In recent years I have come to realize that I was a very gullible child. I don’t mean it in a negative sense, I just fell for pretty much anything an adult told me. I distinctly remember when my older cousin told me the Easter Bunny wouldn’t bring me anything because we were camping over Easter weekend that year and he wouldn’t know where I was. I ran crying to my mom… how would he find me?!? At our house, the Easter Bunny visited by making himself super small and walking through the keyhole. And he’d eat some carrots that we’d left for him and he would leave us an Easter Basket. There was no keyhole in our tent trailer!
I remember when I was in first grade I wanted Santa Claus to bring me a jewelry box for Christmas… since I just had my ears pierced that Fall I needed a place to store all of the jewelry I was going to have. When I came into the living room on Christmas morning I had a brand new Barbie doll, but no jewelry box. My dad told me, with all seriousness, that Santa had told him that the box had broken during his long trip from the North Pole and he left the broken jewelry box on Dad’s garage work bench with instructions on how to fix it. Since there were often spiders in the garage, I was too afraid to go out there. So there was no way for me to verify this story. But in all honesty, I had absolutely no reason to think my Dad didn’t actually speak with Santa! As an adult, I realize my parents probably forgot to pick up a jewelry box for me. Being the oldest of four kids, this kind of stuff probably happened.
When I was seven or eight my mom and I went to a Mom-and-Me Girl Scout camp weekend. There the counselors told us stories about fairies who lived in the trees and kissed all of the good little girls when they were asleep. In the morning we woke up with tiny star stickers on our face. I thought it was the most magical thing ever. The following year I got to go to Girl Scout camp for a week with two of my friends and we got to hear more about these fairies. We woke up a couple of mornings with “fairy kisses” on our face. We got to take hikes to the fairy waterfall and leave cookies for them. Of course they were gone the next day, probably food for the raccoons. I was convinced that it was truly a magical place. When I was nineteen, I worked as a counselor at that same Girl Scout camp and I loved how that place still felt magical to me. And I thoroughly enjoyed telling the fairy stories (the ones I could remember) to the young girls there.
Now, there was a point as I got older, that these kinds of stories just didn’t work on me anymore. I started to work out the feasibility of them and question my parents. Why does Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all have the same handwriting? Every Christmas we’d wake up with a lipstick mark on our cheek where Santa had kissed us in our sleep… why was Santa wearing lipstick? I have a feeling this is when I learned the language of sarcasm. But since I was the oldest child, my parents explained the importance of keeping up the facade for the younger ones.
I have heard some people talk about the moment when they no longer believed these kinds of stories… like one defining moment that changed their childhood. In literature and poetry I believe it’s the moment where children loose their innocence. Many can say there was one moment when they realized that Santa Claus wasn’t real… or even worse, someone told them. Thankfully, there was never a moment like that for me. It all happened gradually. I never felt lied to or betrayed. At some point, when all four of us kids knew the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny, we didn’t say anything to Mom and Dad about it. Most likely it was because we were afraid we wouldn’t get the gifts anymore… but part of it was because we really liked pretending, and we didn’t want Mom and Dad to think we didn’t believe them anymore.
Where was I going with this? Right… as we are approaching Tommy’s second Christmas I find myself wondering how Bill and I will handle the Santa Claus thing, and all of the other fantasies we had growing up. I’m sure these stories were quite different in Bill’s house when he was a kid. But I’d like to know what my parents did to make it work so well… to slowly ease us into the truth without a teary, emotional meltdown.
Once, when discussing this with my friend Kristen a few years ago, she summed up my childhood gullible-ness in one brief statement, “you were loved, so you had no reason to question.” Is that all it takes?