On Becoming the Tooth Fairy

29 Oct 2007
October 29, 2007
Cartoon: young daughter in bed with father saying: Here you go dear...Daddy recorded a year's worth of bedtime stories onto your video iPod.

A parent’s primary responsibility is to make sure his children are safe, sheltered, well-fed, and have the best childhood possible. (Hold that thought; I hear my two fighting upstairs and I’d better intervene before someone gets hurt). Ok, I’m back and all are safe.

In return for providing everything they need to grow and become well-adjusted adults I get to watch them explore the world with their innocence and wonder as they learn its lessons. One of the most gratifying aspects of parenthood is getting to experience life through my daughters’ eyes.

The truth of the world, as well all know, is handed out slowly, as your children become able to accept it. And parents resort to white lies, ostensibly to protect them until the proper time. But just when is the proper time?

Playing Santa by leaving an empty plate and glass, with a note expressing your gratitude for the milk and cookies is part of this protective charade. You figure your child will let you know in her own way when she is ready to know the truth.

But life is not so clear cut. Our oldest daughter, now eleven, has hinted she knows the facts, but then is eager to leave those goodies for Mr. Claus. Does she or doesn’t she know? When she loses a tooth, she leaves a questionnaire for the Tooth Fairy before accepting her dollar bill (five dollars for front teeth). Is she taking us for a ride, gathering as much loot before fessing up? As parents, we must play along. That is until we forget to play along because we’ve fallen asleep on the couch before the late night news has even become the news. We’ve had a few very close calls.

With our nine year old we’re on more solid ground. She believes in no uncertain terms. We have been visited by the Tooth Fairy three times within the last two weeks (two by nature and one due to a near dental emergency). And we had been successful parents (for playing these roles the high mark of parenthood), that is until the other night.

We forgot. Yes, we simply forgot to play along. Like her older sister, she left a questionnaire for Ms. Fairy and her expectations were high for the next morning. But when the sun rose, she came running out of her room. The expression on her face said it all. The Tooth Fairy had forgotten her. A double whammy for her mother and father: guilt at our failure to meet her needs and horror as we watched her new reality unfold before our eyes.

You scramble to salvage her innocent childhood with any excuse that will be convincing enough. Luckily, we had an out: I had been sleeping in her room and she had bunked with her sister because my wife had had a bad cold. “The Tooth Fairy was confused when she came into your room and saw your father sleeping there,” my wife told her. Great save! Yeah, that could work. And it did.

But then the incredible happened: our eldest snuck back into her room and quickly filled out her sister’s questionnaire, making sure to disguise her writing just enough to convince (she’s learned well from the masters of disguise). When our youngest returned to her bed to check one last time before leaving for school she found the note with a dollar bill. She ran back to my wife screaming joyfully: “The Tooth Fairy did remember!”

My wife thought I had done the saintly act just before leaving for work. And she was ready to call me to coo. It was my shining hour as a parent. But it was short-lived. For my eldest daughter was her sister’s savior that day. With her act she had taken one giant leap towards adulthood and extended her sister’s childhood just a little bit longer. Her parents were grateful and proud to watch her move into this part of her life. And she picked the perfect moment and the perfect way to let us know.

9 replies
  1. Gloria Chen says:

    This story reminds me of my sister’s need to grow-up-in-a-hurry story.
    My family is an immigrant family and we, like so many other families, came to the US of A in waves. My father came first three years before all of us, than my mother came together with my older sister while my younger sister (then 9 years old) and I were being taken care of by my grandparents.
    On the night before my mother and older sister left that December, my mother had a talk with my sister that not only will she be without a mother, but Santa Claus is not real. She took the Santa news harder than missing my mother.
    She had to grow up in a hurry.

  2. Nigel says:

    In your opinion, what’s a childhood for?
    As I look back in history at child kings, emperors and workers, I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t be showing children what’s happening from the beginning.
    Who does a “childhood” serve? A child? Or his parents?

  3. Jeff says:

    Good question, Nigel. The short answer: I think it’s a time to feel secure to dream fantastic and limitless dreams while learning the often hard lessons of reality whenever you’re ready.

  4. Sarah says:

    This story reminds me of the time my 5 year old pulled his own eyelash out to make a wish that his 4 yr old brother would not get a spanking. He was thrilled when his wish came true.
    I completely agree with Jeff’s comment above regarding childhood. My oldest son, now 7, figured out the whole Santa mystery last year. He presented me with his observations and his conclusion and asked me point blank if I was Santa. He was so proud of himself for figuring it out and was ready for the answer.

  5. Rick says:

    I fully understand where Nigel is coming from, and with my four daughters (now all well past the age at which any sheltering is possible, regardless of its advisability), we did not offer any sheltering at all. We simply answered their questions honestly when they arose.
    It made them the ones in charge of their own story and what they believed, when. Which, to me, sounds a lot like what Jeff describes, as we had plenty of imaginary friends and fantastic tales told by kids who suffered no contradiction.
    We would offer the occasional, “really?” just to test the strength of the story in their minds, and we got a mixed bag of answers, most of which were more entertaining than the stories they defended!

  6. Becky says:

    Yes, Jeff, I agree with your reasoning for childhood. Being safe and loved are the reasons for childhood. It gives them the ability to dream and explore. That exploration will lead them into adulthood and facing life’s challenges when it’s handed to them.
    Kudos to your older daughter. She’s a quick thinker.

  7. Connie says:

    I love this story for the way the big sister protects and prolongs the younger one’s innocence. So wise in her young years, to understand the importance of believing.

  8. Virginia says:

    The beautiful fictions we weave for and with our children are about sharing a magic that proves there is beauty and joy in the world. We teach our children and each other to dare to dream and to dare to see the abundance of the Universe (or God). It teaches us empathy, inspires creativity and collaboration, and simply makes the world a better place.
    “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” (see the classic Yes Virginia story from the Sun Times). Yes Nigel, there IS a Santa Claus, a Tooth Fairy, love, beauty, joy, peace, and inspiration. Well, perhaps you get the idea.
    AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, retired Air Force Master Sargent and a grateful and firm believer in all things wonderful! Life is good.

  9. storyteller says:

    Wonderful story! I couldn’t agree more that such tales teach valuable lessons to our children and (when they’re ready) they’ll let us know when & how to move on … IF we’re paying attention.
    I appreciate finding you through Patti at 37 Days and have added a link to this piece on my site at Small Reflections because it’s a story that needs to be shared widely.
    Life IS good and we need to teach our children well.

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