The day starts out like any other. You decide to snooze for ten more minutes, but as soon as you’ve settled back into your comfortable little hollow, your obnoxious alarm begins to wail.
Alas, you know yourself too well. You’re a special case, and not even remotely a morning person, so you have not one, but two alarms for this very reason.
You stumble out of bed and blindly find your way downstairs without managing to trip over your cat, who swirls around your ankles in a relentless fervor. You aren’t wearing glasses because you’re not awake enough to really see anyway.
After putting the coffee on, you make your breakfast, and then your daughter’s–peanut butter toast enhanced with a swirl of honey, the only way to entice her into eating the densely fibrous bread made of ancient grains and what you can only assume is some form of tree bark.
Armed with rocket fuel in a glorified cereal bowl, you retreat to your post, to begin the transformation into a look suitable for a downtown office with wainscoting and chandeliers. Looking in the mirror, you contemplate whether your hair is more mad scientist or escaped psychiatric patient, but for the moment forgo the straightening iron to wake up your sleeping beauty.
At first she doesn’t want to get out of bed, but when she finally rouses from sleep, she immediately remembers her tooth. Oh, shit–her tooth!
It had been wiggly for weeks, in a way that made you feel queasy, but finally came out yesterday at school. Free of its fleshy home, she presented it to you with a flourish when you picked her up from daycare.
Last night, after driving in rain-soaked rush hour traffic for what seemed like eternity, after unloading the dishwasher and working out and making dinner and lunches, after sitting down for half an hour to eat dinner and catch up on the day’s events, and after bathing her and washing her hair and reading her a story, you remembered her tooth.
You let her stay up late to prepare her offering, the tooth nestled atop a fluffy pink feather, carefully wrapped in a silk piece of cloth, tied with a bright ribbon, that she tucked into the pocket of the tooth pillow you enlisted the help of your mother to make, and you scribbled a clandestine note to yourself, a reminder to swap the tooth with some cash before you went to bed.
But before that you still had to clean up the dinner mess, spend a few moments with your man, and of course wash your hair, a task you’re incapable of, while so obviously daft at the chime of 6:00 am.
It had been a long week.
With all of this done, you were totally demoed, but still tiptoed into her room for one more quick snuggle. You walked right past the tooth pillow, both on the way in and on the way out of her room.
So when she goes to reach for the small satin pillow, you realize your blunder and panic jars you to your feet.
It is reminiscent of that Easter at your parents’ house in the country, when she witnessed you spray painting a trail of rabbit footprints on their front lawn. You’d given her grandmother one job–to keep her granddaughter away from the window and inside the house.
Instead, your little one blasted outside and ran circles around you as you desperately tried to conceal the can of white paint. Eventually, you shoved it up the back of your shirt, so you could hold out both empty hands. See? Nothing to see here.
Perhaps if your deliveries weren’t so elaborate, you wouldn’t have close calls like this. Like that Christmas when your family was in town and watched you paint a distressed piece of paper with coffee and light the edges aflame, then inscribe in fanciful calligraphy to make what, to you, was an authentic-looking note from Santa, and your brother chortled, “What, is Santa a pirate?”
When breakfast was over on Christmas morning, your daughter insisted on a cursive writing sample from each person in the room, indiscreetly eyeballing you from her seat at the table as she pored over each submission. Yikes.
So you carry her into the hall, reaching for the ornately packaged incisor as you pass the frilly pillow. You just need to find some change on the dresser and make it back into her room before she does, right?
Maybe you could throw her onto the bed as a diversion. But she’s nearly eight, and after a recent growth spurt, she’s long and wiry like a weasel. Before you know it, she’s sliding past you, as you stand squinting in the lamplight.
Where is the cursed change that perpetually litters the dresser? You cleaned the bedroom last weekend, and put all the confounded loose change away. Wincing, you have the sinking feeling that the jig is up.
It’s too late. She’s back in her room and has no doubt learned that there’s nothing in the little fabric pocket.
When you walk into her room she is curled up against her pillows, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. You try to stammer something–anything–to cover your tracks, but it’s no use. She knows, and to be perfectly honest, you’ve never been fully on board with this whole charade anyway.
Back when she discovered her first wiggly tooth, you considered operating in defiance of the whole Tooth Fairy thing. It’s a lot, on top of the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause; lying to her so much bothered you.
You soon discovered that exposure to the lore was inescapable, though. First grade teachers, cousins and friends, grandparents, the dentist, and even cartoon characters endorsed the Tooth Fairy. So you went along with it.
Not only that, but you tried to make it fun, writing teeny-tiny correspondence and decorating the pillow with glitter, knowing full-well that one day you’d have to come clean.
You just didn’t expect that day to come so quickly.
You didn’t expect for it to be today. You imagined her discovering the truth organically – on the playground, or through hushed voices at a slumber party with friends. You didn’t think you’d be the one looking into her sad eyes, dispelling the myth yourself. You didn’t think it would hurt her so much, or that it would affect you so deeply, too.
Even as you’re explaining to her how she’s a big girl, and that it’s exciting for her to be in on the secret now, you feel yourself blinking back tears.
Despite what you’re saying, you still see the enchanted toddler, the enraptured preschooler, and the excited kindergartener she used to be. It feels like you’re single-handedly breaking her heart.
When she’s ready to talk, she has her sights firmly set on Santa–she’s had her suspicions for years. Santa is off-limits, you say. Not Santa! You don’t have it in you to take that away. Not now.
But she’s already connected the dots. All it took was one misstep, and the already fragile fabric of the ruse unraveled.
If only you had remembered last night, or even half an hour ago. If only you didn’t have so many things to do, or you weren’t so wiped out at the end of the day. This was important and you blew it.
You feel some of the magic of childhood recede into the ether, and for a long moment it’s hard to breathe. As she begins to accept what’s before her, you find yourself wanting to take it back, because although she’s already beginning to roll with the punches, you’re not ready for this.
How you enjoyed being a clever Easter Bunny, a fancy Tooth Fairy and a sneaky Santa.
Suddenly, painfully, you understand that these things, these traditions and tricks and the ridiculous things we do, are not simply for children; they’re also for adults, to relive the happy moments of our own childhoods.
You want to hold on a little longer, but you can’t.