"They say you hide the eggs."
That's the accusation that greets me the morning before Easter as I come out of the bathroom and am confronted by my 6 1/2-year-old son, A.A., and his two giggling 7-year-old friends. Then the Easter Bunny dagger: "Is she real?"
I pause for a half-second, stung by this battery of questions. I am used to his asking how and when does the Easter bunny — or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — deliver the goods. A.A. is incredibly bright, but he usually accepts my vague, increasingly colorful answers. At this moment, though, it would have been easier to explain the birds and the bees.
His two friends, who are daughters of close friends of mine and regular guests during school breaks, take aim at another of our Easter traditions — the lollipop tree. "You make it, right?," one says. "Yeah, it's just lollipops taped on a tree," the other chirps. I admire the girls' keen observations, but it's too soon for the magical holiday traditions to be ripped from A.A.'s life. We just started them, and we have such a short window to enjoy his wonderment. Flustered, I murmur to all three, “You have to believe or the Easter bunny won't come,” but my heart is racing. The girls go into their mom's bedroom, while A.A. and I go downstairs to toast the bagels.
As he is distracted by O.J. and apple slices, I run upstairs to my friend's room, where they all cuddle in bed. I don't want to crush any beliefs the girls actually have and I don’t want to outright lie (a fine balance!), so I say, firmly: "Girls. We believe in the Easter Bunny in this house. So I need you to believe too. It's important." I am oddly shaken by the whole conversation. At breakfast the matter vanishes. They want to believe – or at least they want the lollipops and chocolate that come along with believing. I wrestle with whether I was too stern with them, but their mom kindly assures me I wasn't.
My husband's and my conversations about God with A.A. are easy — for now anyway — but when it comes to these less-religious, mythical creations, I want A.A. to dream about the magical mysteries for as long as possible. After all, he's only been our son for two Christmases and two Easters, and in Ethiopia, he had never even made a wish on a birthday cake. I’ve been trying to cram a childhood worth of fairy tales and mythology into few years and have been rewarded with amazement shining in A.A.’s eyes
When we first brought him home from Ethiopia, in October 2012, he didn't speak any English. By December, he began putting together simple sentences. By Christmas morning, we had indoctrinated him enough about Santa Claus that he cried because Santa Claus wasn't there by our chimney having coffee and waffles with us. He couldn't understand why he didn't get to actually meet Santa Claus. And why not? Santa sounds like a great guy!
This year, when we took him to see Santa, A.A. was suspect of the fake beard, but his belief survived his fleeting skepticism.
My husband and I don't go blindly into wonderland, however. When A.A. thought a magic wand could turn me into a car, a pony or a slice of pizza, we had to break it to him that a magic wand from the toy store won't do that. But A.A. wouldn't be deterred. He looked to the Tooth Fairy (who somehow knew he'd like both American and Ethiopian dollars under his pillow) for her real magic wand. (Did you know kids now correspond with the Tooth Fairy, as they would with Santa?) So the Tooth Fairy wrote back, in her fanciest writing, saying she needs to keep the magic for herself and all the other kids around the world. Now my lies were in writing.
But back to Easter.
That lollipop tree that I mentioned earlier was dreamt up by my mother for my younger brother and me. Outside the kitchen door (in suburban Philadelphia), we planted a lollipop stick a week before Easter and watered it every day. When Sunday came, it fantastically grew into a full grown tree covered with lollipops. (As my friend's daughters so astutely noted, it was actually just a branch with lollipops taped to it, but it didn't matter, we were believers). A.A. was happily mystified by the lollipop tree. When I told my mom about his joy (she's 94), she revealed that it was based on an old Burl Ives song and was thrilled by A.A.'s own tree.
When it came time to set up the Easter egg hunt, my dad took my younger brother and I on a car ride to a covered bridge on Sunday morning. When we were too old for egg hunts (third grade?), we realized he did this so mom and my older brothers could hide the goodies around the yard of our old house. We never thought to suspect anything, partly because we valued any extra time with dad.
As I grew older, I couldn't wait to start these same traditions with my family.
Of course, my friend's inquisitive girls became suspicious last year because of this car-ride tradition — when they left with my husband to play basketball in the park, the supposed Easter bunny hadn't come, but when they got back eggs were secreted in nooks and crannies everywhere. It doesn't take Kid Sherlock to figure out that.
Despite the morning drama, our egg hunt and lollipop tree came off without a hitch this year. The magic was still there. I just hope it can last at least one more season.