Neal was seven when everything changed.
We were sitting in the kitchen when he and his step brother AJ came in, their faces flush with cold. "Mom?" he tugged on my sleeve and looked up at me. "Timothy says the tooth fairy is his mom." I raised my eyebrows. Stole a glance at my husband. His face was blank. "He says she waits until he's asleep, takes his tooth & puts money under his pillow."
"He does, does he?" I stalled. "I wonder what makes him think that?" I was working on poker face, but from the look on his, saw I was unsuccessful. He and his brother exchanged looks. "Is it true? Is his Mom the tooth fairy?"
Again, I looked at my husband. He stared out of the window. Coward. I weighed the situation. Balanced their ages against the myth. Gave in. Yes, I admitted, Timothy was right. His mom, me, we are the Tooth Fairy. He crossed his arms in front of him. Took a step back. Narrowed his round blue eyes. "What...what about the Easter Bunny?" I shot a look at my husband that said you'd better get your ass into this conversation or you are so shut off. He shrugged and looked helpless. Perfect. He had I Am The Easter Bunny written all over his face.
Within seconds, it was all over. "SANTA Claus?" He spat out the name, his chin thrust forward, daring me to deny what he had just come to know. They stared at the two of us, sitting there with our mouths opening and closing. The two people in the world they trusted.
"YOU LIED!" Neal dissolved into tears, his face contorted and red. I was falling over myself trying to bring back the fantasy, saying things I can no longer remember - things about magic and tradition and about how much fun it is to watch their wonder & excitement. Telling him how our parents and their parents...He was having none of it. "YOU LIED! "
AJ watched all of this with skepticism. Waaait a minute. What about the grass in the kitchen last Easter!? The chewed carrot? The muddy bunny footprints on the counter tops? I SAW them! Neal saw them too! Their eyes widened at the memory, still vivid after months. They stared hopefully at us. Maybe, just maybe, this new truth was just another LIE.
Finally, The Easter Bunny chimed in. That was me, he said, apologetically. He told them the whole story - the two of us sneaking around a darkened house, giggling like kids as he plucked brown grass from the front lawn and scattered it throughout the kitchen. How we laughed and whispered as he rubbed his thumb in the mud to create foot prints. Our complete joy when we heard their early morning discovery and AJ's exclamation "He's real! He's REAL!"
Our faces lit up as we told them story after story of how we created their magical childhood memories. Soon, they were smiling with us, asking questions, getting used to this new understanding. In one short moment, our little boys crossed a threshold. They stepped out of the world of fantasy and into the real world. It's a rite of passage we all experience. One day, they will hand the same gift to their own children. Because whenever you create magic with love, it is real.