Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence
Kristy Alley


My oldest child is almost ten years old. I feel lucky that he has maintained his childhood innocence and wonder to an age that, if the media is to believed, is practically post-puberty for the average American kid. But I'm afraid this is the beginning of the end for some of that wonder.

A few months ago, he started asking me very earnestly, "Mom, is the tooth fairy real?" I found myself torn between telling him the brutal truth and letting the magic go on just a little bit longer. It's not that the tooth fairy is such a big deal, but if the tooth fairy's a fake, what's next? How far down the path is it to Santa Claus? Yes, Virginia, he still believes in Santa Claus. At least, he did yesterday. All that may have changed by now.

This morning, Calvin came out of his room on his own, before any of the other kids had woken up. He walked up to me grinning and drawing attention to a newly-formed gap in his smile where a loose molar had recently been. "Oh, you pulled your tooth," I said, smiling back. "Yep," he replied, "yesterday."

It took a minute for that to sink in. I'd been duped! I knew this was something he'd been planning to do, based on veiled comments and his recent revelation that his best friend had lost a tooth the day before, but he had waited to tell me. As if I were possibly in cahoots with all the other parents, making clandestine phone calls at the shocking hour of 10:00p.m. to alert them to their children's tooth fairy sting ops.

He didn't seem upset this morning, just satisfied that his plan had worked. He asked me what I did with all the teeth. When I told him not to spoil it for his siblings, he replied, "Well, you better give me a dollar then, because they're going to ask to see it."

A little later, he came into the bathroom where I was doing my makeup and asked, "The next time I lose a tooth, can I put it under my pillow?"

"You should have thought about that before you got in such a rush to figure everything out. Especially since the dentist said you're about to lose a bunch of teeth!" I said. I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him, though. I also couldn't help but wonder where his thoughts would take him over the course of the day. I know my child, and I know that this is going to be a big deal for him. One thought is going to lead to another. And even though I don't remember a single moment when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and I know I was never upset about it, it kills me to think of him losing that magical idea. He has been one of the last hold-outs in his class, insisting on believing. And now that's probably over for him.

I've always known that growing up is hard to do. I just never knew how hard it was to watch.

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