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.


Blogger Katri said...

I have come back to this article many times, Brian. It is beautiful. The story strikes a cord with me as I had struggled with my children and the fairy tales of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. I knew there was a way to keep the truth sacred yet provide the magic of childhood alive. When my first-born asked me that pivetable question about Santa Claus - I had stupidly vowed to "never lie" to my child! How would he ever believe in a Savior, named Jesus, I thought if he found out I couldn't be trusted. Well....he asked at age 5 and I took a deep breath and proceeded to tell him the honest truth. He stared straight ahead and never uttered a word. In fact, he never mentioned it again and acted like the conversation never took place. He continued to speak about Santa and totally refused to believe that there wasn't a Santa. From that time on and two other children after, I came to realize just as you perfectly described and wisely explained to your child; I wish that I had had this beautiful explaination with my first three children but now that I do have it and am printing it out, I will have a ready response for my fourth child whom we are awaiting from China this fall.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

I have once again discovered your site... well, both actually and always find your 'thoughts' interesting. I love reading about your adventures with your girls... I am STILL waiting... I have been waiting about 21 months or so to get to China to get my daughter Shauna... I have lost track of the amount of months... when will it happen? Who really knows... so, I keep on plodding along... I know of alot of people who have pulled out or gone somewhere else... me, I can't bring myself to pull out.. I have been waiting way to long to give up now... I have just put to much time, emotion, money etc into China... anyway... look forward to reading more... take care...

7:22 PM  

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