Today I became the Tooth Fairy, something I had never thought about when contemplating my parental duties. Yesterday, my oldest child lost her first tooth, a momentous occasion in our house, and one that she broadcast to just about anyone, especially those who were willing to inspect the window in her bottom row of teeth. She had a wiggly tooth for over two months, and she very patiently waited for it to fall out. Some friends of hers had big spaces in their mouths, and she had heard stories of the fabled Tooth Fairy. But recently she has also encountered a non-believer or two, peers who told her that the Tooth Fairy was really her mom or dad, sneaking in at night to pretend to be a mythical creature. She asked me about this, eager to know the truth behind the Tooth Fairy.
So what do I do? Do I dash her young, sweet image of a Tooth Fairy showering her with little gifts in exchange for her baby teeth – lest she find out that I’ve been playing her for a fool, or do I preserve that age of innocence? What did I do? I turned to the Montessori Jewish Day School guidelines for parents (and bent them for my use, I fully disclose that).
From early on, MJDS Casa parents are encouraged to expose their children to real life, rather than the world of fantasy – because children at this age are soaking up information as it is presented, and categorizing it in their minds. They do not have the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy. As they round the corner to enter into the Lower Elementary level, this is where the door of fantasy can be opened, and parents & children are encouraged to explore a world that is culturally relevant and very important for the development of imagination and creative thinking. As far as fantasy creatures like the Tooth Fairy, I have been assured on good authority that there is a valid reason why this tradition has developed. It is a huge step in development when you lose that first tooth, and for some children it can be scary, after all, part of you has fallen out! But more than that, it is a steppingstone into the next stage of development, where imagination and creativity become much more interesting and appropriate. And so, as she enters into her final months in Casa, preparing to move into the Lower Elementary class next year, I decided to encourage my daughter to use her imagination and indulge in some fantasy. Yes, sweetheart, the tooth fairy is real. What I left out is that she moonlights as your mother.
In my daughter’s mind, distinguishing between the myth & fact of the Tooth Fairy is not too different from her struggle to understand her faith – at the wise old age of 5. Right now, she’s grappling with distinguishing between the facts & fantasy of Purim. Purim is a very festive and fun holiday in the school, full of baking, story telling and of course, dress-up. But, amidst the excitement in telling me all about baking “Oznei Haman – Haman’s ears”, and telling the story of the brave Queen Esther, comes questions from my 5 year-old, trying to make sense of such a fantastic story. “Why are we eating Haman’s ears if he’s so mean?”; “How does someone even have triangle ears?”; “Was Haman really killed for his mean plan, or did he just get sent away?”; “Can I win a beauty contest?”; and so on.
I found myself in a similar conundrum as I was with the Tooth Fairy question, but this one is harder, since it deals with elements of our Jewish identity. I felt torn between trying to preserve my daughter’s innocence and being upfront and honest with her. Grown-ups, fully committed to the study of historical text and sacred Jewish text still disagree on answers to questions surrounding the myths and facts of Purim. So, what’s the harm, I ask myself, in telling her parts of a story, and omitting others? What’s the harm? My credibility and integrity as her parent?! I don’t think so.
So far, the Montessori approach has not let us down – when my daughter is ready to see the truth, she’ll be able to decipher between myth and fact. She’s organizing information at a remarkably rapid speed, and her conclusions blow us away on a regular basis. I have no doubt that she’ll be able continue to grow in this area, knowing that she is encouraged to use her imagination and creativity to try to understand the world around her. So, I’ll follow my child, who is more than happy to believe in the Tooth Fairy, clearly indulging in the concept of it.
Further, she is excited to learn about Purim, and all of its wondrous lessons. She’ll learn what she can from the story about how her people prevailed against an evil enemy, and she’ll bask in all of the fun surrounding her in her class. And bit by bit, as she continues to grow both in the school and on her own, she’ll acquire the skills necessary to differentiate fantasy from reality and myth from fact.
All in good time. That’s been my conclusion from the past few days. Purim Sameach to everyone!