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My 7-year-old lost another tooth last night. Since we have been through many of these over the last couple of years, the two of us agreed to put aside any pretention that it would end up under his pillow. He is a non-believer and finds the story of the tooth fairy to be the most ridiculous of all of the farces adults tell children. From an early age, he dismissed anything beyond his definition of â€śrealâ€ť as utterly ridiculous. Since my partner and I have agreed to tell our kids the truth when they ask directly for it (lest they grow up not trusting us), we let him know from early on that his suspicions were correct about the incredulity of these tales. The one rule is that he isnâ€™t allowed to go to school and burst someone elseâ€™s bubble.
My 9-year-old, on the other hand, has a more complicated relationship with reality. For years, he has regaled us with stories rivaled only by Dr. Seussâ€™ I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Tales would begin in our sphere of reality but end in a fantastical world. We were never quite sure if he knew where the line was between fiction and non-fiction, and only now that he is older does he sometimes fess up to knowing the difference.
Our elder child recently came up with a way to distinguish his penchant for fantasy from his brotherâ€™s realism. Some people, he explains, are â€śmyth blindâ€ť and some are not. Some are able to see past everyday reality while others just canâ€™tâ€”it is part of their nature. Both kids seem satisfied with the terminology, and quite out of character, they donâ€™t seem to preference one above the other.
This conversation in our home is juicy enough that the kids reintroduce it periodically, adding on layers and meanings. Recently, this category was stretched to include oneâ€™s proclivity to believing in God. The â€śmyth blindâ€ť child sees himself as an atheist, and easily links not believing in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, or Santa with not believing there is such a thing as God. The one who is not â€śmyth blindâ€ť remains intrigued by theology and asks lots of questions about God. They have also surmised that one of their parents seems to be myth blind while the other is not. This observation is astute, and we donâ€™t mind being included in this categorization.
As the â€śnot myth-blindâ€ť parent, I have to confess that I like the sound of this category. It goes beyond the usual definition of a believer being one who is somehow able to suspend reality, as if the rational mind is just waiting to pounce, bringing us back to our senses. One who is not myth blind sees another layer of reality and is not terrified by it. To be not â€śmyth blindâ€ť does not necessarily mean you believe, he explains. It simply implies that you are open to the idea. Furthermore, his use of the word â€śmythâ€ť acknowledges that whether or not the story is â€śTrueâ€ť is inconsequential. It is, in fact, more important than â€śTrueâ€ť: it is real, it is powerful.
There is a Jewish mystical concept that while we are living in the â€śrealâ€ť world every day, there is another layer of reality beneath it or beyond it. Sometimes we get a peek, usually just a fleeting moment, when we see that there is something more real beyond the particulars of our daily lives. Our material world is dressed in the colors, human structures,and natural world we see around us. But there are moments in our lives when a veil of sorts is lifted and we see that there is something else, something deeper. This can happen during meditation when everything â€śrealâ€ť can seem to disappear for a moment, or when the body is being supported by a yoga mat at the end of a practice and feels like it is suspended and weightless. Or when youâ€™re watching your kids grow and it seems like no time has passed, and simultaneously that eons have elapsed, crunching and expanding time in ways our minds canâ€™t understand. It can happen when we gaze at the stars and feel the concept of space and time changing as we try to picture what â€śeverythingâ€ť really entails. I think that not being myth blind is about being able to lift the veil for a moment, experiencing another way of seeing the universe.
I donâ€™t need my kids to believe in the tooth fairy. I donâ€™t think I did, even as I carefully placed my teeth in a special white tooth-sized pillow someone gave me. I commend my 7-year-old for being confident and bold enough to come to his own conclusions and challenge what he hears around him. But someday both kids will learn that most of us would place ourselves somewhere between these poles rather than identifying wholly with one category or the other, seeing the nuance and challenge of complex philosophical ideas. For now, itâ€™s an interesting way to start to make sense of their stories in relation to who they are becoming. I do hope that as they grow up they will be critical, but also that they might feel comfortable stretching their minds and being open to mystery.