The wake-up call to reality

There comes a time in every child’s life, usually around the
fourth grade, where they get the Wake-Up Call of Reality.
There comes a time in every child’s life, usually around the fourth grade, where they get the Wake-Up Call of Reality.

And who can blame them? Over the years we’ve asked them to believe in rabbits coming into the house at midnight bearing baskets of colored eggs and chocolate. A jolly man in a beard who drives a sleigh pulled by eight tiny, flying reindeer and drops presents down the chimney. A fairy that flits about at night giving out good money for used teeth.

Clearly, it’s a matter of time before they stand back and say, “Whoa! Hold on a minute. What kind of jogging suit did you say the Easter bunny was wearing again?”

These kinds of questions are the first sign the jig is up. The truly amazing thing is that, most of the time, parents are shocked when this finally happens. So they panic and create even more fantastic lies to try to prolong the inevitable.

One day, my friend Susie found herself explaining to her 9-year-old that the reason the tooth fairy forgot to come and take her tooth was because she had dropped her purse during another call and had gone back to look for it leaving the rest of the pick-ups to her assistant, the Easter bunny, who couldn’t reach the second story because everyone knows that rabbits can’t fly.

Of course, this is exactly the sort of reaction from a parent that immediately confirms a child’s deepest suspicions.

Oh sure, you could avoid the whole issue by being open and honest from the get-go.

But that’s not going to happen. Just try looking a 2-year-old in the eye and saying something like: “You see, honey, there is no such thing as Santa. Or fairies. Or friendly rabbits that deliver colored eggs in baskets. They’re all just tiny, little, well, lies.”

Some people opt for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But this can be risky. Take, for instance, my friend Linda. She still gives presents from Santa to her teenagers. Every year, her children pretend to go along with it. And around and around it’ll go, with no clear end in sight.

But childhood beliefs aren’t as far-fetched as you’d think. I mean, the mental leap from believing that a miniature fairy flies around collecting old teeth isn’t all that big a difference from, say, believing you might become a millionaire by purchasing one lottery ticket for a dollar. You can see how kids fall for this kind of stuff.

And it’s not like we live in France. Why, I was reading just the other day about how French children believe that every Easter, a special bell flies up from Rome just to deliver chocolate candy. A flying bell! Like that’s going to ever happen! And this coming from the same culture that gave us Don Perignon and Renoir?

But I digress.

The funny thing is, the Wake-Up Call to Reality doesn’t happen all at once. Ask any parent, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. A 10-year-old who dismisses the existence of Santa and flying reindeer as a merely a laughable idea might still believe in the tooth fairy.

So I wasn’t too surprised the day my 8-year-old son sidled up to me as if he were going to whip out a collection of used watches.

“Psst,” he whispered. “I know there’s no such thing as Santa.” He stood back and waited for my reaction.

“Oh, really?” I said. “OK.”

“Or the Tooth Fairy,” he added, throwing it in for good measure.

That left Leprechauns, the Easter Bunny and possibly the Great Pumpkin. Three out of five.

I can live with that.

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