Monday, April 13, 2009

How Richard Dawson Robbed Me of my Childhood


It was the summer before Kindergarten. I was five. My grandmother and I were in the living room watching “Family Feud.”


Richard Dawson (yes, it was long enough ago that Richard Dawson was hosting --- and our TV only got four channels) gave his contestants the following challenge:

“One hundred people surveyed, top three answers are on the board,” he began. “Name an imaginary character children believe in.”

Since this was also long enough ago that the remote control had not been invented, my grandmother sat helplessly on the sofa behind me, unable to switch to “The Newlywed Game” fast enough…

“Santa Claus!” the first contestant replied.


My heart sank.

“Easter Bunny!” the second said.


My head started spinning.

“The Tooth Fairy!” the third contestant quickly exclaimed.


I turned to look at my grandmother, my jaw dragging behind on the shag carpet. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yep.”

And, just like that, my childhood was gone.

This experience probably has a lot to do with why, throughout my entire grade school career, I dreaded conversations that turned to the debate of whether the Easter Bunny was a real bunny or a person dressed up like one, whether Santa made the toys or bought them, or whether the Tooth Fairy was a girl or a boy (actually, that one didn’t really start until college).

It also probably has a lot to do with how blown away I am, year after year, that I am able to get my own kids to buy into it at all.

“Well, kids, every Easter Sunday, just as he has since the empty tomb was first discovered 2000 years ago, the Easter Bunny breaks into all the Christian homes on every continent around the world in one night and single-handedly delivers marshmallow chicks and hollow chocolate replicas of all his friends for children to eat in celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. And he hides the candy, creeping all over the house, leaving nothing but a trail of plastic grass behind him. Most amazing of all is that he does this while you are tucked in bed sleeping just one room away!”

Normally this kind of story would induce nightmares in small children. And yet, amazingly, children welcome the idea of an animal breaking and entering, as long as he comes bearing Reece’s Peanut Butter Eggs and jelly beans.

(Actually, I feel the same way.)

I am now down to two believers out of my four. Amelia recently figured it out on her own. But Ellie – poor little Ellie - had to be told by me right after her tenth birthday.

“Mom,” she said one day, holding an old baby tooth, “I found this in your jewelry drawer. Is this from one time when the Tooth Fairy couldn’t find my tooth?”

I looked into her eyes, remembering the conversation we had just had two weeks earlier about how babies were made, and decided I couldn’t have her go on knowing about sex but not about the Tooth Fairy.

And, just to be sure she was completely stripped of all juvenile fantasies, I came clean on Santa and the Easter Bunny too.

Tears streamed down her little face as she learned that Mom and Dad not only had a secret in the bedroom, but they also had a secret on the eve of both major holidays. I felt like the Grinch, ripping her blissfully naïve childhood away from her that summer.

If only Richard Dawson could have been there to help ease the blow…


Sassy Britches said...

I am so scared of these conversations that I will inevitably have! How heartbreaking! But, you're right, I think you should get a taped version of that episode somehow, and at age 10 (or whatever age you deem appropriate), just hit "play."


I don't know though, that whole "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus" thing rings in my head. You could go that route--imaginary, yet so completely there in the SPIRIT of the holiday/season/family togetherness tradition, etc. A thought!

Adlibby said...

I'm never coming clean! I'm sticking with the Santa and Easter Bunny stories until their first Christmas or Easter in their own apartment and they call me up and say "WTF, MOM?! Why didn't he come?"

Cathy C. Hall said...

Okay, my daughter who was (and still is) the most literal person on earth (ex.: Grandma, picking doll off the floor, "Oh, is your baby okay?" Literal (3 yr. old) Daughter: "It's just a doll, Grandma!" HATED the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus when she was little. She never bought into any of it, but kept her mouth shut for the sake of her brothers (who were (and still are) gullible as all get out).

Carlson Family said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and I love it! It always makes me laugh.

A nice co-worker of mine told her children "If you believe, you shall receive." She told me to say that to my children when they start asking questions. It works.

I laughed about the tooth in the jewelry box. My daughter found all 7 of her missing teeth in one of my drawers and was so confused. She knows the truth but she just doesn't want to talk about it.

Tova Darling said...

Oh my gosh!!! That's so terrible and traumatic! You should sue the show for mental anguish.

Paul said...

One of these days the school librarian will show them Wikipedia and all the childhood mysteries will die in one fell swoop.

'If you believe then you will receive' is the strategy we use with our boys (10 & 13) too. They both know better, but lets just pretend for a little while more, okay?

Jules said...

Santa and the Easter Bunny will never stop coming as long as the kids live here. The Tooth Fairy, however, barely remembers to do her job as it is...

My favorite Christmas carol is actually a song by Journey. Because I was ripped off so early in childhood, I have always thought "Don't Stop Believin'" sums up how I really feel about the Big Three.

LC in Hawktown said...

I'm so sorry you found out at age five. (Gee,and I always likeed Richard Dawson.)My son took a more direct route. He had turned age 7 in November when just before Christmas, he asked,"What if there isn't a Santa Claus?" Guess he heard it from school friends. I answered,"Well,it's fun to pretend,anyway, isn't it?"

He didn't reply, but I know he must have been thinking,"Yessssssss!!!! I still get my stuff!" He was always asking belief/religion questions like this from the age of two on. (Guess that's why his undergrad major was philosophy!)