My life continues as an endless nightmare, foisted upon myself by the fruits of my loins. It’s gotten so bad, that I can offer a proof that a time machine will not be invented within my lifetime. Specifically, if one were to be invented in my lifetime, I would be a castrato. No joke. What would have happened is that when I was 12 years old, an older version of me possessing a time machine would have come back, Tazed me upon exiting the shower one morning, and given the younger me a Sicilian vasectomy. His parting words, as he winked back into the future, would have been “Quit crying! You’ll thank me some day!!” Because if I knew then what I know now, I would have castrated myself and become an architect. The wine, the women, the jail time, the years as a mercenary, the internship in three-card monte in Naples, the days as a cage fighter, brawls and knife-fights over poker games gone awry in Kuala Lumpur, all that would have been impossible if the source of my testosterone, and my troubles, had been taken untimely by a surgical scalpel. I would be tempted to do it now, but it’s too late for an old dog to learn new tricks. So here I suffer at my keyboard, trying to scratch out a living as an author to support three ex-wives and 14 kids. Not to mention bookies, Macallan Distilleries, and the British American Tobacco Company.
So here’s the latest troubles. Spoiler alert, they involves magical creatures. No, not the ones I met hanging out with a guy who claimed to be Ken Kesey on the terrace of the Villa Bellangelo winery in Dundee, New York. I’m talking about Santa, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Elf on the Shelf, and all those other plagues that parents have invented for themselves. What were we thinking?!?!
This story involves one of my younger daughters. She really got into the whole Santa and Elf on the Shelf thing, writing notes to them and asking all sorts of nosy questions. Like, “How old are you?”, and “Where were you born?” and “What do you do when it isn’t Christmas time?” I mean, an entire inqui-fuc7ing-sition, when most kids just ask for unrealistically expensive gifts and never bother to thank Santa once they get them. I was never really sure if it was genuine concern, or her just feigning interest to milk these magical creatures for more goodies. Until this weekend. That’s when I found out that these questions were asked in genuine interest, and concern.
So here it goes. This girl has been losing teeth, like all kids do. And like all kids, she expects a visit from the Tooth Fairy. The problem is, the Tooth Fairy isn’t all that reliable. That’s just the way it is. Santa, he comes once a year. And there are entire sections of WalMart devoted to reminding you of this fact, much less the endless Christmas carols playing on the radio. And once that Elf on the Shelf ba$tard shows up, all you have to do it move him and his glazed smile around the house each night, after the kids have gone to bed. You just finish up with the internet p0rn, and move his smug and frozen grin to the mantle or into the chandelier over the dining room table. Kids eat that sh1t up. And if you end up forgetting about it, usually the kids blame one another for coming down to sneak a look. And if not, one of the older kids will probably handle it for you by moving it, because they’re used to it by now. That’s how they roll.
The Easter Bunny? Well, you get less notice with that, but there’s always somebody in the clan who is undergoing a religious revival or otherwise tracking the date. And all you have to do is buy a couple bags of candy and stuff it into those plastic eggs you keep in a tub in the garage. It’s not really an imposition.
But the Tooth Fairy? Now that is a real pain in the a$$. Each child has 20 baby teeth that they end up losing. In my case, I have 14 kids on the books. That’s 280 times the Tooth Fairy has visited, or is supposed to visit. And it’s not like you can book it in advance, you just have to keep track of when teeth are popping out, and when kids are at your house. And that’s much easier said than done, as a tooth may come out at 8 am, but it’s hard to remember if you have an emergency room visit or two for the other kids, or you have to pass the kids back off to an ex-wife to care for, or deal with some bail bondsman checking up on an old friend. Long story short, the Tooth Fairy has been known to miss a visit or two.
And so it began Saturday morning, as I headed downstairs at the crack of noon for breakfast. The smell of corned beef and waffles cooking wafted through the air as I overheard an older son telling this particular daughter, “The Tooth Fairy is an a$$hole. She’s positively the least reliable of all the magical creatures. She comes when she wants, and leaves whatever spare change she has.”
Now this stung, as I suddenly remembered missing the third or fourth night for a visit, yet also recalling all the times I had stuffed wads of Djiboutian Francs or a box of rimfire .22s under a pillow, because that’s all I had. Yet I resolved to make it right, that night.
That night I was laying out the Easter baskets of candy, when I came across a letter from the young daughter, asking the Easter Bunny to deliver a letter to the Tooth Fairy. It was truly tragic, as my daughter told the Easter Bunny she was relying on her to get through to the Tooth Fairy, as she was so unreliable. So I wrote up a response, promising to deliver the letter, and stuck it with her basket.
So yesterday morning, the kids were tearing into their baskets, eating candy, trying on clothes from Old Navy, and pocketing boxes of ammo for our later target practice. Suddenly, this daughter walked up, and asked me to write her name. Beginning to figure out what this was about, I wrote her name in block letters. She took it over to the letter, looked at it, and came back. “Write it in cursive, please.”
Now, this daughter is getting on in years, a third grader in fact, and I hesitated. Then, I just signed her name, same as I did always. She walked it over to the note from the Easter Bunny, and compared the two. Her face visibly fell, and she came back with the letter from the Easter Bunny and the paper I had just signed.
“Did you write this letter?” she asked rather officiously, holding up the letter from the Easter Bunny.
“Do you want me to tell you the truth?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then yes, I did.”
“And the letters upstairs? From the Tooth Fairy?”
“Yes, I did.”
You could see her mind racing, and the horror slowly dawning on her face, “And the letters from Elf on the Shelf?!?!?”
I nodded, sympathetically.
And then the last scale fell from her eyes, and they widened. She breathed out the question, “Santa…..?”
Reaching down deep within my soul for strength, I nodded, “Santa, too.”
She ran upstairs to her room and slammed the door, the sound of crying coming down the stairs to the horror-stricken kitchen below.
So it ended as it was destined to, pretty much the way it went down with every and anyone else who had found out that these magical creatures are really Mom and Dad. Some take it worse than others, but this was nothing outside the pale. I was just very glad that even in my most reckless moments I had never written them a letter and signed it “Jesus” or “God”.
But then, it started. The persecution. Everyone was mad at me. Criticizing the fact I told her, criticizing the fact I had waited too long to tell her, criticizing my parenting techniques, second-guessing my delivery of the news, stating that any fool knows you need to sign all those letters left-handed, suggesting that I should have waited until later in the week to avoid ruining her Easter. Blah blah blah. You’d think from their reactions they had come home from a baby shower and found out I had given the kids purple Mohawks and press-on tattoos.*
By time the afternoon rolled around, everything was back on an even keel. I think in the end, my little girl was more embarrassed about being duped for so long. While everyone else went back to the house to clean the guns and work the reloader, she and I stayed a bit back by the paw paw patch to shoot clay pigeons. She had a particularly good string, getting clean hits on nearly everything going across her field of view.
“We okay, Scout?”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Not really,” she said, squeezing off another round. Then after a moment, “It’s kind of like losing a bunch of friends all at once. Like when we moved here, but worse. Because there wasn’t any time to say goodbye.”
“One minute they’re there, next their gone.”
“But I feel kind of better, too.”
“I was scared to grow up. Now I’m not.”
“I mean, none of you really seemed to care about Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or anything. It was hard to understand. But that’s what it’s like in all those movies, too. Like “Elf” or “The Santa Clause”. All the grownups are just boring and lonely, and then in the end some kid has to convince them Christmas is real. I was just worried that was going to be me.”
“You’re not worried now?”
“No. It’s a lot less worry this way. I guess you just enjoy the candy, and you’re happy for all the little kids who believe.”
“Some days it’s hard to believe you’re only 9 years old. You don’t act it!”
She snorted and rolled her eyes, “And EVERY DAY it’s hard to believe that you’re fifty-three! Same reason.”
And with that, we headed back for a second round of ham and pie. All was well again…
Until she came downstairs Monday morning, and I remembered that the a$$hole Tooth Fairy forgot to come again.
*As you may have guessed, this did happen once. In my defense, it was summer, and the kids’ hair was getting long. Part of my duties were to give them all haircuts. The Mohawks were just a fun interim step in getting them to bobs and brushcuts. The purple dye was wash-out, and the temporary tats came off with nail polish remover and gentle cursing, under my breath. I mean, h3ll, can’t a guy have a little harmless fun with his kids?!?!?