As a mom, I am faced with numerous questions every day. Many are innocuous, such as the kind that start with "do you know where my...?"
Then there is the easy to answer variety:
"Can I have an air rifle?"
"Can I watch Terminator?"
"Are you ever going to be normal like the other moms?"
"No. Wait - what do you mean by that?"
"You know, let us say words that only you think are bad, like stupid?"
"Oh, okay. NO."
Every once in awhile you get the big questions; the ones you wish you had a better answer to, or the ones you wish you would never have to answer at all:
"What's so good about Good Friday?"
"Why is that man smoking when you told us smoking can kill you?"
"When I'm a dad, will Grampy be able to play with my kids?"
Even harder than these tough questions, for many parents, is the ultimate, unavoidable, inevitable line of questioning that sparks the beginning of the end of the wonder years:
"Mom, are you the tooth fairy?"
"Is the Easter Bunny real?"
(and, panic rising in voice): "Is Santa real?"
My friend Holly recently dodged the tooth fairy bullet and wrote about it for Mamalode.com: A Fairy Weak Link. I wish, wish, wish I had read her article before I got the same question from my daughter, Kate. About a month ago, I made the classic mistake of falling asleep before switching tooth for coin under Kate's pillow. In the morning, Kate came into my room and said with indignation, "The tooth fairy never came last night!"
In that dazed state of partial wakefulness, I took a full 30 seconds of plead-the-fifth silence, grasping at any plausible answer. I found none. "Ummmm...." was all I could muster before Kate pressed on.
"I've been wondering for awhile now. I mean, how come all the spoiled kids get $10 and $20 when all I ever get is a dollar coin? So, are the parents doing that? It seems like it's you..." she let her voice fade off.
In that moment, she seemed so mature, so ready for what I was about to say. The morning sun was glinting off her long hair, and the curve of her face just looked so, well, grown up, that I forgot the golden rule of parenting in the wonder years (DENY!) and said, "Okay. Yes. It's me. I fell asleep and forgot to do it last night. I'm sorry."
The reaction wasn't pretty.
"MOM!" Kate said, horrified, "I said I was WONDERING!" Then came the tears. "Why did you tell me that??"
So, for at least the 12th time this year, I rescinded my application for Mom of the Year. I was able to do some backpedalling, based on notes the tooth fairy had written her that were not (NOT) in my handwriting, "Well...I don't know about those....maybe that part of her is real?" It was weak, but she seemed to buy it, and I realized she wanted to buy it. She wanted to still believe. I owed her these last days (months? years?) of believing.
That is why I was primed and ready when Kate sat down with me on the couch a few days ago with a serious look on her face, and questions at the ready.
"Mom, I need to talk to you. Do Jewish people celebrate Easter and Christmas?"
"No, they have other holidays," I started, ready to make this into a mini lesson on world religions.
"I know, I know, Passover, Hannukah," she said. "What I need to know is, well, Haley (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) just told me there is no Easter Bunny and no Santa Claus. But Haley is Jewish, right?"
I feel the knot in my stomach. Will this end in tears, like our last conversation, where I had dashed her beliefs and squashed her fairy wonder?
"Yes," I answered, carefully answering only what I was asked, "Haley is Jewish."
"Well, good. Because how would she know the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa? She's never had them visit. She doesn't know, but I know, they are real. Santa and the Easter Bunny are real. They're real, aren't they, mom?"
The air hung between us for a split second, the wonder, the joy, the desire to believe practically visible as colors swirling around her like a thought bubble.
I was not about to kill those two beautiful creatures, as I had the tooth fairy, so I said the thing I knew she wanted, and needed, to hear.
"Yes," I said, without any doubt in my mind, "they are."