01/24/2014 11:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'How Did the Tooth Fairy Find Me in New Delhi?'

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

I watched Julia Sweeney's It's Time for 'The Talk' with delight, touched by her transparent honesty as she dropped us into one of those all too familiar parenting moments when we wonder whether to tell "the truth," or "The Truth" because our children have asked us to help them make sense of the world.

"Is the Tooth Fairy real?" "How does Santa bring presents to children who don't have a chimney?" or in Sweeney's case, "Do you think they would have, on the Internet, any videos of humans mating?" What do we say? Do we share facts without regard for their implications, or do we make a decision to preserve our child's innocence just a little longer.

Once, when my son was seven years old, he lost a tooth while we were traveling in India. What to do? We had convinced him that the Tooth Fairy left a quarter under his pillow because she knew specifically where his house was. How would we explain that she followed him all over the world? Would he find that creepy--Tooth Fairy as stalker? Would he wonder if the same tooth fairy had visited him, or would he ask if there were Indian tooth fairies, and Korean and Brazilian ones, as well.

There are times when I believe it is okay to blur the edges of reality, as long as no one is being hurt. -- Susan Stiffelman

I wrote an elaborate note from the Tooth Fairy in my fanciest handwriting, slipped a few rupees into an envelope, and hid it under my son's pillow, prepared for whatever questions might come up by this change in venue.

In the morning, my son found the note and rupees and was elated. "The Tooth Fairy came! She found me! Look at the note she left!" We marveled at her cleverness, and congratulated him on his good fortune. It was a happy, celebratory moment.

Later in the day, my son made a comment suggesting he was trying to sort out how the Tooth Fairy had known he was in New Delhi. I shrugged and didn't say much, trusting him to let me know if he needed more information or was just slowly simmering an idea in his mind. It turned out the only question he pursued was whether he could spend his Tooth Fairy rupees on sweets.

Now, if my son had asked straight out, "Mommy, did you write this note?" I might have told him that the Tooth Fairy had inspired me to act on her behalf. If he had persisted, I would have fessed up, leaking out information in bite-sized units as he slowly determined how ready he was to give up on that particular fantasy.

Childhood is brief. As the ubiquitous presence of media exposes our little ones to more and more "realities," they are being pushed to grow up at accelerated rates. Despite the arguments one can make about the importance of telling children the true truth, there are times when I believe it is okay to blur the edges of reality, as long as no one is being hurt.

Of course the day did come when my son figured out that his parents had been the ones to leave those quarters (and rupees). But it was a tender and sweet moment; he understood why we had fudged the truth, and was able to stand proudly in his new knowledge, having naturally grown into his readiness for it.

I have great faith in the wisdom of children, and believe that if we are attuned and present with the questions they ask, we can answer with the degree of honesty they need in that moment. We just need to make sure we are listening with both our heads and our hearts.

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