It was the worst Easter.
The sun shone, we were away in a beautiful place filled with happy family memories. The eggs had been hidden and found. I was planning our lunch when I heard the tremulous call from the bedroom:
A brand name imprinted directly into the Easter egg’s chocolate had been recognized. What followed was a fearful but relentlessly logical and methodical pursuit of the question of the Easter Bunny’s existence and then, tentatively—almost unbearably—of Santa Claus with us, the parents, the ones responsible for spinning these tales. The facts were laid bare, raw, and painful. A betrayal. The rest of the day was filled only with tears.
My heart broke that day just as surely as my child’s.
David Foster Wallace was speaking about writing fiction when he said that his work was “To give CPR to those elements of what is human and magical that still grows despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way to both depict this world and illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”
The part about being able to depict truthfully and simultaneously illuminate a passage through our lives is also the job we must somehow manage as parents.
So I answered truthfully: no, there isn’t an egg-delivering rabbit, nor a jolly fellow who can fit down every chimney with a sack of presents. But, I explained, they are necessary stories, for there are truths buried deep within in them, and they illuminate our lives. These beloved, celebrated, improbable fictions are all mixed up with older traditions, with fertility rites and midwinter offerings, with light and darkness, with religion and fable and even more ancient stories.
One of the powerful ways in which we prepare our kids for life’s mysteries, disappointments, and achievements is by weaving childhood myths. Fables and fairy tales have long been understood as keys not only to the unconscious but also as one of the ways we teach our children to navigate the moral thickets of Good and Bad. Part of being a parent, therefore, is teaching our children about the fairy godmothers and the goblins, the wolves and the elves, the Glindas and the Voldemorts.
So I will continue to tell the fairy tales and the old stories, to hide Easter eggs, and fill the stockings. I will speak of magic and transformations, and I will never fail to walk in the woods with wonder.
I believe we need stories to give us the courage to process that which is both beautiful and painful about being alive in this life. It this necessary suspension of disbelief which allows us the inspiration to create art, to reach across the chasm of what our mind understands and what our heart knows and in this way, miracles happen. We in our turn give them to our children to light the way.
Somewhere in our collective unconscious we know that this ability to believe is what sustains our human spirit.
Perhaps that is why the chocolates are so sweet.
Image from an illustration by Emmanuel Schongut in Elidor and the Golden Ball by Georgess McHargue, pub. by Dodd, Mead & Co.,1973
A coincidental P.S.: When looking for a suitable image for this post I noticed that the dedication in the book is "for Gerogess B., who read aloud, from Georgess C., who listened." The dust jacket goes on to explain that the tale, about a boy stolen away by The Faeries and the lesson of a beautiful golden ball, is based on a twelfth-century historian's record of an alledgedly true experience.