The Magic is Gone. Or is It?

Billy Bob Thornton as "Bad Santa" (2003)

It’s been a sobering week: we bid farewell to both the Tooth Fairy and Santa. First my 9-year-old daughter lost two teeth. When I suggested she put them under her pillow for you-know-who, she flopped around on her bed and, without looking at me, said abruptly, “I think parents are really the Tooth Fairy.”

I had been eagerly awaiting this day, when I could stop lying bald-faced to my youngest child, but still she caught me off guard. I sputtered idiotically for a few seconds. “What? Really? Why would we leave you money under your pillow just because your body does something it’s meant to do?” But then she looked directly at me. “It’s you,” she said. “Isn’t it?” I had to answer. Still, she refused the $5 bill I offered her and insisted on putting the teeth under her pillow.

I sat there expectantly, waiting for Santa to fall; once you give up the idea of a Tinkerbell-like creature flitting around the world collecting bloody stumps of baby teeth in exchange for crisp dollar bills, it’s a little hard to hold onto the fantasy of the red-suited fat man commandeering a reindeer-pulled sleigh bearing 59 billion pounds of presents. But Christmas was coming. She rolled over and went to sleep.

A few nights later, in the middle of “Phineas and Ferb,” she popped her head into my office. “Aren’t parents really Santa, too?” she asked matter-of-factly. Clearly she’d been extrapolating. I hemmed and hawed; as a Jew, I have no particular allegiance to Santa, but I know my husband–a Christmas-crazy atheist–does. I fed her a bunch of nonsense: “Well, a lot of people believe…” “It’s a magical time of year…” but she wasn’t buying it. “Ask Daddy,” I finally punted; I didn’t want him to accuse me of prematurely bursting the Santa bubble. He responded even more cagily–“Well, no one really knows!” “If you truly believe…”–until she got completely fed up. “Just answer the question!” she insisted. “Is Santa real?” I guess that’s how you know it’s time.

She was quiet for a minute, and then ran upstairs to put on her pajamas. I could swear I saw tears fill her big brown eyes. I felt like I had betrayed her–not by breaking the news, but by propagating the myth for so long. After all, I had essentially been doing for 9 years two of the things I constantly counsel my kids not to do: lie, and go along with the crowd. I have foisted upon them much bigger, more shocking truths than that; I still remember taking a deep breath before responding to my eldest daughter, then 4, when she asked, “But how does the sperm get to the egg?” So why did I allow myself to get caught up in all that Santa nonsense?

Whatever the reason, I’m glad it’s over. But my holiday revelations were only beginning. Just as I was contemplating what to do with the “Santa” presents hidden in the closet, someone hacked into my husband’s computer. They seized his email and Linked In accounts and sent around a piece of spam, explaining–in broken English–that he had been robbed in London and needed money for a plane ticket home.

Within hours, both Mr. 70 Percent and myself had each gotten dozens of emails or phone calls from concerned friends and relatives–most alerting us to the fact that he’d been hacked, but a few asking if we really needed help. One friend was actually deep in negotiations with the crooks about where to wire the money, until she called my husband’s cell to confirm! I was so touched by the outpouring of support and concern that I didn’t even waste any time marveling at how gullible some people can be. There’s no telling what people will believe.

About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
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9 Responses to The Magic is Gone. Or is It?

  1. Andi says:

    Boy did this bring back memories. When my then 8 year old son (now 22) rised up from his pillow indignant that I would insist there was a tooth fairy, I was so caught off guard that I made another fairy tale which he then believed until he was 14! (I told him there was a tooth museum in Dallas that moms and dads sent their kids’ teeth to in exchange for the money that went under the pillow!) Don’t ask me where that came from…:) It just spewed forth out of sheer terror that my little boy was growing out of his innocence! He knows the truth now 🙂

  2. muddledmom says:

    I thought for sure this would be the year for my older child too, but not yet. Sure, it’s a lie, but with every adult thing kids have to deal with, I don’t think a little magic is a bad thing. Those tears she was holding back were probably more in fear that the magic of the holidays is over. Just teach her that it’s not.

    And funny thing about that email. I’ve gotten one from a business I’ve been to maybe one time. Great post.

    • muddledmom says:

      So this morning at breakfast my first-grader asked if Santa was real. She said some boy in her class said his mom fills the stockings and puts the presents under the tree. If I had it together, I would have said, “Why would she fill our stockings?” I was in shock though and my son started blabbering and saved the moment. Maybe he does know. Maybe we all do…!

  3. Steve Strasser says:


  4. Olivia says:

    The guy who sits behind me in English is still incredibly bitter that his parents lied to him for all of those years. I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t intend to keep it up with my own children.

    For me it all kind of happened at once: “You’re 10. There’s a thing called sex. You may have heard of it. This is what it is. Let’s have a really awkward conversation because we’ve never talked about anything related to this ever before, and I’m not aware that you actually know things about it already. Oh, and you probably already know this, but Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? They aren’t real either.”
    It was a fun day. xD

  5. I can totally relate. Last year I wrote the “The Truth Fairy” about how conflicted I felt about perpetuating the myth of the tooth fairy and fabricating strings of lies. Then I worried that my youngest daughter would read it!

  6. Pingback: the Knowledge of Good and Eve: a parable about Ron Paul, myths, and Santa « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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