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Publications
  • Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home
    Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home
    by Leigh Newman

    Can't wait! 

  • Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
    Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
    by Krista Tippett
  • The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves
    The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves
    by Dan Ariely
  • Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
    Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
    by Harriet Lerner
Publications
  • Rhythm And Repose
    Rhythm And Repose
    Anti/Epitaph

    Tender and beautiful. 

  • Boys & Girls
    Boys & Girls
    by Alabama Shakes

    Love this album! So happy when I saw BrainPicker post this on her site! 

  • City of Refuge
    City of Refuge
    by Abigail Washburn

    Pure magic!

  • Some Nights
    Some Nights
    by Fun.
  • She Ain't Me
    She Ain't Me
    by Carrie Rodriguez

    I'm such a fan. 

  • I'm Your Man
    I'm Your Man
    by Leonard Cohen

    Take this Waltz is on my top ten list of all songs!

  • Babel
    Babel
    by Mumford & Sons
Publications
  • Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey (Original UK Unedited Edition)
    Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey (Original UK Unedited Edition)
    PBS

    So totally addicted to this series! Absolutely amazing!

  • Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking [Blu-ray]
    Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking [Blu-ray]
    starring Rufus Sewell

    Based on your recommendations from a recent blog post! It's another wonderful BBC mystery series! 

  • The Good Wife: The First Season
    The Good Wife: The First Season
    starring Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Josh Charles, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi

    One of the best shows on TV. Juiliana Marguiles is incredible. 

  • Doc Martin: Collection - Series 1-4
    Doc Martin: Collection - Series 1-4
    starring Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Lia Williams, Stephanie Cole, Ian McNeice
gifting
Wednesday
Dec242008

do you believe in magic?

I’ve dreaded having “the talk” with Ellen since the day she was born. How will I tell her the truth without taking away her innocence, without filling her with doubt and cynicism? How can I spare her the grief that often accompanies truth?

How will I ever be able to tell her about Santa? (Just in case you thought “the talk” referred to the sex and babies thing – that is something that we actually looked forward to, and, so far, it’s unfolding pretty well).

A few weeks ago Ellen and I were lying in bed and talking about friends. We were sharing the same pillow and both staring straight up at the ceiling when she turned toward me and blurted, “Are you the tooth fairy?”

I froze. Total paralysis set in.

“Mom, I really need to know. I really need you to tell me the truth. Hanna’s mom told her that she’s the tooth fairy. Please tell me. I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t know.”

I shot straight up. “Ellen, do you hear your dad calling me?”

She scrunched her face up. “I don’t hear anything at all.”

I jumped out of bed and told her I’d be right back. As I was racing out of the room, Ellen called after me, “Come back! Are you trying to avoid me?”

I didn’t break stride. I walked ran into Steve’s study. “It’s here! It’s time! She wants to know! I think this is it!”

I wish I could say that Steve looked alarmed, but this is not an entirely unique scenerio in our house. He simply shuffled his feet to turn his leather work chair in my direction, raised his head and said, “Time for what, baby?”

I quickly recapped my conversation with Ellen. Steve drew a long breath and shook his head. I was overcome with a sense of dread. “Brené, it’s time. We always said we’d tell her the truth when she sincerely asked.”

My mind was flooded with tiny clips of her asking the same question, but rather than really wanting to know, it was obvious that she was desperate for us to defend her beliefs.

This was different and Steve and I both knew it.

I slowly returned to the room and crawled back into bed with Ellen. Within seconds we were both lying on our sides, propped up on our elbows, with our faces inches away from one another. I quietly said, “I wanted to talk to your dad about our conversation. It means a lot to both of us.” Her eyes filled with tears and she sunk down. “You are the tooth fairy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, your dad and I are the tooth fairy.” She rolled off of her elbow and put her face directly into the pillow. A few seconds later, she lifted her head enough to grab a breath and held it over the pillow as she whispered, “Is Santa Claus real? Are parents Santa too?”

I felt deeply conflicted. To simply tell Ellen that we’re Santa would be as dishonest as telling her that Santa is real. For me, it was so much more complicated than that. Yes, we’re Santa, yet Steve and I are believers. We were both raised by parents who believed in magic and made plenty of it when we were growing up. We are  goofy, big-hearted, unapologetic believers.

I looked into Ellen’s eyes and instantly realized that there was no reason to make it less complicated than it is. “Elle, your dad and I are Santa, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no magic in Christmas. We believe in magic. We believe in Christmas spirit. We believe in things we can’t see.”

An ounce of hope returned to her face.

I told her about the special kind of magic that fills the hearts of parents and inspires them to write swirly notes in gold pen and sign the Tooth Fairy’s name. I told her about the magic that compels us to decorate the house before the Thanksgiving plates are washed and to stuff stockings and build bikes at 3am. I told her about the magic of thousands of twinkle lights and decorating trees and singing songs. We talked about the magic of celebrating five Christmases in five days (she has four sets of grandparents).

By this time we were both sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce with our knees touching and our hands in a messy stack. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “But why? Why do parents do all of this?”

I smiled, “So you can believe in magic. So you can believe in things you can’t see. So, you can pass along the magic in your life.”

“But why tell me now, Mom?”

I said the first thing that came to my mind, “Because your heart is full of magic now. You’re ready.” I told her that parents who want to pass down magic are the best judge of when their kids are ready, and that’s why we let parents have this conversation.

Ellen cried small, quiet tears. “I believe in magic. I really do. My heart is full and I’m ready. This is so hard, but I believe.”

This morning we had an amazing conversation about God, faith, and magic. Before I could even get my head around the fact that we were actually talking about these things, she said, “Magic is harder to see and believe in than God. We can see God because God is love.” This time I was fighting back tears.

All of our efforts to avoid passing down the confusing Charlton Heston and George Burns images of God were working. Every week the children's sermon at our church is a different version of "God is love" - nothing more complicated, nothing more simple. She's listening.

We decided that faith might be believing in God and love even when it is hard – even when bad things are happening and it’s hard to see and feel God and love.”

Ellen said, “Then faith and magic are different.”

“Yes, I think you’re right. I think they are very different.”

Then, in all of her 9-year old wisdom, Ellen said, “It’s trickier with Christmas and Easter because you’ve got Santa, the Easter Bunny and Jesus.”

I chuckled. “Yes, it’s trickier when there’s overlap.”

Ellen replied, “The tooth fairly is easier. That’s pure magic. Unless, of course, you knock your tooth out eating a communion wafer.”

Our family wishes you magic this holiday season!

Special thanks to Farrah Braniff, my friendtogopher (good friend and family photographer) for these awesome holiday shots. Check out her gorgeous new blog here!

« 2009: year of the superpower | Main | kindness challenge + gratitude giveaway »

Reader Comments (38)

I'm sitting here crying as I read. I too have dreaded the conversation for a while now. Courtney is a die hard believer, and the couple of cautious attempts she's made with the tooth fairy have been more along the lines of begging us to defend her belief. She has never, ever questioned Santa, but I have to believe that the conversations must have started around her. When the time comes, this year or next, I hope I can handle it with as much grace as you have. And at our house too, I know it will flow into a conversation about faith and God and I hope we are doing as good a job teaching those lessons as you and Steve seem to be.

Wishing all of you, and especially Ellen, a Christmas FULL of magic, but more than that, FULL OF FAITH, and HOPE, and LOVE!

Merry Christmas,

Renae
12.24.2008 | Unregistered CommenterRenae C
wow, this is so magical and utterly beautiful. thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

xo
stef
12.24.2008 | Unregistered Commenterstef
thank you again!! I seem to always start comments to you this way, I love this snip it from real life. I have a 2 year old and am DREADING telling her that mommy and daddy are Santa and the Tooth Fairy, who she's not even met! This will live in my heart all week and beyond. Thanks you for sharing your version of magic and faith and love. It's inspiring! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and lots of magic for you and yours this season.
12.24.2008 | Unregistered Commenteramanda
Wow...all I can say is..."WOW...!"

Good stuff, Darlin'!

I BELIEVE I BELIEVE I BELIEVE IN MAGIC. I BELIEVE I BELIEVE IN THE LOVE OF GOD!

THANK YOU!!!
12.24.2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
Great Post and great pics! Check out this site www.giftventure.com I think you might like it. (Ellen might have outgrown it, but maybe Charlie?)
12.24.2008 | Unregistered CommenterAVZC
fantastic post.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with Love, Hope and Joy.
12.24.2008 | Unregistered Commenterspread your wings
I'm probably going to be deleted for this but WHY is it allowable for wholescale lying to children and then the expectation that they should be honest and truthful back? This whole Santa thing (feaving aside the excessive unmet expectations) smacks of whole scale hypocrisy). I'm glad that I did not grow up with parents who peddled this to me or my brother.
12.25.2008 | Unregistered Commentercreativevoyage
happy holidays and thank you for all the magic you share
12.25.2008 | Unregistered Commentermarcy
Dear Creative Voyage,

Respectful debate and difference is always welcome here. I just think it's important for all of us to stay away from put downs and stay out of judgment about family traditions and beliefs (on both sides). This is simply a story of my more tender parenting experiences. The way I see it, I'm grateful for what was handed down to me and you're grateful for what your parents handed down - how awesome is that?

Merry Christmas!
12.25.2008 | Registered CommenterBrené Brown
This is such a sweet story, Brene! I feel so lucky to be mentored by wonderful mothers like you, before I have my own kids. Lots of magic is what I wish you as well! Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family! xxox
ps: love your frientographer portraits too!
12.25.2008 | Unregistered CommenterGypsy Alex
Oh, I was feeling this so much when I read it. I, too, dread the talk. I was even asking Steven about it the other day (when did you find out kind of questions). Sounds like you handled it so well! That was great.
12.25.2008 | Unregistered Commenterfarrah Braniff
i love the way you handled the questions. and those pictures!! priceless!! Merry Christmas!
12.26.2008 | Unregistered Commenterkrista
Wow. This was such a beautiful post. I'm not a parent yet - not close - but you inspire me to parent with heart and soul some day. Thank you.
12.26.2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
I love Ellen !!! heart & wit and wonder all rolled into one ~
Meg
12.27.2008 | Unregistered CommenterMeg
This post made me tear up. What a sweet, brave girl Ellen is. With a kind (and brave!) mom.
12.27.2008 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine Center
This brought such nostalgic tears to my eyes... such a touching post.
12.28.2008 | Unregistered Commenterlunarmusings
Every (bar none)time I come here I feel the Magic...tears are rolling down my face..i'm so grateful for your words!

I started reading with this big question mark in my mind - wondered WHAT in the world you were talking about (my kids are grown - so the Santa talk escaped me, I thought you were talking about sex - lol)) - WHY did you think you'd be "taking away her innocence...", "... filling her with doubt and cynicism..." I laughed when you mentioned THE Santa talk, ok I "got" it...but then my heart kept growing and growing (kinda like the grinch)and i kept tearing up as i read along - wow! so beautiful, thanks AGAIN!
12.29.2008 | Unregistered CommenterSquare-Peg Karen
I just had to tell you how absolutely beautiful I found this post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
12.29.2008 | Unregistered CommenterPamela
Thank you for showing me such a graceful way to parent, and for showing me your path to creating magic in the imaginations and hearts of your children.
12.29.2008 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
Wow. This is something I would like to put in my back pocket for a few years until my kids reach the age of asking the tough questions. You are to be commended for your straightforwardness, compassion, sincerity, and respect for the entire situation. You are an excellent mom! Thanks for sharing this with us. You won't find this advice on babycenter.com.
12.31.2008 | Unregistered CommenterBriana
Now that my girls are getting older ( 12 & 14), they are telling me things they remember already- and how they started to put 2 and 2 together- like- why did you always forget your purse for Christmas eve mass and have to run back home? Or remember when Dad said he'd come right back for church and never did ( Santa had some mechanical assembly difficulties.) So they DO remember our efforts and that is MAGIC to them- that someone loves them enough to go to all the trouble. Amazing. Cute pictures. And the communion wafer story cracked me up. I wonder if that has ever happened....

Most of all, I like the practicality of your Dad's saying. I mean, it IS true and onc ein a while, every needs a good solid reminder that dreams CAN come true, but they don;t usually happen magically.

Happy New Year-

Anita
01.3.2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnita
Beautiful post! (And beautiful kids!). I just had the "are you telling your kids about Santa? discussion with my SIL over Christmas dinner and it's a tricky thing. Thankfully our kids are 2 1/2 and 9 mo., and 10 mo. respectively. Well see how it goes- thanks for the post!
01.4.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEveryChapter
Truly great stuff! life is so exciting and the many moments shared with our children makes life Magic.
01.4.2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarlan
I'm starring this post to refer to when the time comes in my house. You said it so beautifully and still being true. Thank you for this wonderful post. I'm glad I found you via Letters to a Parent.
01.5.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I'm moved to respond to this because of my own beautiful daughters and the dread of having to destroy the magic some day. What a wonderful exchange between the two of you and so wonderful to have it documented.
01.7.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
WOW what a beautiful beautiful post....I felt like I was right on that bed sitting there with you!! What magic you bring to your writing, and mothering!♥
This post brought tears to my eyes, as my girls are now 22 and 13 - I miss those days of magic and believing!

~TidyMom
11.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterTidyMom
Wow, what a beautiful post! I hope I'm able to explain life's questions with such grace one day when I have kids! Thank you for sharing!
11.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmelie
This post is evidence of pure magic. I have a five year old daughter and three year old son. I have dreaded this conversation - but YOU proved to me that it will be just fine when it happens. Thank you for spreading a little magic of your own - because, I do truly believe.
I am so sad that tomorrow I have to have "the talk" with my 8 year old daughter... she's made a few queries about the truth about Santa over the past few days, but it hasn't been at an appropriate time to stop all that is going on to delve further into the discussion, so am planning a special outing for the two of us so we can have a heart-to-heart chat... I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to read your tender loving response to your daughter to help me in formulating my response to her questions... Thank you for sharing!
11.21.2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
How true...they want to know and then they don't. My son who is 39 now found out when he commented at the store Santa's "that isn't Santa because Santa doesn't wear a Timex watch". He was about in the 2nd or 3rd grade so we had the discussion. When I confirmed his suspicions, he was mad and really wasn't ready to not believe. The next time the subject came up, he waited for me to explain that yes, there is a Santa, it is me and your father, and I too explained the magical part of believing. My kids have all been fine with knowing the magic of Christmas and never felt betrayed by it. Great post. Merry Christmas to you also.
11.24.2009 | Unregistered CommenterPatricia
This is the most profound blog I've ever read. Thank you for sharing. I intend to print this out and share it with my grandson, who brought the subject up, albeit gently, last week. Thanks Brene!! You've made my day!
11.27.2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy
What a wonderful moment, thank you so much for sharing. I am crying too....
12.2.2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Mayers
What a beautiful exchange with your delightful daughter. So many lessons here for a hopeful-parent-to-be. xo
12.18.2009 | Unregistered CommenterEileen
Thanks for sharing this incredible moment in parenting. I was raised with no Santa, and I never knew what I would do until I had Lucia. Thanks for giving me a glimpse at what might lay ahead.
12.27.2009 | Unregistered Commenternadia
Thank You For This Blog, was added to my bookmarks.
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04.27.2010 | Unregistered Commentertianic
I am seven months pregnant as we read this.. I bawled my eyes out and was so sad to hear how you had to tell your daughter the "truth" about these two things. I think you did it in such an awesome way, explaining the magic of Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. Kudos. I'm going to use this as well.
-Sylvia

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