It went on and on. I could tell she wanted to believe but she also wanted to know the truth. So, what did I do? I floundered. Why? I remembered being 9 and thinking I wanted to know and of course, like every other kid, once I knew, I wished I could unknow it.
On the internet, there are Pintrest boards with sweet letters galore on how to break the bad news. These are beautifully written and full of all the magic that exists behind Santa. They perfectly capture the love that keeps bringing him to life generation after generation. It was the right time to print one of these letters out and sit down to have a monumental parenting moment with my child. Did I do it? Of course not. I avoided the whole situation hoping to eek out one more year of borderline belief. But as luck would have it, Helen went through three or four weeks where I swear to God, she lost 4 or 5 teeth. Getting a tooth out from under the head of a hard sleeping 7 year old who has nothing to dream about but the tooth fairy bringing gold coins is relatively easy. At almost 10 it is quite another story. Helen's brain was starting to stay up and "think" even when she knew she should go to sleep. So by this point, Helen was an expert at not falling asleep. She decided to take advantage of this new power to see if the tooth fairy was real. This could add to her column of evidence for or against Santa.
At this point we are in a game of cat and mouse. I am the mouse, trying to sneak the cheese out from under her pillow. She is the cat, trying to catch me. I started at 11pm, I leaned over, coins hidden, "Hi Mom", she says casually. "Hi Helen, I wanted to give you one more kiss before bed." That night, I made the exchange successfully at my 4:30am pee time. With the next tooth I could tell she was fake breathing so I gave her a kiss and crept out without making the exchange. This was becoming difficult and she was staying awake late and waking up early to outsmart this old, loud, very sleepy fairy. I was heavily quizzed the next morning because Helen actually dreamed I had come in and she felt my hand under her pillow. I had made the exchange when she was so asleep that she was upside down but this was the beginning of the end. While John and I were out of town, she lost another tooth and my Mom was caught in the act. She did not say anything but pretended to sleep. However, the next day, when she lost another tooth (seriously, it was the Great Tooth Purge of 2016), she told my Mom that she did not have to keep up the facade. She knew there was no Tooth Fairy but she was holding out hope that Santa was real. At this point Mom went with the tried and true, "As long as you believe in Santa, he will come." It was reported to me that upon hearing this information, Helen sighed a sigh that for a brief moment sucked all the air out of North America and then released into a damp breeze that swayed yucca all the way into Arizona. It was the unmistakable moment when a bit of someone's childhood vanishes. I was completely oblivious to this as I was sitting in Spain drinking a fantastic local wine, eating tapas and looking out at the Mediterranean.
In retrospect, I think it is probably good I was not there for the event. I would have delivered some melodramatic speech. Helen didn't need a speech. She completely understood the moment that she knew the truth. In fact while I had felt selfishly sad as a kid, she felt guilt because of the expectations she had put upon Santa's magic. She suddenly realized it was not the infinite pocketbook of elves with mad skills. It was Mom and Dad who have been known to serve a weird assortment of freezer burned items to get through the last day before pay day. And, as I sat down ready to commiserate with her, Helen had already moved on. "You know Mom, I have been thinking, now that I know, I can help. I can easily get information from Lauren, I can help hide eggs (once you know fairies and elves don't exist, a giant magical bunny doesn't even need to be discussed), I can do her stocking..." At this point John pipes in, "Helen, you are a kid, we are the parents, you do not get to take over magic duties until you have your own kids." "Wait, wait," I say. I am thinking Helen has some good points. I do not at all enjoy tooth fairy duty or that damn elf. "I think Helen could be very helpful with some of these duties."
And in fact, she has been indispensable this December in the role of the elf. Actually the elves, we have a pack of three which actually makes coming up with scenarios easier. Helen is a master, she has ideas galore, she leaves far better notes than I ever left. The elves now have back stories. There is the leader, the adventurer and the mischievous one who is always getting into trouble. She has different handwriting for each of them. She brings the joy of childhood to this activity and never sees it as a chore. Dough!!! I was worried that this Christmas would feel different since Helen no longer believes in Santa. It does feel different but in an unexpected way. Receiving is suddenly less important than giving. She completely embodies that this year. I cannot imagine any Christmas gift more magical than that.