My oldest daughter figured out the Easter Bunny wasn’t real this Easter. We put their initials on the girls’ eggs using stickers and my daughter spotted one of those stickers stuck accidentally to my wife’s shirt. She asked about it and my wife came up with some excuse. But it started the wheels turning. The question must have been turning over in her mind all day.
That night she came downstairs after her bedtime, while I was out, and asked my wife directly if the Easter Bunny was real. My wife confessed it wasn’t. There were tears.
I knew it was inevitable that she’d figure things like that out. This past Christmas she asked about Santa. I dissembled and dodged as best I could, usually turning the question back on her, “Do you believe he’s real?”. It happened to all of us. We all figured out that magic we thought existed doesn’t. It’s happening to her now. It hurts to see it start.
It led to the inevitable follow up questions, “What about Santa?”, and “Is the tooth fairy real?” We came away with Santa still existing, but not the tooth fairy. (My daughter was tipped earlier this year when she found one of her old teeth, but chalked it up to a mistake by the tooth fairy.)
As I sit here, I can’t remember much about when I figured out when all these legendary gift givers weren’t real. I can’t remember how upset I was, or for how long, just that it felt like the floor had dropped out from beneath me. Part of that was probably due to the adults in my life pushing the belief on me, then admitting they’d lied about it; a conspiracy of adults out to dupe kids into believing in mythic figures. And we come up with more elaborate means of explaining the flaws in the story as they get older and start identifying them. (In a way it’s a lot like religion). So maybe the reason it hurts to see her cry at finding out the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are lies is because I feel guilty. There’s some relief that she knows. Now we don’t have to continue lying to her about that. And she promised not to tell our younger daughter, so now she’s part of the conspiracy. One other bothersome thing is the disapproval we, as parents, would receive if we didn’t participate in the Santa Bunny Fairy conspiracy.
Is the argument that we come up with for pushing these stories that kids need magic in their lives? But with so much that’s wondrous in the world, why do we need these figures? One’s used as a bribe for good behaviour and another is a corporate shill for confectioners. A negative way to look at them, but valid. We could do just fine with saying it’s parents who do it all.
What I hope I can replace that false magic, from a made-up menagerie of characters, is wonder at the endless complexity of the world around us, from particle physics to astrophysics. That’s real magic.