When my little girl was very much littler, she began a correspondence with the tooth fairy.
Each time a tooth came out, the tooth fairy wrote back, no matter how busy or tired she was. It was quite a chore, remembering the world I'd constructed. Often it felt like a total pain in the neck, and I moaned about it, and about the Motherload that went with it — what was I trying to prove? That I was a Perfect Mother? I was an idiot, trapped in my own sentimentality. Rage rage, write write.
One day the tooth fairy even sent a photo of her shadow.
The little girl was utterly enchanted, and the correspondence grew apace.
This week, my daughter's last baby tooth, a molar, came out. We were staying with friends, and she said in dismay, "I'll have to write to the tooth fairy and say goodbye!" I felt secretly pleased — that was one chore out of the way then. Phew!
That night she wrapped the tooth in tissue paper, and slipped it under her pillow with her note.
Later, I went into her room to retrieve note and tooth. It woke her up. My hand was under the pillow, and I thought I'd grab what I'd come for anyway, and hope she was too groggy to realise. I'd done this before, all pleased with myself for the sweet deception.
I composed a long note, telling the little girl how special she had been to me, and how I would miss her and her letters. I found myself feeling sad — my husband read the letter in silence, and stared off into middle space.
Then I tiptoed into my daughter's bedroom with it.
She was awake. She said, "Mummy, I know why you're here." My stomach clenched tight. She switched the light on. "I felt your hand under the pillow." "Did you wait for me?" "Yes, I wanted to know."
We looked at each other for long seconds. Her childhood passed into me. My knowledge passed into her.
We went to tell Daddy. All three of us sat silent on the bed. "But I know Father Christmas is real," she said. We nodded, miserable.
I took her back to bed, and found tears forming in my eyes. In a moment, an entire phase of her life had ended, irrevocably. She will never again believe in the tooth fairy. She understands that she cannot go back. She understands that her mother has made up stories. She understands that she must get older. In the same breath, her knowledge is my mortality. A phase of my life has also ended. She is both more and less separate from me. She knows more of what I know. And she has secrets from me, she thinks things that I cannot fathom. She knows now that if I can perpetrate deception on her, she can do the same to me.
I, who had longed to be let off the hook of writing those endless late night letters about Fairyland, I went back to my bedroom and cried.