Ruby did not make it a month in St. Louis,
thank goodness. She did make it two weeks, though, which was plenty long enough for me.
Having Ruby back means more noise, more giggles, more cuddles, more laundry. (I think the only thing I have less of now that she’s back is milk – I never realized how much milk she drinks until I saw how long a carton stayed in our fridge without her there.) It especially means more questions, both mundane and really freaking hard.
The second night she was back, as we were reading a story in her bed, she suddenly stopped me. “Mom, tell me the truth,” she said, grabbing my chin firmly. “Is there a Tooth Fairy?”
This is a question I have been bracing for for years. Because I am me and I obsess over everything, I have, over the past seven years, read dozens of articles on how this question should be handled. I have pages bookmarked on my laptop about how to tell her that Santa is the spirit of Christmas and lives on in all of us. I have planned and rehearsed the speeches I will give her. I have weighed the benefits of holding on to her innocent belief in magic versus starting to incorporate a healthy dose of skepticism. I have written about all of this
And yet when she asked me, all earnest and clearly fearful of the answer, all of that flew out of my head and I blurted out, “I DON’T KNOW!”
“You don’t know?” she said, brow furrowed. “What does that mean?”
“It means it’s late, and this is too big of a discussion for this time of night, boo. We’ll talk about it in the morning, OK?”
And she said OK and curled up under my arm and went to sleep. I lay there next to her, listening to her breathe and thinking, “Man, did I screw that one up or what?”
The next night, she asked again. The exact same phrasing. The exact same intensity. The exact same hand on my chin.
I was prepared this time, sort of. “What do you believe?” I asked.
“I believe she’s real,” she answered.
“OK then,” I said. “She is real to you as long as you believe.”
She went to sleep again, and I lay next to her again, resting my cheek against her curls, feeling like every breath she took brought her a little bit farther away from her childhood, from magic and wonder and fantasy. As much as I insist upon facts and figures in my professional life, as much as I curse at the Internet when I see yet another urban legend or satirical story posted as true (not just on Facebook but on actual news outlets that should know better), as much as I pride myself on my own bullshit detector – I still want my kid to stay a kid, to believe on faith alone that a tiny winged fairy flies into her room at night and collects her baby teeth. This makes no logical sense to me, but I can’t deny my sadness as I watch her childish beliefs ebb away.
The next night, she asked me again, changing the question slightly.
“Are you the Tooth Fairy?” she demanded. “Do you take my teeth? Why do you take my teeth?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, baby, I take your teeth, and I leave the notes. I just wanted to make it special for you.”
She paused for a moment. “But you didn’t take my teeth at Daddy’s house,” she pointed out. “And you can’t know for sure that he took them either. So there could still be a tooth fairy that comes to Dad’s, right?”
I had to agree. That is a conversation she can have with her father, I guess, but right now, she seems most comfortable with letting go of her belief in small increments: first the Tooth Fairy at my house, then the Tooth Fairy at Dad’s. If my own childhood experience holds true, the Easter Bunny will be the next to go. And Santa Claus, the highest up in the hierarchy of imaginary creatures who bring presents to kids, will be the last one to fall. I am not looking forward to it, and yet I know it won’t be long.
I have my answers to the Santa question all planned out, too. I only hope that when the time comes, I can handle that one a little bit better than I handled the Tooth Fairy question.
That’s one good thing about parenting: No matter how bad we might screw up the first time, we almost always get a second chance to do it right.