I remember the day my world shattered. Six years old, living in Pakuranga, Auckland and my brother informed me that the Easter Bunny, Santa AND the Tooth Fairy were all big fat lies. What, you mean the Tooth Fairy doesn’t use children’s teeth to make grand pianos? Devastating.
The stories would last far longer with my own brood I vowed.
However, one morning recently the Tooth Fairy was hung over, and tardy, and it appeared—for an unfortunate three minutes—as if she had forgotten altogether. When Bob found some money after all, he looked me square in the eye.
“Did you put the money under my pillow?”
A fair question from a bright little mind. Feeling guilty for being pathetic and forgetting in the first place I owed him the truth.
Yes darling. But please don’t tell your sister, she hasn’t lost a tooth yet and imagine how sad it would be to never believe in the Tooth Fairy…
I thought we had a deal, my grown-up boy and me.
Never trust a six-year-old.
On Christmas Eve the ‘Dactyl said, “Is Santa real?”
At four she would never have thought up that audacious question all by herself; she’d been put up to it.
“Of course!” I lied, smooth as a candy cane. “And what shall we leave him tonight: crackers or cookies?”
To our delight, Bob played along. We discussed a few hurdles: no chimney, no big glowing tree, no mantel to hang our Christmas stockings on, actually no stockings as we left them in America. Would Santa even know we were at Oma’s house in New Zealand?
The brilliant thing about 2013 is that there are many ways to keep Santa alive for suspicious minds. He sent both children a video from his factory, with real live elves. We tracked him on noradsanta and at 6.50am on Christmas morning he had delivered 2023,796,218 gifts and was on his way to Dushande, Tajikistan. That had Bob intrigued.
Looking at her gifts, the ‘Dactyl asked whether I had seen Santa. “For real?”
Pretending a golden sleigh had rollercoastered by the window felt wrong—too much of a porky—so I said I heard some clomping sounds.
Their eyes lit up. “That must have been the reindeer!”
Feeling encouraged, I told them I got out of bed to have a peak.
“Did you see all the presents?” asked Bob, eyes on fire with excitement.
I said I didn’t see them.
“Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed.
Crap. Don’t pussy foot around with the truth…
“Not initially,” I added, “But after checking on you two, I saw somebody had eaten the crackers and then I found two baskets of presents!” [Santa likes to encourage environmentally friendly recyclable baskets in the Southern Hemisphere].
They were both hovering at my feet, eager for more.
“So I checked the window, which was open, saw some footprints on the deck and got a faint whiff of cinnamon—the scent Mrs Claus likes to wear—and wondered whether she came with him. She’s a great sleigh parker …. Or, maybe Santa picked up a cinnamon chai latte on his way down from San Francisco?”
The Dimple gave me a look. Is that necessary?
Looking at Bob and the ‘Dactyl’s faces I thought, Absolutely Dude!.
Our children aren’t ready for the harsh reality that Santa doesn’t exist. Neither am I. Stories, rituals, hope—I need them to trust our lives will work out, to trust that it’s OK in the middle to not know the ending.
We currently don’t even know our next act, barely the next scene.
A friend from London, Andy, came to visit us in the forest before we left. He told us about an English pal who took his young family off to the Caribbean for four years. While he was there, apparently, everybody envied them for being adventurous, living a life less ordinary. But when they got home they felt behind. Yes, they had an amazing time but meanwhile everyone else got on with mortgages and renovations and promotions.
If I let myself think about it, that’s how it feels arriving back in New Zealand. On the one hand it’s fantastic seeing everybody, on the other hand, it’s impossible not to notice how further along everyone is. This is exacerbated by the fact that we have nothing around us—and who knows what we left in our storage unit—plus we still can’t make up our minds about Auckland or Wellington.
For my US friends, Auckland is like LA (bigger, sunnier, more opportunity, more actors, more Botox) and Wellington is like San Francisco (innovative, artsy, strong community, hilly, crap weather).
When I feel anxious about our situation, stern Aunt Beatrice creeps into my mind:
‘What have you got to show for yourself after gallivanting off to a forest for three years?’
Um, itchy bites from Fiji, sun tan from California, Lego from Disneyland?
She narrows her eyes.
We’re really close?
‘You have nothing to show for it.’
We know how to live off the grid. Our children experienced being a minority…
‘How is that going to help you get a job?’
I’ll have good stories at morning tea…
The snotty Aunt walks away from my imagination in disgust.
Somebody calculated that if Santa had to get around the whole world in one night he would have exactly three minutes to deliver all the gifts in New Zealand. Tricky to believe, but possible.
It’s tricky sorting out our next act—what comes first: the job, the home or the school—but I love it that the Dimple believes anything’s possible.
Like the tale of Santa, I have to trust in a little bit of magic, and believe our story will work out too; have faith, not fear. And enjoy our children getting savvy.
Yesterday, Bob asked if Santa ever dies.
I was tempted to mention Santa is also a vampire.
“No,” said the ‘Dactyl. “He lives in the clouds!”
For now I’m keeping up with those excellent lies.
Merry New Year everyone, thanks for reading. x
* I’m afraid this is another porky. Pic was taken in Iceland having a tequila competition with the Dimple. Before children, and before another hangover.