According to many people, one of the most magical parts of childhood are the the mythical creatures that visit in the dead of night, on the eve of a holiday or during a special occasion, and leave only treats behind as evidence that they were there. When I was younger, my friends would talk about setting leprechaun traps for St. Patrick’s Day, looking for Easter baskets hidden by the Easter bunny, and seeing the Christmas presents under the tree addressed to them from Santa. This magic introduced to them by their parents.
My parents filled up our Easter baskets, gave us Christmases with presents under the tree, and gave us candy and celebrated every holiday worth celebrating in due festiveness. But they took full responsibility for the magic. And, to be fair, a younger Caleigh appreciated that honesty.
You see, I was always demanding real. Real stories. Real adventure. Real magic. If you weren’t going to put in the effort to sell it — really sell it — and believe along with me, I wanted you to shoot straight with me. There’s a difference between imagination that patronizes and imagination that truly plays.
Imagination that patronizes looks like an adult telling a child that Santa Claus is real and pointing at the Santa at the finale of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and saying: “Why, there he is — Santa Claus. That’s all the evidence you need.”
Well, unless their name is Susan Walker and they’re a character in the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street, that’s probably not Kris Kringle and the adult arguing probably doesn’t even believe anyway. Furthermore, the attempt at fostering some Christmas wonder comes off like a power trip because the child’s belief depends on an apparent lack of intelligence and discernment, which the adult seems to assume. Contrary to popular belief, kids can see right through this and they will respond in one of two ways. Some can have enough grace in their hearts to overlook the tone and enough imagination to compensate for themselves and the unbelieving adult. Others will harshly judge the adult’s lack of belief and become a cynic themselves until they can find the deep wells of magic in people who actually want to create something.
By contrast, there are adults with the imagination power to transform a mound of pillows and couch cushions into a fort out in the middle of the Old West and establish the only outpost along the Oregon Trail for miles. In making a world and setting the stage, they don’t leave kids stranded, they instead throw themselves into play. They become One-Eyed Sam, a prospector with a shady past and a squeaky Western twang that sometimes drops when they get too into explaining their backstory. And suddenly they’re challenging someone to a duel at high noon in the middle of Main Street while they’re still on a carpet in the middle of the living room at seven in the evening. Kids love these adults because they use their extra life experience to be trailblazers into uncharted adventures — teaching them to use their imaginations, believe in them, and expand them.
This second type of imagination, though, takes a lot of work and even if you earnestly try, you may always have the nosy kids who think that the fun is in figuring it out and it takes them years to realize what they threw away — sometimes it’s missing out on the real fun and sometimes it’s capital.
Case and point:
I was five when I lost my first tooth. I remember very thoughtfully wiggling it while I sat under under the Christmas tree one night as my dad read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to my brothers and I. For almost the whole two chapters of the book, I messed with it, only half listening to my favorite story. Pushing it back and forth, I felt the gap under the bottom of the tooth with my tongue while it still insisted to hang on by some means. I almost had it.
My mom had said it was clearly dead and it might come out tomorrow, but I in my impatience wanted it tonight, before I brushed my teeth. Even after Narnia was over, I kept wiggling it as I climbed up the stairs to bed. I pushed it all the way down almost flat and nearing the top of the steps, I pushed all the way back the other way when it finally came loose with a tiny crack. I caught it and I held it in my hand, in surprisingly bloodless victory before I ran back downstairs to triumphantly show it off to my mom and dad.
Now, even though we didn’t do the Easter Bunny and we didn’t do Santa, I wanted to believe in the Tooth Fairy. The dentist and the people at church who had seen my loose tooth had talked about her and promised that she would visit. They told me that if my tooth wasn’t rotten and I hid it under my pillow, she would take my tooth and give me money for it in exchange.
My tooth had no signs of decay and I wanted the money, but I didn’t want to give up my tooth. I wanted to save it, for a necklace or a jar to collect the rest in eventually. For the sake of participating, though, I relented and put it under my pillow. And — trying to create some childhood magic for her daughter — my mom took my tooth while I slept and left a silver dollar in its place.
I found the coin in the morning and I was excited. I showed the payment for my hard work off to everyone and told all the ladies at church eagerly, how I had finally gone through this rite of passage, showing them where I had lost it by smiling and shoving my tongue through the new, square gap in my bottom teeth.
For a whole three days, I believed in magic.
And all was well, until I decided to go snooping. Unfortunately, it’s always been a favorite pastime of mine and it makes me feel like a spy. That day’s mission: mom’s jewelry box, following up intel from an overheard conversation between Mom and a lady from church that she had been the one to take the tooth and give me the money.
I opened up my mom’s jewelry box and took out the removable compartment to find my tooth in a sandwich bag, dated with the night I had lost it. It was unmistakably my mom’s handwriting. I knew the actual tooth fairy probably had a flowy, ethereal script that didn’t match the blunt sharpie. And I knew my tooth when I saw it.
I was furious. I felt I had been lied to.
I took the tooth with me and I confronted my parents with the undeniable evidence: that they had impersonated a fairy and had unlawfully confiscated my tooth. If they weren’t going to use it for anything, I wanted it back — maybe to try for the real Tooth Fairy again or to keep it and make some grotesque jewelry out of it.
My parents refused, saying they had given me money, a whole silver dollar, which weren’t easy to come by in the real world. What they probably didn’t express, too, was discouraging a disgusting fascination with discarded body parts.
So with that, I stomped up to my room, found the silver dollar on my night stand and threw it at them like Judas throwing the money at the feet of the Pharisees. I never set eyes on that coin again.
Nor did I get any more money for any of my other teeth, even though I continued to dutifully turned them over to my mother to keep. Once my siblings started to lose teeth though, the tooth fairy came to visit them and they knew better than to fight for the believability of certain magic and lose their money. They earned a decent amount between the ages of 6 and 13 and although it was not enough to buy anything huge, it just enough to make me regret killing the magic on principle.