Maintaining innocence

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2003

My wife loves babies. It seems about every six months she gets sad that our children aren’t babies anymore and starts wanting to have another one. Common sense always takes over, mercifully, and she abandons the scheme. She then goes out and gets her another dog.

With my wife being such a fan of babies and me not wanting anymore dogs, we’ve bent over backwards to keep our youngest, Catherine, a baby as long as possible. We’ve never corrected baby talk because it’s so adorable, and we’ve done everything possible to shield her from the truth. As such, at 9, she still believes in every childhood myth – or at least she did until this past week.

Actually, it had gotten to the point of being concern for us that &uot;The Baby,&uot; that’s still how we refer to her, believes in things magical – the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were as real to her this time last week as her mother and father.

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We’ve always clandestinely discussed whether we should spill the beans, but always elected not to, wanting to maintain her innocence for as long as possible.

&uot;She’ll have plenty of time to know what an awful place the world can be,&uot; we reasoned.

Things began to crumble last Sunday, however, and quickly spun out of our control.

Catherine lost what we believed to be the last of her baby teeth last Saturday. And she was giddy about putting it under her pillow to get some money. This was about the fourth tooth in the past two weeks that bit the dust and was beginning to get expensive.

The Tooth Fairy forgot to get any money ready Saturday night and about 6 a.m. Catherine caught my wife trying to sneak a couple dollars under her pillow.

&uot;You’re the Tooth Fairy?&uot; she said in astonishment. Cathy had no choice but to ‘fess up.

The incident started a domino effect.

The next day when Cathy picked the kids up from school the discussion in the car turned to Easter. Catherine was talking about hoping to receive some sort of extravagant gift for the occasion. When my wife told her that the Easter Bunny usually brings candy, Catherine said, &uot;What difference does it make? You’re probably the Easter Bunny, too.&uot;

My son Adam, 13, who had until then capably served as a co-conspirator in our effort to conceal the truth from the baby these many years, said, &uot;Finally, Catherine knows the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa are not real.&uot;

Cathy said an eerie silence settled over the car when Adam realized what he had said. After a few moments Catherine screamed in disbelief, &uot;YOU’RE SANTA, TOO?&uot;

The cat was out of the bag and there was nothing Cathy could do but own up to cover-up.

She told me about it when I got home from work. It broke my heart, actually more so than it did Catherine’s. She didn’t really care that these things were not real, probably deep down suspected they weren’t. What upset her was that Mom and Dad had lied to her.

I visited her in her room that night and asked her how she felt about the revelations of the past couple days. She said it was OK.

I told her that when you think about, maybe Santa is real. That people are nicer to each other at Christmas and give each other presents. &uot;There’s something kind of magical about that, isn’t there?&uot; I asked. &uot;Maybe it’s because Santa is real, but we just can’t see him. He lives inside of us and makes us do nice things at Christmas.&uot;

She seemed ambivalent to it and went on playing her video game. She had already put it behind her and moved on.

It makes me sad that Catherine is not a baby anymore and that events of the past week marked the beginning of a new phase in our relationship. No longer will I be able to easily deceive her. She’ll start applying logic and likely be circumspect of anything that appears to be too good to be true.

But that’s OK. It’s time for us to move our relationship to the next level. She’s not a baby anymore and I need to stop treating her as such. But I know that means there’s another dog on the way and that’s not OK.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.