We are the worst Tooth Fairies ever. I dare you to pit your stories against ours. You would think that there is strength in numbers, that the fact that there are two of us to do the remembering would guarantee that we would have a decent shot of pulling this off. You would think that we would learn our lesson, that the number of times we have felt the sinking feeling of forgetting in the pit of our stomachs would be enough to help us change our ways, but you would be wrong. Of the 20 or so collective teeth that my kids have lost in the last 7 years, roughly 10 of them were forgotten by the time we went to bed...leaving us to make up a hasty story in the morning about why the Tooth Fairy left a dollar on the front porch, or under the bed, or why it showed up sometime after breakfast. My kids have now assumed that the Tooth Fairy who comes to our house is really, really, irresponsible. They aren't wrong.
Last week, Ava lost her second front tooth, giving her that adorable, giant space right in front that is completely irresistible to me. And, classic Kolmans, after she went to bed with her tooth tucked neatly under her pillow, it took us all of about 5 minutes to forget all about the previous ONE HOUR of dramatics and all of the coaxing and cheering that it took for her to get brave enough to pull that tooth out herself. So, when she came down to our bedroom in the morning and said the Tooth Fairy hadn't left her anything, I nearly decided that it was time for the jig to be up. Let's just tell her it's not true. Let's tell her it's us and we are horrible parents. But, Loren is not willing to give in so easily and he knows a thing or two about the tenacity of belief that exists in kids at this age. Plus, he is an Evil Genius. So, he went up there to "help her look", with a dollar tucked into his watch. Mysteriously, he "found" that dollar on the floor under the bed. Ava was excited! But, because he is masterful in the dark arts of deception, he casually mentioned that he wasn't sure it was actually from the Tooth Fairy...maybe it was just left here by someone else...to which Ava said, "Nope. It's from her. I smelled it. It's from Fairyland." That girl's imagination is strong.
It's more than her imagination, though. Ava is still in a stage where she believes what we say now because she doesn't have a reason not to. She trusts us implicitly. And she doesn't have a lot of competing voices in her life right now. This is a great window of time, where we can pass on truths about who God is (and also lies about the Tooth Fairy, apparently) and she believes. But I have two older kids, as well as a whole bunch of teenagers that are in our lives constantly through Young Life, so I know that the days are numbered where words alone are enough to make belief take root.
Loren and I have talks often about kids these days, our own and the teenagers and young adults we get to know through Young Life and through our own kids. We talk about what is driving them. About what is driving parents. About the ways that so many are lost and trying to find themselves in things that are so temporary. Sports, Academics, Extra-Curriculars. Popularity. Dating. About how parents encourage this, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not. We also talk about the temptation we feel to buy into some of it, too. We talk about how it begins to seem normal and even beneficial to encourage our kids to let their lives be wrapped up in these temporary things. And we talk a lot about how, the older our kids get, the more we will stand out as weird parents if we don't do that. Parenting with an eternal mindset is no easy task, especially for a recovering people pleaser like me. Because so often, standing firm feels like disappointing our kids...a lot. A wise man told me recently that if we are going to shepherd our kids like Jesus shepherds, we can expect them to be disappointed often. This was a great comfort. Jesus disappointed and disrupted people, to be sure. He called them to things that our natural selves do not gravitate to. Things like selflessness, and humility, and loving your enemy. He called them to examine their lives, to forgive, to get the plank out of their own eyes, and that the first shall be last.
I am grappling with how to hold on to these simple truths in a world, and even in a church culture, that has normalized the idolization of self and pride and "me first". We are living in a culture that has asked students to sacrifice themselves to gods that can't redeem them but, instead, distract them from their deep need of the Only One who can by putting them on a pedestal and telling them the world is theirs. I am really struggling to know how to shepherd my kids to buck this system and, instead, follow Jesus into a life where they will become less and He will become greater. It's exactly the opposite of what they are hearing almost everywhere else.
I know the best I can do for my kids is to teach them to love God and to love others, no matter the cost. That is the most important thing. But it isn’t enough to just tell them that with my words if I, myself, am navigating the safe waters of shallow faith and cultural relevance. I have to show them that with my life and with how I help to structure theirs. I have to show them with my own life that we carve out time and energy for the most important things. That people are more important than being the best, or achieving your goals, or having things and that following the Lord is more crucial than anything else. I have to teach them how to build their own lives around these principles. That means that sometimes, less important things, even those things we enjoy and that benefit us in some way, get pushed to the side. That means that sometimes less important things are called what they are...a distraction, a chasing of the wind, an idol. The less important things can’t take precedence because then the truth our children hear and the one they see don’t match up. Experience tells me that our kids tend to believe the one they see us live out, more than the one we talk about.
My last born child is 7. Her days of believing whatever we say are numbered. The Tooth Fairy is on her way out and good riddance to her and her irresponsible ways. But, I can't afford to be irresponsible with the truth. I hope the truth that we speak about who God is and how he loves is one that is seared on our kids hearts because they see it lived out each and every day. I pray that our lives match up to our rhetoric. I'm praying that my kids' disappointment when we prioritize faith and following Jesus over whatever current idol they are being asked to buy gives way to a deep rooted understanding of our greater commitment to God's glory. And I'm praying that, as they grow, it will be their greatest joy to become less as He becomes greater...which leads me to this sobering question.
Is it mine?