My daughter’s most complicated relationship right now is with me. She is 7.
She had a truth: We were a happy family. A happy mom, a happy dad, a happy daughter, and a happy son. When I told her my truth (her father and I were not making each other happy) she wasn’t sure what she could believe. She wasn’t sure she could believe anything anymore.
I want my daughter to believe in something again. This is what it means to love, I think?
Sometime between signing divorce mediation papers and a new lease, I sneaked into my new apartment and installed a fairy door for my son, the tooth fairy, and my daughter. I had done the same three years before, sometime between signing mortgage papers and unloading a life into the house where I thought I might finally be happy.
Both times there was a ridiculous sense of urgency to get and install fairy doors. It felt like the most important thing I had to do. In the middle of the mess, I needed to make room for magic.
I’m a mother. I’m a liar. I’m a magician.
My daughter writes a letter introducing herself, and asks, “What’s your name?”
Days later, the fairy responds, “I’m Bea, buzz buzz, like the insect!”
Just like that, they are best friends.
Their correspondence is a slow, deliberate thing. Bea writes to my daughter when she’s away at her dad’s house, during those stretches when I’m trying to figure out who I am. I’m a mother, but I’m not a mother. Where are my children? I’m an ex-wife. An ex-daughter-in-law. I’m a fairy. A best friend. I’m a figment of my own imagination.
I write with my left hand, sometimes after I’ve had a glass of wine, to disguise my handwriting.
In the beginning, my daughter was skeptical. She asked, “Do you think Bea’s real?” And I turned the question on its head like adults do, “Do you think Bea’s real?”
She asks me for a handwriting sample, compares it against Bea’s. When Bea writes her a letter on the back of an envelope, my daughter fingers the sticky seal and says to me, “Saliva!” When she leaves for her father’s house — pink bear in her school backpack, even though she insists she doesn’t sleep with him anymore — I find Bea’s latest letter splayed out under the microscope on the desk.
But at some point, my daughter decides she wants to believe. This is what it means to hope, I think?
She and Bea talk about their lives. They draw pictures: a meadow, three stick figures, a stick figure with wings and a stick figure without wings, a heart. One day my daughter asks Bea if she could visit fairy land. Then she asks again. And again. She asks so many times that Bea finally answers.
“Would you like to be a fairy helper in the human realm? <3 your fairy friend, Bea.”
“Yes!” my daughter replies.
Some girls have been unkind. My daughter has been sad. One weekend when my daughter is away, Bea leaves her a stone, metallic with rainbow swirls; a kindness stone. Bea tells her that it is her fairy job to make sure humans don’t lose their ability to be kind. She tells my daughter that when people are unkind to her, she can hold this kindness stone and gather its strength.
Bea tells my daughter that when she goes out into the world, she should do at least one kind thing — big or small — and because of the fairy magic her action will make someone else decide to do something kind, too.
I’m a mother. I’m a liar. I’m a magician.
Their friendship deepens. “Is it true that fairies are afraid of grown-ups?” my daughter wants to know. Bea tells her that yes, it’s true, fairies are afraid of grown-up humans, because they’ve stopped believing.
“It’s terrible not to be believed in,” the fairy named Bea and the mother named Amanda tell the little girl who is lying on her belly at the threshold of a small door with her face in her hands.
The average child has 20 baby teeth. I googled this when my son lost his first tooth years ago. I’d bought my first fairy door, and a package of gold pouches, 40-count, because even though I didn’t have a second child, I was trying to conjure one. I went to the bank, filled my purse with gold coins. And then it began: my son exchanged the dried bloody kernel of his tooth for a pouch containing 5 gold coins. In the dark, I rubbed a candle over the lemon zester, spreading my fairy dust; proof that magic existed.
My son lost his last tooth before I moved out of the house on the cul-de-sac. He was 11 years old. His fairy, whose name he never asked for, left him 10 gold coins, and a letter thanking him for all his beautiful teeth. She told him she would miss him. I remember burying the tooth in the trash can. Not so that he wouldn’t see it, but so that his sister wouldn’t. And then I zested a candle in front of the fairy door, and over the books, and onto the floor. For good measure. In the morning, he pocketed the coins, winked at me and remarked, clutching my shoulder, “I’ll miss her, too.”
One weekend I carve out some time alone with each of the kids, in turn.
My son and I share a piece of chocolate cake; we have just left the library. “Do you think she’ll hate me,” I ask, “when she realizes that I’m Bea? That I lied to her?” I want to ask him when he stopped believing, why he stopped believing, what that felt like — to believe and then not believe. I want to ask him if he is mad at me for doing what I needed to do. If he hates me. If he forgives me. If he loves me.
He licks the icing from his fork, looks at me, thinking. “She’ll understand what you did for her. You made magic. She’ll love you.” He licks more icing. “So much.”
His mother, his nameless tooth fairy, his sister’s fairy friend Bea . . . we listen, and we try our best to believe, in this. In anything.
Amanda Avutu is a writer based in Atlanta. Find her on Twitter @amandaavutu.