Not long ago, apropos of nothing, my daughter Annabelle, five, announced to my husband Ray, “Daddy, there’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
“Whaddaya think,” said our pre-pre- prepubescent jokester, “that Peter Cottontail just comes hopping down the bunny trail?”
They both had a good laugh over that, Ray later reported, but it made me a little melancholy. So far this year, Annabelle still believes in Santa Claus – or at least she’s putting up a good front, to get the merchandise. It seems antithetical to good parenting, tricking a smart little kid into believing in a fake. But I do think childhood should last a little longer.
Parenting is slippery, it’s a roller coaster ride. I don’t like roller coasters. I like to be on the ground. And sure, I love the part of parenting that involves cuddling on the couch with my kids, finding the spots where they’re the most ticklish. I’m just not crazy about the big dips.
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I’m not going to tell Annabelle the truth about Santa – not this year, anyway. But someday soon, I’m going to have to tell her the truth about Sophie, her three-year-old sister. If the stereotypes hold true, Sophie will always believe in Santa Claus. She has Down syndrome. So far, Annabelle just thinks of Sophie as Sophie. Kinder- garteners don’t go for medical labels, not unless you offer them, and while I know Ray wants to tell Annabelle about Sophie – he thinks it’s time, already drops hints that Sophie’s different from other kids -- I don’t.
I want Annabelle to be my sweet little girl forever -- to ask me what kind of cookies we should leave out for Santa, to climb into Sophie’s crib each morning and teach her how to jump on the mattress.
“Someone else is going to tell her about Sophie, if we don’t,” Ray says. I know he’s right. But what do I tell her?
So, Annabelle, here’s the deal. There’s no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, and no Tooth Fairy. And your sister’s got Down syndrome.
Someday soon, Annabelle, the kids on the playground will tease you and call Sophie a retard.
I’m sorry, Annabelle, but we might have ruined your life.
In a flurry of holiday preparations a few weeks ago, I bought a dozen copies of a beautiful children’s book a friend gave me earlier this year. It’s called My Friend Isabelle, and very simply -- with wonderful illustrations -- it tells the story of the bond between a little boy and a little girl. The boy is typical. The girl has Down syndrome. I was so touched I ordered the book to give out to family and friends, even though I hid my own copy under a pile on my desk, so Annabelle wouldn’t see it.
I didn’t think it through, this whole book gift thing. Will I give the book to friends, and ask that they don’t let Annabelle see? Probably, I’m ashamed to admit, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Or maybe I’ll box up My Friend Isabelle ‘til next year, and tell Ray he can let on about Santa if he promises to hold off on Sophie.
One thing I can tell you for sure is
that the magic of Christmas has nothing on the magic of normal.
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