early months leading up to her adoption, when her mother and I had discussed whether we wanted to incorporate the Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy “myths” into our home. I was uncomfortable with the thought of deceiving my daughter, of misleading her into believing something that wasn’t true, even if it was in the name of “giving her a normal childhood.” I read many varying opinions, and my family and friends seemed to believe that I would be a poor father if I didn’t let her believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I capitulated, and agreed to allow a little magic and myth to be part of Meikina’s childhood. It was agreed, however, that there would not be any stories of a large white bunny delivering Easter Eggs.

Now, as I lay next to Meikina, her question reverberating in my ears, I pondered how to answer it. In many ways I felt guilty, like I had been caught in a lie and was now called upon to explain it. I hated this, I decided.

“Remember the movie ‘Polar Express?’” I asked.

I proceeded to tell her that in the movie, when the little boy rang the bell at the end, he was the only one that heard it. He was the only one that believed in the bell, in Santa, and all of the people around him no longer heard the bell. I assured her that it was OK to believe, even when others around her no longer did.

“Meikina,” I continued, “I promised you long ago that I will always give you the truth if you asked me. What you need to ask yourself is do you really want to know the answer. Sometimes the answer will make you feel sad, as you lose something that you once believed.” I again assured her that I would never intentionally deceive her.

There were several moments of quiet. I could feel her moving slightly, so I knew she hadn’t fallen asleep.

“Daddy,” her voice called again, “Is the Tooth Fairy real?”

“No”, I told her simply, “the Tooth Fairy is Mommy and Daddy.” I felt Meikina’s heart fall as she heard my answer, for I knew that she had really hoped that it was all real. I knew that I had to explain further. Often, when parents have children, they try to bring some magic and happiness to their kids by telling stories of the Tooth Fairy. “Wasn’t it exciting when you put your tooth under the pillow and woke up to find the gold coin?” I asked. She admitted it was. She asked where I got the coins. How did I take the tooth without waking her. I don’t know if it was a genuine question of process, or a desire to test me because she still believed in the magic, and couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off alone.

I told her how I had learned the truth about the Tooth Fairy. One night my parents had gone out, and left a young baby sitter in charge. During the evening one of my teeth had fallen out, and I put my sitter under oath not to tell my parents. As I crawled into bed, I placed the tooth under my pillow.

The next morning I awoke and anxiously pulled away my pillow to discover that my tooth was still there. In that moment I realized that the Tooth Fairy was my parents, not some magical being that came to take my tooth in the night. I remember being crushed.

“Your mother and I wanted to make your life a little more exciting and magical. One day you will have a little girl for a daughter, and you will want to do the same. It was a way to bring you a little happiness.”

The room was quiet for a long time. “Thanks Daddy” Meikina mumbled as she fell asleep.

The next morning, as she climbed out of the car at school, I turned to her. “Thanks for the talk last night,” I told her as I gave her a big hug. “It was sad,” she replied. “I know,” I answered. “Sometimes learning the truth will be sad, but it will always be good.” As she ran up the walkway to her class, I stood and watched her. I realized that this was a small event in Meikina’s life; after all, it was just the Tooth Fairy. But in a way, it was her first bite from the fruit of knowledge. This morning Meikina was beginning the journey out of the Garden of magic and certainty into the world of reality and uncertainty. I knew that life would bring her many such experiences relating to her ideas of faith. Some of the answers she would embrace, leaving cherished myths behind and accepting the truth with her whole heart. But I knew that some she would turn away from, preferring instead the certitude and conviction that remaining in her Garden of Eden would provide.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"American Pie"

One of the goals almost all parents have in raising their children is that they gain an appreciation, and possibly even adopt, ones likes and dislikes. As a Dad to Meikina and Meigon, I try to replicate as often as possible experiences I had as a child, and which I carry with me to this day. I fix certain foods that I grew up enjoying, hoping that my girls will learn to like them as well. We watch certain movies like “Mary Poppins” and “Little House on the Priarie,” movies that I remember loving, and which I hope my daughters will adopt as an important component of their childhood. In this way family traditions are built – rhythms of a household that make it distinct and unique from the house next door.

And so it was that I read that Don McLean was going to be performing at this year’s State Fair. Almost as long as I can remember I have loved his music, especially his memorable yet tragic ballad “American Pie”. I remember loving it long before I knew its story, recounted in the song, of the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and others in a snow storm in February 1959.

Consequently, my girls hear this song played disproportionately often in our house. "American Pie", along with any song by the Eagles, form the foundation of “Daddy’s favorite songs” in the minds of my girls. They have learned the lyrics, and they sing along with me at the top of our lungs as we rocket down the road.

So, I decided to bring Meikina and Meigon to one of those sign-post events in one’s life: a rock concert. I went to my first concert at 17, Neil Diamond at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles (and it wasn’t the one they recorded for “Hot August Night” – I’m not that old!). I remember how much I enjoyed singing along with thousands of others, feeling the energy from both audience and performer. I remember going home hoarse from screaming, almost begging from the back row for Neil to play my favorite songs, which amazingly he eventually did. Concerts became a frequent experience for me. I loved them.

So, after visiting the cows, goats, sheep and other farm animals, and downing a few hot dogs, we made out way to the Pepsi Arena to find our seats. We got lucky to get row 9 center seats, since we had three in our group and the ticket office had an odd lot set aside. As a few summer storm clouds passed overhead, we waited for America’s master song writer to appear on stage.

The crowd around us was mostly grown-ups, but many with kids similar to mine. I imagine that they too wanted their kids to remember an important artist from their parent’s lives. As the sun touched down behind the Great Salt Lake, the announcer’s voice boomed the name of Don McLean, and the show began.

We had listened to McLean’s “Greatest Hits” CD on our way to Salt Lake so that the girls would recognize more than just his signature song. I knew that like most artists, he would probably sing “American Pie” towards the end of the concert, if not very last. He began with some cover songs, which none of us had ever heard, but which he explained were Buddy Holly songs. I understood the significance.

About an hour into the show, with McLean having sung only one song the girls recognized, Meikina and Meigon began to get bored. “When is he going to sing the song?” Meigon asked, her eyes starting to droop. Glancing at my watch, I replied “In the next few songs, I think.” I hoped. I didn’t want Meigon to fall asleep before the big event!

Finally, to a round of thunderous applause, we heard the familiar strain: “A long, long time ago.” Meikina and Meigon bolted upright, fiercely clapping and screaming with the rest of the crowd. We began to sing along with the rest of the audience, keeping in rough syncopation with the artist on stage. As we heard the familiar line, “We all got up to dance,” my girls jumped into the aisle with several others, and began to dance around. It was a spectacle to see – all of us singing, dancing and having a great time. The audience was so enthusiastic that McLean did an encore rendition, allowing us to do much of it all over again.

With all of us humming “American Pie” we made our way to the car. “Daddy,” Meikina asked as we drove home, “Why did the music die?” I explained that in February 1959, “a year before Daddy was born”, three very important musicians had died in a snow storm while flying on a plane. “Why did Satan laugh?” I answered that he laughed because he was happy that so many people were sad that these artists had died. With that she sat back. “Let’s hear it again Daddy”, Meigon intoned.

And we did.