Still Me

Taking on the Tooth Fairy

((Ilustration: iStockphoto))

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By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 8, 2007; 1:17 PM

My oldest son, Cole, a five-year-old kindergartner, recently lost his first tooth. It was wobbling around among his lower row of baby teeth for a couple of weeks before he distractedly plucked it out one evening before dinner. It was a big moment. For me, it marked his passing childhood; he knew cold, hard cash would soon in his small hands. While I waxed nostalgic, Cole, ever the practical one, wanted to know when to expect the Tooth Fairy.

Oh, right! The Tooth Fairy. "Well," I told him, confident in the lies I was about to lay down, "I'll have to give her a call -- or better yet, send an email! -¿ to let her know that you've lost your tooth."

That was the beginning of the fantastic tale I built up around our sneaky Ms. Fairy. My kid's smile grew wider as I threw in a few additional expository details: let's send MapQuest directions to our house! And, I'll stay awake to make sure she got into the house without setting off the burglar alarm. What's the harm, I wondered, in a adding a bit of embellishment if the whole thing is a complete fabrication anyway?

It's not like the Tooth Fairy is any different, really, than the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. None of them exist, yet each new generation rebirths the myths for their own children. Besides, fairies delivering money, bunnies bearing candy or golly old bearded me doling out presents -- what's not to like? They're harmless distractions for kids who'll soon be forced to abandon their belief in magic and fantasy.

But it did make me wonder: should we opt out of celebrating the Tooth Fairy because it involves lying to our children? Because once the story's out there, there's no going back. You can't say, "Well, son, the Tooth Fairy leaves money under some kids' pillows after they lose their teeth ¿- just not yours. Sorry - she's just not that into you."

And it's not like parents are above a little fibbing now and then, especially when it shuttles an argument or deflects a tough question.

Is there a difference, morally, in the lie about the Tooth Fairy and the one you tell when you hide healthy vegetables and fruits in tomato sauce or mashed potatoes so that a fussy eater will get his nutrients?

God knows plenty of parents have told the absurd story about a stork delivering a baby - is that a more acceptable fable than the one of Old St. Nick?

Thing is, if you're a kid, there's no down side to believing in the Tooth Fairy. You get rid of something you don't need and you get paid for it immediately, sometimes handsomely. How great is that?! It's not like donating clothes and toys to Goodwill and having to wait until tax time to get a write-off.

The Tooth Fairy also comes to you, like FedEx. You don't have to drive anywhere. There are no lines to stand in at the mall to have your picture taken. And unlike the Easter Bunny and Santa, you won't have to face the possibility of having a scary, giant Were-Rabbit or sweaty red-suited man play the lead in your nightmares.

Besides being embarrassed about admitting that I forked over $5 for that inaugural tooth, I was happy to play along with the charade. As a feminist, I felt I should do my part to provide a hard working gal (albeit a small one) with useful, fulfilling work. Santa and the Easter Bunny shouldn't take all the glory. I also lucked out that my son isn't particularly invested in exploring the iconography of the Tooth Fairy. No Google search on the aesthetics of her wings, wand or fairy dust was required. He never inquired about how such a tiny little thing gets her tooth treasures back to her nest (or wherever she lives), or what she actually does with all of the molars and canines she collects.

The downside to letting the Tooth Fairy is out of her bottle? Realizing that I'll have to pay up, big time, over the next couple of years. There's a whole mouth full of teeth yet to come out. Maybe I should have tried to cut a deal instead -- say stick an iPod Nano under the pillow when he's eight instead of these little penny ante payments here and there?

No doubt, my son will become more curious as he gets older, and I'll eventually have to come clean. Until then, I'm more than happy to sneak into a little boy's dark bedroom, slip my hand under his pillow and tiptoe away knowing that I'll have made his awakening a beautiful experience.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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