We are big on believing around here. In the summertime, we are visited by fairies who leave behind tiny gifts from the natural world, magical notes with curly handwriting, and the most sparkling fairy dust you could imagine. When a tooth is lost, the Tooth Fairy arrives, bringing (without fail) two quarters, a note detailing the changes she sees in the child since the last time she visited, and a small gift. Each December, the visits of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus (who remain two distinct people in our minds) are anticipated with great glee. For five years, and through two moves, our home has been host to a brownie: a little "house elf" who occasionally plays mischievous tricks on us (which explains many missing socks, pencils, doll clothes, and keys...), but also shows us great generosity and kindness (surprises, serendipitous events, tiny gifts on a nightstand in the morning, a magically tidied room while we sleep, and even aid with the contents of our advent garland have all been attributed to him).
My list of magical visitors and events could go on. These "beings" have become very alive to all of us, even to my husband and me. They have become a natural part of the rhythm of our family, not a game we enact or a trick we play on our children.
This is why it grieves me deeply to see that a tiny bit of belief is slipping away from my oldest child. I can see it in the way she has come to mention the Brownie less often, the way she commented recently about the Christmas pajamas that I make (rather than that the Brownie makes), the tone in her voice as she observed the absent muddy rabbit tracks on Easter morning this year.
Part of this has to do with a bit of carelessness on the part of my husband and me. During my pregnancy, though there was much talk about the Brownie, and many reminders to leave him some breakfast so he'd remember to offer us some small kindness, I rarely summoned the energy to "help him show his presence" again. This past Easter was one of the worst on record in our home with regard to care and secrecy. I actually had to abandon an Easter gift from each of the children's baskets after Elisabeth saw me working on them. And of course, there were the omitted footprints.
But part of it, I know, has to do with the fact that she is getting older. It seems that she is bigger every single day, and in some ways, it's even more apparent with her than it is with my tiny baby. I'm realizing more each day how short my time with my children really is -- how soon they will be all grown up.
And though she hasn't actually questioned the existence of our magical visitors, I know that questions are beginning to grow within her. They're questions I'm not yet sure I'm ready, or know how, to answer.
I was raised in a home full of tradition and beauty and celebration, but absent of belief in the extraordinary. I knew from my earliest childhood that the gifts in my stocking on Christmas morning were from my parents, not Santa Claus. I knew, as deeply and clearly as I knew that my hair was red, that there were no fairies in my backyard helping things to grow.
I understand and respect my parents' reasons for raising us in the way that they did, and yet I've chosen to do things a bit differently in my own home. I know, when my children receive a note from the fairies on Midsummer, that it was penned by me, and that the fairy dust is superfine glitter. But I also know that there is so much that is incomprehensible in the world, and that belief in fairies, Santa Claus, or a brownie are simple ways of expressing and attempting to comprehend all of this. As fumbling as my ways of sharing this with my children sometimes are, they have become a priceless element of my parenting journey and our family life.
I have a friend whose 10-year-old was angry and hurt when he discovered the "truth" about Santa Claus. I don't want my daughter to feel angry when she learns that all of these things that have been part of our lives for so long are very different from what has been communicated to her. And yet, I don't know how to prevent her disappointment and potential anger.
I'm learning to understand this as a metaphor for anything we do with our children, whether with much forethought or by happy accident. It turns out that parenting really is a road. There isn't any way to have a "method" all planned out from day one. There isn't a way to account for every variable, or to have a script for every difficult moment. There isn't a way to predict the outcome -- to see the end of this road.
But I have to see this as a gift. A gift of moments in time. Seeing klieg lights in the sky on a December night, and spontaneously "realizing" that it must be Santa's reindeer practicing for their flight on Christmas Eve. Examining a dewy note amidst a dusting of glitter, and being just as surprised as my children about how it all looks in the light of a warm June morning. Hearing my child say, "Tsk, that Brownie! He must have hidden my shoe!" instead of melting down into a tantrum of frustration over a missing article of clothing. These are gifts that my children and I have given to one another.
I hope these gifts will carry us as we continue down this road; as questions arise; as I try to meet them with grace.
For now, my seven-year-old still believes. She still holds these mysteries with wonder and reverence. I hope that, in some way, she always will.