Lois Ann Ell writes a monthly parenting column titled, "Unscripted."

Lois Ann Ell writes a monthly parenting column titled, “Unscripted.”


By Lois Ann Ell

Last week my five year old twin daughters told me about a story they heard from their teacher at school. They explained in interrupted, eager fragments that there was this fairy—like Tinkerbelle—who was going to carry people across the ocean to O’ahu, and lots of people loved the fairy, but some were mad at her because she might bump into whales.

“Wait,” I interrupted. “You mean the SuperFerry?”

“Yeah, the Super Fairy!” They shrieked with excitement, my input their proof that it was all real; I knew about her too.

One of the cornerstones of childhood is imagination. As we grow older, the filmy veil between reality and creativity grows thin. As adults, it’s often transparent, like a just-cleaned sliding glass window—we forget our imagination is even there until we bump into it. Perhaps it’s why we delight in instilling fantasy in children; it’s a way for us to transport ourselves back there.

My eight year-old son recently lost yet another tooth, and I reminded him to put it under his pillow for the tooth fairy. He knows this drill; he’s done it many times. In the morning, sleepy and tousled, I watched him plop two quarters onto his dresser before walking into the kitchen for breakfast.

“What’s that?” I asked, as I smiled wide and pointed to the quarters. When I received no answer, I pressed: “Is that from the tooth fairy?”

“Mom, I heard footsteps last night,” he said, and looked at me with a cocked head and skeptical eyes.

“So?” I countered.

“Well, I just think… it’s you, or something.”

“You know what happens when you stop believing in the tooth fairy?” I asked him, these spontaneous words spilling out of my mouth without a clear compass of where I was headed.

He shook his head no.

“She stops coming,” I said.

Because the morning rush was on, our conversation was swallowed up by cereal and siblings and digging through laundry for clean school shirts. He went off to school, but later that night, as he slid into bed, he said, “Remember that thing I said this morning? Well, never mind. I believe.”

At first I was relieved; all was back to normal. But then began to wonder what he meant. Our conversations about this topic felt cryptic and coded, like we were colleagues in the CIA. All I knew is that I didn’t want to press the issue because I didn’t want to spoil anything. After a few days though, I have started to feel uncomfortable about what transpired. I realized that I bribed him. In essence, if he plays the game, he gets money. Yikes. And, I realized, the game is for me now, not him.

I know I need to tell him the truth. And I will. And I know next to hit the chopping block is Santa, then the Easter Bunny, and later on it will be me and his father, that we are not all-knowing, but just regular people. But as these childhood fantasies fade—the ones we parents create—I have to know different ones will take their place, ones he finds on his own. That his imagination will bloom in nature, in art, with others.  Perhaps more mature, more measured, but still he will carry a sense of wonder and possibility about the world around him, and that the veil will never completely vanish.

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