Spoiler Alert: Parents, the following post contains some candid discussion regarding the Easter Bunny, as well as his friends Santa and the Tooth Fairy, that may not be entirely appropriate for young eyes. Hop along accordingly!
I’m not sure when it dawned on me, but it wasn’t a dramatic epiphany. I’m talking, of course, about my gradual realization that beloved childhood figures like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were not, in fact, all that I’d been earnestly informed they were.
For a start, I grew up in an apartment in New York City, so the notion of St. Nicholas squeezing his pronounced posterior down any chimneys was out of the question. I’m not sure what my parents told me about his method of entry, but I seem to recall believing that he somehow arrived through our stereo, which occupied a place in our living room where a fireplace would have been. That didn't make a whole lot of sense either, but at the time, I wasn’t troubled by such nuances: There were presents to be opened.
The Easter Bunny made even less sense. From what I understood, Santa had a squadron of flying reindeer (nope, nothing dubious about that) and a backup crew of ninja-stealthy elves to help him accomplish his appointed rounds, but the `Bunny worked alone. How a solitary anthropomorphic rodent was supposed to be able to deliver a payload of chocolate eggs and whatnot to all the good little children around the world begged an awful lot of difficult logistical questions. After a while, I just stopped buyin’ it.
The good news, of course, was that in both cases, it didn’t actually matter. It’s not like the treats dried up when it was disclosed that the Easter Bunny was a cotton-tailed sham. The bad news was that when I finally saw through the ruse, an irreplaceable portion of my childhood innocence was gone forever.
Decades later, the shoe is on the other foot; I now have two little children of my own. When they were born, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a party to the perpetuation of “the big lie.” I guess I was just uncomfortable with the notion of telling any sort of lie – “little white” or otherwise – to my kids, being that is set both a bad example and a bad precedent.
That noble notion was swiftly dismissed by my wife and my mother, who, as I detailed in a recent post, gets a big kick out of orchestrating Easter egg hunts. Those ladies couldn’t wait to regale my kids with whimsical tales about the Easter Bunny. For them, instilling that fanciful mythology into their little lives and watching their eyes grow wide with anticipation was an accepted part of the child-rearing process, and not to be trifled with.
More to the point, while I secretly relished the idea of my kids being prematurely sharp and savvy, did I really want to be the parent of the brat who snottily crushes other children’s hopes and dreams by coldly informing them that no, Virginia, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and, for that matter, The Tooth Fairy do not exist? That child has no friends.
So, I kept my mouth shut and dutifully adhered to the party line, doing my best to support the illusion whenever necessary. I deftly fielded the tough procedural questions as best I could, volunteering tenuously rational explanations of how the Easter Bunny and Santa accomplished their respective missions.
Now, a couple of years into it, my 6-year-old Oliver’s belief in the `Bunny and the fat man in red borders on zealous fundamentalism. Charlotte, my 8-year-old, however -- being the bright and inquisitive little girl she is -- appears to be furtively harboring some fresh doubts, gamely holding her tongue from voicing her concerns lest she ruin the proceedings for her little brother.
On a recent walk to school, my kids started suddenly interrogating me, demanding to know how the Easter Bunny always seemed to know which relative’s home we were visiting each Easter. While I stammered out a largely unsupportable answer, I caught Charlotte’s eye, and could have sworn she gave me a knowing wink. It was a wink that simultaneously made me very proud and broke my heart at the same time.
I’m so encouraged that she’s sussed it out for herself, but I finally understand what my wife and mother were talking about. They only remain wide-eyed, little and readily-delighted for so long before wisdom and experience change them forever. Savor the Easter Bunny days while you can.
What’s a father to do? What do you tell your kids? Tell us in the comments below.
Alex Smith is a senior editor at TODAY.com who firmly believes in the Loch Ness monster.