The tooth fairy
Our 6½-year-old daughter believes in the tooth fairy, despite the fact that I’ve casually mentioned to her that goblins, gnomes, witches, fairies, dwarves, dragons, etc. are all imaginary, mythical creatures. She completely understands all of this, but for some reason, the tooth fairy seems to fall into a separate category in her mind.
In fact, her classmates this year and in previous years have had discussions among themselves about the tooth fairy, and those of them with older siblings tend to be very firm about the tooth fairy’s non-existence… but our child continues to hold on to her belief the tooth fairy is real. Honestly, I don’t understand it.
My wife thinks this is a good thing; she wants our child to hold on to her sense of wonder for as long as possible, I suppose. Personally, I don’t much see the point in encouraging this belief, but neither will I be the one to deliberately dissuade her from it. In the long run, I reason, there’s no harm in it.
I am walking a very fine line between honesty and pluralistic open-mindedness when it comes to my daughter’s upbringing. Certainly, I am not going to lie to her (I have enough difficulty with not discouraging her from believing in the tooth fairy) about my skepticism.
She’s now old enough to be asking serious philosophical questions, but not yet quite mature enough to hear out people’s complete, nuanced answers. So, not too long ago, she asked me whether or not I believe in God, which is good, but she did not have the patience to hear out my response. I think she understands, based upon the little that I managed to explain, that I don’t believe in God in a traditional way.
On the other hand, whenever she spontaneously declares to me that she believes in the God of the Torah (5 Books of Moses) (which happens every so often), I tell her that I’m happy for her – because believing in God is comforting. Certainly, I don’t discourage her budding belief system.
She has really taken to the Jewish component of her school curriculum; often, she sings various prayers and blessings aloud at home, which she has learned at school. To a great extent, I find this gratifying… as a public school student in the USA, I learned those same prayers and blessings at a later age, and they were never part of my daily life, as they are of hers.
Her unusual school deliberately brings together Jewish kids who are religious (Orthodox) with Jewish kids who are non-religious (secular), and each group has a different morning activity. The “religious” kids have a morning prayer service, and the “non-religious” kids have various Jewish-themed learning activities (from what I gather).
Earlier in the school year, she casually described the two groups to me as those that believe in God and those that do not believe in God, which I immediately disabused her of by pointing out that many non-religious people do believe in God, while many religious people do not. She immediately accepted my point, and we haven’t revisited that particular conversation since. For me, this is an essential part of what her special school provides its students –
- an appreciation that neither being “religious”, nor being “non-religious” is inherently better, nor more correct;
- an understanding that there is a great deal of overlap between the two groups, both in terms of practices and in terms of beliefs;
- a sense that the distinction between the two groups (which exists in Israeli society at large) is fairly arbitrary.
So, I feel comfortable with her fledgling religiosity and devotion to the Almighty in this specific context. Putting aside theology, I consider it invaluable for Jewish people to be intimately comfortable with their traditions. After all, our traditions make ours distinct from other cultures and belief systems. Sure, Judaism promotes being “good” and “moral”, but so does basically every other faith – that, in and of itself, is not distinctly “Jewish”.
Right now, she’s but a child; and she has many years ahead of her to figure out her beliefs regarding God and other theological axioms. I’m imagine she’ll probably find herself going back and forth in her beliefs in the years to come… and I’ll continue attempting to straddle the divide between my skepticism (non-belief?) and my intention to support as she grows into the person that she wants to become.
From my perspective, one of the most precious gifts that her school has already begun granting her is the skillset to navigate ancient Jewish rituals and texts (which too many Jews throughout the world don’t have), absent a religiously coercive approach that demands fealty to a Being who may not exist and a history that may not be entirely true.