Friday, August 03, 2007

The lies we tell, plus more tooth fairy stories

My post earlier this week about Elegant's most recent visit from Ivana Goldtooth, her personal tooth fairy, got me thinking about this whole business of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other lies told to children.

I know that some people lie to their children without hesitation, but Pete and I decided early that we will not lie to our daughters. We might not always tell them 100% of the truth, but we try very hard not to pass on deliberate falsehoods either. We want the girls to know they can trust us to be honest with them.

Each person's perception of the truth is different. We all understand that there are some absolutes, such as I know it is true that I am 38 years old. To say otherwise would be a lie. But then there are the fuzzy areas that can be interpreted in various ways.

True story: When Graceful was five, she and Pete were reading a book which had a bad king in it. Graceful asked Pete if there were any bad kings living in the world today. Now, this is the part where I would have said, "No honey, there are no bad kings in the world today." My statement would have been the truth because I was being literal. As far as I know, there are no bad kings. There are bad dictators, bad presidents, and other bad leaders, but no bad kings, and my daughter was too young to need to know about world politics. Pete, on the other hand, sees more shades of gray, so he told our five year old daughter about a bad ruler, Kim Jong Il of North Korea. He gave our daughter the basics of the story, including the history of Korean politics and a brief primer on communism. Bad idea. Graceful spent weeks fretting about North Korea invading the U.S. and Kim Jong Il coming to our little town in Virginia and wreaking havoc. Really. I could have choked him.

So, truth can be a relative thing.

Getting back to the original premise of this entry, when the girls were old enough to be told about Santa Claus, we did so, rationalizing that he was a real person once and we're perpetuating his good works, so we weren't really lying. We did lie big time about the Easter Bunny and I just hated it. Ditto the tooth fairy. We contemplated not even having Santa Claus come into lives every year -- after all, Jewish and Buddhist and Muslim children manage to grow up without Santa and they all do just fine -- but we couldn't quite shake off the shackles of tradition. The same with the other make-believe entities. So we went along with the game anyway. After all, children deserve some magic in their lives.

Graceful figured out the deal on the various make-believe folk last year. It was an interesting process to behold. In June, she lost a tooth and got a letter from Olivia Whitetooth (more on her shortly). A day or two later, she came to me and asked if the tooth fairy was real. I took my standard approach and asked her what she thought. She paused, seriously thought for a moment, and told me that she thought I was Olivia. I confirmed that, with both a sense of a relief and a bit of reluctance. Graceful teared up and so did I. We hugged and I told her she could still leave her teeth for Olivia and Olivia would still bring money and letters.

Now at this point, most children would have asked about Santa and the Easter Bunny, but I think the truth was just too much for Graceful to handle, so she didn't pursue the matter. It wasn't until two weeks later that she asked about Santa. I told her what I wrote above: He was once a real guy who lived hundreds of years ago in Syria and who left gifts for people. When he died other people continued his work and now Pete and I are part of the great tradition. I also told Graceful that now she could be a helper and that I needed her to keep the secret until Elegant found out on her own. Graceful took all this quite well and was pretty cheerful about the whole thing. About 20 minutes later, she thought to ask about the Easter Bunny and was really quite fine with it. She doesn't really bring it up to us and goes along with the game since Elegant is still a believer.

At almost seven, Elegant still believes. But she's going into second grade and it's only a matter of time before she asks a lot of questions. I figure we have until December. We'll tell her if she's ready and then we'll be relieved not to have to lie to our children anymore. We've decided that the girls can take a larger role in Christmas once they're both in the know, such as helping to fill everyone's stockings on Christmas Eve, which is a tradition that Pete's family had for years.

So hopefully our girls can still have magic in their lives even after they know the full story.

So that concludes the main part of this entry. Since some people asked, I'm going to put Graceful's Olivia Whitetooth stories here. Feel free to go about your day if you're not interested or read on if you are.
~ ~ ~

In January 2006, Graceful lost a tooth and wrote a long note to the tooth fairy that night, including a request for a photo. In order to answer some of her questions, I quickly invented Olivia Whitetooth, who left the following note:

Dear Graceful,

Thank you for leaving your tooth for me tonight and for the nice note. I am not leaving a picture of myself, because I am shy and do not want to be photographed.

Your mother told me that you might be a little confused about why you and your friends all get different things when they lose a tooth and leave it for the tooth fairy. That's because there is not just one tooth fairy. There are lots of tooth fairies and we all do different things when we visit a child's house at night. I am the tooth fairy who visits you and will be the one who visits your sister. My name is actually Olivia Whitetooth, but people call me Tooth Fairy when I am working.

I am glad that your top tooth finally came out. It must have been bothering you a lot. The next time you have a really, really loose tooth, why don't you try pulling it yourself? I know you can do it!

Have a good day today!

Love, Olivia Whitetooth, your tooth fairy

Much of Olivia's letter referenced Graceful's note but there were also a couple of things that I wanted to impart to Graceful myself. That thing about pulling her own teeth? That was me, the parent who was nauseated by having to play Dr. Bloody Dentist all too often.

A month later:

Dear Graceful,

Congratulations on losing another tooth! Here is a dollar for you and I hope you have fun spending it.

Wow, you sure do have a lot of questions! I'll try to answer them for you, although I have a lot of teeth to collect tonight, so I might not get to them all.

My skin is pale, my hair is dark, and my eyes change colors from day to day. Tooth fairies live as long as humans and I'm still a young fairy, but I'm not as young as a teenager. First, I had to go to school to learn all about teeth, magic, and flying safely before I could become a real tooth fairy. Before that, I was just an ordinary fairy.

I don't have a phone number because I don't have a phone. I have a pet butterfly named Flutter who is yellow and blue. There's also a nice dragonfly named Zoom who likes to pop over to my house for a snack.

When I'm not working, I sometimes visit my cousin Gertrude Shinychoppers in Houston. We like to go for long walks and admire flowers and plants. Sometimes, I visit my friend Bud Bigmolars, who is a cowboy tooth fairy in Wyoming.

That's all for now. I'm sure I"ll be seeing you again soon. Keep wiggling those upper teeth!

Your tooth fairy,
Olivia Whitetooth

Can you tell what questions Graceful had asked? Lots and lots. She was clearly trying to figure this whole thing out.

Then in June:

Dear Graceful,

Wow, another lost tooth! And, boy, did you lose it in an unusual way. It's not too often that I collect teeth that have been knocked out by a sister or brother. I know Elegant didn't mean to, but it's still funny. Maybe she can knock out that other wiggly one next to your new tooth, because I'd really like to have it for my collection.

To answer your question, Zoom comes over once an afternoon to have a snack with me. Today, it was flower cookies and juice. I have a nice porch that we like to sit on and look at the flowers in the garden. There are bunnies in my garden, which I like because I think they are cute, although they seem very large to me. I don’t have any pets because they are a lot of work and I don’t have enough time to devote to them. Being a tooth fairy is a very busy job. I have to be paying attention all the time so that I’ll know when a tooth comes out. Then, I have to travel to each child’s house to collect the tooth and leave something behind. My rainbow-colored wings get very tired sometimes!

My mother, Odessa Whitetooth, was your mother’s tooth fairy when she was a little girl. When your mother was a little older than you, she pulled one tooth on a Friday and the one next to it the next day. The next week, your mother pulled another tooth on Friday and yet another one on Saturday. So, my mother spent a lot of time flying back and forth between our family castle and your mother’s house during that week!

Well, I need to finish this letter now. My friend Belinda Bigtooth and I are going to look at the stars through a telescope tonight. Have fun at Kings Dominion today. Be nice to your sister!

Love, Olivia Whitetooth, your Tooth Fairy

That whole thing with the bunnies was addressing Graceful's repeated futile requests for a pet. And that admonition about being nice to her sister? I think you can guess what was going on.

And then a week later:

Dear Graceful,

I am SO glad you finally pulled that tooth! That thing was ready to come out.

I hope you have been enjoying your summer vacation. I always liked summer when I was your age, because I would play with my fairy friends and the butterflies and dragonflies. My friend Fiona Flutterfang and I used make necklaces and crowns out of flowers. We also wove hammocks out of vines and would play in those for hours. Sometimes it was just nice to sit in a shady spot and read a good book.

Have a nice weekend.

Love, Olivia Whitetooth, your Tooth Fairy

Okay, so I didn't put a lot of effort into that one.

Another six months passed, bringing us to this past December:

Dear Graceful,

Wow, it has been SIX MONTHS since I last visited you. It’s a good thing I have other children to visit or else I would be bored and have nothing to do.

Are you getting excited about Christmas? I am! I am spending Christmas with my family: my mother Odessa, my father Oliver, and my brothers and sister Oscar, Odette, and Omar. After Christmas, my friend Gertrude Shinychoppers and I are meeting in Wyoming to visit our friend Bud Bigmolars. He’s going to teach us how to ski and also use snowshoes so that we can walk across snowy fields and see wildlife. Zoom and Flutter are going to stay home and enjoy my nice warm castle. Dragonflies and butterflies don’t really like cold weather.

Keep wiggling your other teeth!

Love, Olivia Whitetooth, your Tooth Fairy

Followed a few weeks later by this one:

Dear Graceful,

Congratulations on losing a tooth so soon in 2007.

I hope you had a nice Christmas. I heard you got a really nice book about the rainforest. I’m sure it’s interesting, plus the pictures are probably quite colorful. I read a lot of good books last year and love looking for new ones.

I had a great Christmas break visiting my friend Bud. He taught my friend Gertrude and me how to use snowshoes and we trekked across snowy fields nearly every day. At night, we sat near the fireplace and drank lots of hot cocoa.

For Spring Break, I’ll be visiting my Aunt Cuspid, who lives in Florida near the beach. I’m already looking forward to that since it’s been so cold where I live!

Keep taking such good care of your teeth. They’re so nice and white and I want them to stay that way.

Love, Olivia Whitetooth, your Tooth Fairy

And that was the last time Graceful lost a tooth. She has a couple of loose ones, so I'm sure Olivia will be visiting again soon.


Suzanne said...

So sweet and imaginative. I really wish either of my parents had been so lovingly thoughtful.

I guess I turned out okay, despite the lack! ; )

It really makes me wish I had a child to do that for.

kristi said...

I love those letters! Awesome! Well, when I was in 1st grade, two mean boys told me all about Santa. I was crying and my friend and I punched them and ran away! We've never really done the Santa thing with our kids.Times are tight and I just don't want to be out spending my hard earned $$'s and give Santa all the credit!

Lori Anderson Designs said...

These are priceless. You should really collect these as a children's book and publish it on

Jennifer said...