FALL OF THE FAIRIES
Published in Mothering Magazine, Mar/Apr, 08
My daughter has always seen fairies–or nature spirits. Actually I am not sure what she saw as a newborn, but she followed something around the room, eyes wide while laughing a gleeful newborn laugh. I like to think it was fairies.
Sidra began to write notes to the fairies when she was four. I secretly replied to every single one in tiny almost unreadable print, and carefully hid them in the garden or on the porch or wherever she had left her note for her to find the next morning. Her belief in fairies was strong, and became famous throughout our community in Seattle. Neighbors participated. Her friend Peter and older children challenged her faith but she remained steadfast in her belief in fairies.
Sidra’s first tooth fell out when she was six, and I got to play the role of another fairy. She wanted to keep her tooth, and wrote a long note for the fairy ultimately asking if she could please keep her tooth, but still get a coin. Of course, the fairy being lovely, understanding, and kind, obliged and wrote back a nice long reply.
Another time, the tooth fairy didn’t come. The next night, however, she left a very apologetic note explaining that she had needed to stay the night with a little girl who had lost her front teeth in a fall. Thanks in no small part to the fairy’s presence, the little girl was okay. Sidra completely understood. I was relieved.
I loved the opportunity to get creative and encourage Sidra’s beliefs in all things magical. Santa left dirt on the floor. (We didn’t have a fireplace then; so we left a key for him on the porch; he used the door, resulting in muddy prints on the floor.) And sometimes there was the magic dust that helped the reindeer fly on the carpet by the tree. We also had a Winter Solstice Fairy who came on the 21st bringing new pajamas for Sidra every year. We have an Equinox Bunny as well as the Easter Bunny who visits, leaving simple meaningful treasures, such as small crystals, or fairy dust.
But it was the notes to the garden fairies that were so very important to Sidra as she negotiated her way through the emotionally challenging experiences of her fifth and sixth years: her parents’ divorce, the death of her beloved Grandpa, and my trips away to California to go to graduate school five-days-a-month. And then as she turned seven, getting to know the man who would become her stepfather.
Sidra was seven when I told her we were intending to move to British Columbia to live with Randy, and one of her biggest concerns was the fairies. “Will they be there? Will they come to Pender Island?” She was distraught, but her correspondence with them assured her they knew she was moving, and were heading up there before she did to find a home. They would be there waiting. They were back and forth a few times in the moving process, leaving notes for her, telling her what it was like there–the beauty, the relative absence of cars and crime, and the deer everywhere. The fairies loved it on Pender Island and that comforted Sidra.
When she was eight, Sidra’s new stepdad joined the magic, too. Before doing work in the yard, he (at Sidra’s request) diligently went out and left a note for the fairies to encourage them to move, or at least to be aware that a septic field was going in. They would always thank him, and find a home–“It’s even better than the last one!”–elsewhere.
Sidra’s dad kept on with fairy notes from Seattle. Apparently they didn’t all move with Sidra. He would consult with me about what to write, how to answer the questions so that the information in response to “what do you wear, what do you eat, when will we see you?” was consistent with my replies. He made sincere efforts, and they paid off–for a while.
One bedtime, when Sidra was nine, she told me, “Mom, you write my fairy notes don’t you?” My heart stopped. Until now when she had asked, I could always shoot back, “What do you think?” or “Of course.” But this wasn’t a question; it was more a statement. Her clear blue eyes were not letting me out of this one. She wanted the truth. I shuffled through various options for responses and finally took a deep breath and stepped off the cliff into the truth with a simple, “Yes.”
I wasn’t prepared. I had no idea. Sidra launched into a despair and feelings of betrayal the depth of which I had never experienced. She called me a liar over and over. My heart in my throat, I just listened for a while as she sobbed and ranted and accused and fully expressed her rage and grief. Some might say I was very poised in being able to remain calm and quiet while empathizing and listening. But the truth was I was in shock. I wasn’t replying because I didn’t know what to say. What she was accusing me of was true. I had lied. I had betrayed her trust and now she was faced with the fact that her mother, as well as the other adults in her community, had humiliated her. And to top it off, her friend Peter–with whom she’d always had a love/hate relationship and who has teased her about “still” believing in fairies–was RIGHT. She was reliving all the events that “weren’t real,” and I was watching her do it, my heart breaking along with hers.
At one point she paused, clearly thinking hard, and then asked, “So you’re the tooth fairy, too?” I just nodded, and she threw herself into her pillow with renewed heartbreak. She even checked about the little girl whose teeth fell out who kept the fairy away. “So you just forgot, right?” Oh my, she was smart. She also said she knew something was fishy because the notes in Seattle had bigger handwriting like her dad’s, and the tooth fairy had the same handwriting as the garden fairies.
Eventually, after more than an hour, she lifted her tearstained face and softly asked me, “Mama, how COULD you?” as if scripted with poignancy.
I paused for just a moment wondering how to answer, and then the fairies – the nature spirits that I really do believe in – came to my aid. It was as if they were whispering in my ear, and I knew what to tell her.
“Sidra, how could I have done otherwise? You were four years old, and your whole little heart believed in fairies. Would you have had me tell you then they weren’t real? Would you have wanted me to let you write notes and never get replies?” She agreed, no, that wouldn’t have been the way to go.
I continued. “Fairies are real. But they may not be pretty little girls with butterfly wings. Many adults believe fairies are nature spirits, or devas, and think of them as beings of light, or energy with a mind. Maybe they don’t look human…but perhaps they do. I believe it’s important to believe in magic and magical things…I felt strongly that your belief in fairies needed to be nurtured and strengthened until you were old enough to communicate in a new way with them, through meditation and through your heart.” I even offered that we could go get a “grown up” book about the fairies the next day that would instruct her how to communicate with them.
I paused while she took this in. The “fairies” had told her she would be old enough to see them when she was eleven. I figured by then she “wouldn’t believe” anymore. But now she said, “So they said I could see them when I was eleven, but really they meant I would be old enough to believe in them in a new way.” With tears filling my eyes, I nodded. I was breathing more easily now too. It was going to be okay. I wasn’t a bad mom at all…and I was learning something as we journeyed this new terrain. She was old enough to learn to communicate in a meaningful and conscious way with the nature spirits. And I had provided her with what she needed to sustain her belief until that time arrived, two years earlier than I had expected!
When she asked how I knew what to write in the notes, I told her how I thought the fairies had been helping me to connect with her, whispering in my ear telling me what to write. And I was gratefully accepting what I felt was their assistance in this situation as well, but I didn’t share that just then.
Referring to her good friend who was just four years old, she lamented, “Oh no! What’ll I tell Anya when her first tooth falls out?” I said reassuringly, “You’ll exclaim with joy at what the tooth fairy brought her, share in her delight and pride, and perhaps look up over her head at her parents and wink at them.” She smiled the knowing smile of someone who shares a secret, thoughtfully nodding, “Oh…yeah.”
Then she made a leap. “Mom? Are you the Solstice Fairy and the Equinox Bunny, too? Because I don’t know anyone else who has those.” I nodded. She took that news well, with the pride that comes with knowing you’ve grown up a little and are included in the “adult club.” In the back of my head, however, I was pleading to the Powers That Be, “PLEASE don’t let her ask about Santa…please, please…I am not ready to go there tonight….” However, she didn’t ask about any thing else as we sat on her bed and had our movie-quality mother-daughter talk. It was late, and after almost three hours of processing through the crumbling of her illusions, we were both exhausted. I got up to leave her room and turned out the light. When I was at the door she said into the dark, “Mom…. What about Santa?”
With a smile in my voice, I replied firmly, “Good NIGHT, Sidra. It’s time for sleep now.” And I softly shut the door.
Here’s two letters that were written regarding the article, and published in the the subsequent issue of Mothering, with my (and Sidra’s) responses:
“I have subscribed to Mothering for six years, and I have always valued the information, wisdom, and guidance from it. I was very disturbed, however, by the article by Dylan Spradlin.
This article suggests that lying to our children and deception are OK. Personally, I think that there is enough beauty and mystery in the reality of our world without having to promote fantasy and magic as truth. More important, I think that, as parents, we should treat as sacred the trust our children have in us.”
“I find Dylan Spradlin’s account of fostering her daughter’s belief in fairies misguided and disturbing, particularly coming from a ‘psychotherapists specializing in infant/parent communication.’
I seriously doubt that her daughter’s discovery of her mother’s deception ultimately led to “renewed faith in love and spirit,” as the article subhead states. My own discovery of the Santa Claus deceit left me with the same outrage and sense of betrayal that Sidra experienced, and it permanently changed my relationship with my parents, undermining my trust in their honesty and their love for me. When my own child came along, I was determined not to repeat that destructive scenario.
I realized that the truth I could tell my child about Santa and the Easter Bunny is that they are games of pretend that adults like to play too. That freed us to enjoy all the fantasies and rituals of Christmas, Easter, and lost teeth, as well as everyday encounters with wizards, gnomes, fairies, and imaginary friends. And I never had to betray my child’s trust. I never had to tell him a lie, not even a sugar-coated, fairy-dusted one.”
Below is my letter of response, followed by my daughter’s.
In the last issue you published two letters from readers who were disturbed by my article, “Fall of the Fairies.” In one letter the reader was upset because my article suggested ‘it was okay to lie to our children.’ And in the other the reader felt my choice to nurture my daughters’ belief in fairies ‘misguided and disturbing especially as a psychotherapist specializing in infant/parent communication.’
I would like to respond to these letters. I don’t think it is ‘okay to lie’ to our children. I do think there is a difference between nurturing the magical and unseen in a way that makes sense to a child and lying. I do believe in fairies as nature spirits, and as a child I grew into the understanding that Santa wasn’t ‘real’ as a human being, but as the spirit of giving. My mom still won’t ever admit to Santa not being real, she just says he’s real in a different way than you’d expect.
I also believe that it’s okay to learn new ways of believing in what our hearts tell us is true. Many of us have beliefs and faith in things unseen and those beliefs evolve during our lifetime. Having faith in something, despite what the mainstream culture tells us, can make us stronger and develop our character and sense of self.
But the point of my article wasn’t to tell readers it’s okay to lie or that I think everyone should believe in fairies.
My point was that there are, and will be, many times as parents when we do things inadvertently that hurt or disappoint our children. What I hoped readers would get from my article was how to be with a child and to stay present with them when they are in despair. I wanted to show how to communicate empathy, compassion and love for them and for ourselves as our hearts break along with theirs.
If a person had trauma from finding out that fairies, Santa or the Easter Bunny weren’t real, and is still making decisions from those unresolved feelings of betrayal, I suspect that their parents weren’t able, or didn’t know how, to stay connected and honor that child’s distress and upset. Emotional trauma occurs when wounds go unhealed. When we carry unresolved feelings and we learn to adapt to the wounding it begins to shape our lives and our decisions in reaction to it. I didn’t want that to happen to my daughter.
My daughter’s experience was a healing and it was complete. She indeed had ‘renewed faith in love and spirit’ and our deep love for and connection with each other remained, and was perhaps even strengthened by this experience.
We all make mistakes. It’s how we treat ourselves and our children – how we learn to communicate and heal together – that fosters love and connection. Our job as parents is not to prevent disappointment; it’s to support our children as they cope with it. And when the disappointment is a result of our actions or choices, it’s our job to be honest with ourselves, and our children and take responsibility for it. Overcoming adversity, not avoiding it, is what builds self-esteem, self-awareness, and feelings of competency.
And my kiddo’s own response (and she did write this HERSELF):
“I am appalled by the women’s letters about my mom’s article in the last magazine issue, particularly by the one that said she doubts that I still believe in faeries based on her own experiences. I feel sad for what she had to go through to form her opinion of my beliefs. I will state now that I still strongly believe in faeries at the age of 12, and will continue believing. I will nurture my own children’s belief when that time comes, and I will cultivate and encourage however I can the beliefs of my younger friends. I think that we all have a right to our own opinions.”