Granddaughter Bella, who just turned six a couple of weeks ago, is just about to lose her first baby tooth. My son told her when she does she will get some money from the Tooth Fairy. But Bella just isn't buying any old Tooth Fairy story.
Bella seems to have been born with my cynical skepticism, but she's much better at putting two and two together than I was at her age. On Christmas morning when opening her presents she told Grandma, my wife, Sally, "This is just like the paper Daddy had under his bed." Aha. Little Sherlocka Holmes! If Daddy has the same paper as Santa, mustn't it follow that Daddy is Santa?
Bella and Gabby (4 1/2) both are dubious about people dressed up like Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or even a big mouse like Chuck E. Cheese, of the pizza restaurant chain. While in that restaurant when Bella was much younger, she was frightened by the character, Chuck E. Cheese, when he approached their table. Both she and Gabby shrieked and clung to their dad and grandmother. The costumed Chuck E retreated across the floor, but Bella and Gabby kept their eyes on him. He saw them watching and waved at them, which started them shrieking again.
(A week or so later Sally asked if they wanted to go to dinner, and Gabby said, "Don't want to go to Chucker Cheese.")
Last year they had an encounter in a store with the Easter Bunny. I don't believe they did any shrieking, but didn't want to go near him, either. On Easter eve their dad told them that the Easter Bunny would come that night and leave baskets of candy and Easter eggs for them.
"He's not coming in the house, is he?" asked Bella.
"No, he'll knock on the door and give me the baskets."
Whew. Good. No six-foot-tall rabbits with glowing pink eyes prowling the house in the dark while we're sleeping. I'm with you on that one, Bella. I don't want him coming in my house, either.
Santa was a bit more problematic for the girls, especially Bella, who just wasn't accepting explanations of how he got from house to house ("I've never seen a reindeer fly") or how he gets into the house.
"He comes down the chimney," said Dad. But there are logs in the fireplace. Guess he has to move them to come in. But how does he get back up the chimney? "It's magic," said Daddy again, but she was skeptical. "It's magic," she said just before going to sleep that night, apparently not convinced.
At the mall sometime before Christmas their dad had asked them if they wanted to sit on Santa's lap. "Why would I want to do that?" asked Bella.
Those are just people dressed up like Santa, she told her grandma.
Even after telling my son, Bella and Gabby's dad, the same lies when he was Bella's age, he turned out all right. But I think it has to be a watershed event in a child's life to find out there is no Santa Claus. I'm pretty sure, even if you've been bad, you're going to get presents, so those threats of "Santa will see you if you're naughty" don't really mean anything, do they? Bella, who is in kindergarten, goes to a Catholic school. Will she be a doubter as she gets older? Will the story of Jesus, or ideas of God, an invisible, omnipotent being (pictured with a long white beard), come off to her like the stories of Santa Claus? Maybe she won't put the two together at all, but knowing Bella, I'm sure she'll have some questions to ask of her teachers and parents.