Last week I was deep underwater in a trade and glued to my screens when my daughter entered my office drooling.
“Adda! Adda!” she said. From the corner of my eye, I could see she was jumping.
I took a quick glance. Hanging from her open mouth was a string. It was tied to her tooth.
A couple of weeks earlier, when she was in the throes of losing her first tooth, my father told her how they used to remove teeth back in the day. You know the classic story: A loose tooth. A piece of string. A doorknob. A sadistic sibling. Inspired by this story of abuse, my daughter was set to untooth herself.
Happily, later that day, without the aid of a string or doorknob, my daughter’s tooth succumbed to plain old gravity.
The tooth fairy was summoned.
Now, when I was a kid, the tooth fairy was a simple character. You wrapped your tooth in a bloody tissue and stuck it under your pillow. While you slept the tooth fairy visited and you woke a quarter richer. There were no questions like, “What’d the tooth fairy do with my tooth?” or, “Do I need to report tooth fairy profits to the IRS?”
For some, things haven’t changed much. The prior weekend, I visited my sister. She has two boys. Knowing that my daughter’s tooth was about to fall out, I had asked my nephew what the tooth fairy brought him. “The tooth fairy stinks,” he told me. “I put my tooth under my pillow for like, 3 weeks and when she finally came all I got was a buck.”
Things are more complex in my household. When my daughter lost her first tooth, my wife decided since it was “a special day” that the tooth fairy would not only BUY the tooth, but grant a wish as well. Wishes aren’t measured by the CPI, but let me tell you, they’re maybe the biggest inflationary threat to our economy.
That first tooth cost me $5. The wish (a doll) cost an additional $35.
Anyway, the day my daughter lost her tooth, it was my turn to put her to sleep. Before I entered her room my wife pulled me aside, and whispered a threat disguised as a request. “Make sure you find out what she wishes for!” This meant I had to be both a warm and loving father and a cold and heartless intelligence gatherer. From my daughter’s glitter-and-pony-filled head I had to pry her wish, so that it might be granted by the morning.
So after we read our book and were set to turn off the light, I asked, “Did you make your wish?”
“Not yet,” my daughter said. She grabbed her tooth from the special jewel-encased box she has made specifically for lost teeth, and moved a couple of feet away from me, towards the end of the bed. She clasped the tooth between her hands, closed her eyes really hard, bit her bottom lip, and wished with great effort. When she opened her eyes again, it was as if she was exiting a trance. She looked completely unburdened.
“Holy shit,” I thought. “That was a big wish.”
I asked her in a conspiratorial whisper, “What’d you wish for?”
“Shhhh, Daddy! You know I can’t tell you. Quick let’s get to bed. The tooth fairy is gonna be busy tonight.”
“Is it something you eat?”
She wasn’t letting me in. I felt a little panic entering my head.
“Is it” I asked with some trepidation, “alive?”
But she wasn’t talking. She took her wish to sleep that night. In fact, she fell asleep faster than ever.
My wife was waiting for me in the office. “So?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “I got nothing.”
“Well what are we supposed to do?” She looked emotional about it. She’s 8 months pregnant and just about anything can make her emotional right now. I knew I had to come up with something, and fast.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t remember much about the tooth fairy when I was a kid. All I know is that I maybe got a quarter in 1980. This whole idea about the tooth fairy granting wishes isn’t going to work. Let’s just get back to cash. The tooth fairy traffics in financial dreams only.”
“No, I don’t like it,” she said. “I want the tooth fairy to be a little more special.” My wife wasn’t going to settle for the quarter under the pillow trick. “It’s like, remember a few years ago when you wanted to make Groundhog’s Day an important family holiday?”
She always brought up my Groundhog’s Day idea when her back was against a wall.
“Yes,” I sighed.
“Well, I supported you then. Now you support my ‘tooth fairy is a big deal’ idea.”
I did some quick math. My daughter had another 18 teeth to lose. At $40 a tooth (assuming $5 a tooth and $35 per inflationary wish), that would cost me $720! Tooth fairy inflation was going to ruin me. I decided to try a different tact. With my wife feeling emotional, I took a stab at poetry.
“Let’s just change the character of the tooth fairy,” I said. “Losing teeth is a stage in life. The tooth fairy needs some depth, some philosophy, some poetry. We’ll write a note in glitter pen, or whatever, on special tooth fairy stationary that we can hide away. We can even douse the paper in perfume and tie it up with hair that came from the tooth fairy’s pony. (Admittedly, that last detail was a bit much.) We’ll just wrap the $5 in the note, done!”
My wife was skeptical. She wanted more details. “What does the note say, exactly?”
“The tooth fairy gives away stars.”
So we came up with a story. Every tooth, is a bit of a lost star. When your kid loses a tooth, the tooth fairy comes to reclaim it and return it to its star. For returning the tooth, your kid gets a little bit of money. Sort of like a bottle deposit, but much more romantic. Importantly, the tooth that grows in has also come from a star, one that you can choose and point out to your child.
Now, don’t worry if your neighbors give you crazy looks when you’re out on the front lawn, one arm around your kid’s shoulder the other pointing up to the night sky saying, “There it is! That’s the star your tooth came from, honey!” I mean, they probably lie to their kids about Santa Claus.
And their parents lied to them about “job benefits” and Social Security.
We all choose the myths we wish to believe in.
The next morning when my daughter first looked under her pillow, a wave of disappointment swept over her face. The hamster, or puppy, or whatever it was she expected to find, wasn’t there. Instead, there was a glittery note, fashioned as a wing (I have a crafty wife).
Quizzically, my daughter picked it up. She asked me to read it.
“It says, ‘The stars are in your smile.’”
Apparently I was dead on. Because she looked at me and I was blinded.
Have teeth? OMFG! ME TOO!!! Follow me on Twitter!