Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On the Troublesome Tooth Fairy...

It’s taken forever for my seven-and-a-half-year-old to lose his baby teeth, but just last week he lost his third neophyte nibbler and is making up for lost time with at least five others wiggling for their chance to go out in a blaze of glory. He was beaming when he jumped into the car and simultaneously produced the tiny green treasure box housing his dubious prize, along with the yellow carbon documenting his first official visit to the school nurse. At the time, I was still recovering from an emotionally wearisome search for my three-year-old, who had secretly slipped out the front door in what he later explained as an innocent wish to “check out the neighborhood.” In my all-too-familiar state of depletion, and now dread knowing that I’d be adding to the evening’s to-do list, I asked with the manufactured enthusiasm of James Franco hosting the Oscars, “That’s great honey. What do you think the tooth fairy will bring you?” He animatedly replied, “Well, she brought my friend Joey the Clone Wars LEGO video game he wanted.” As I added up the damage in my head, I couldn’t help but wonder who the heck this tooth fairy thought she was and why she was messing with my universe? Is one dead baby tooth really a fair trade for a $49 video game?

Until that moment, I’d never even questioned the tooth fairy. What’s not to like? Your tooth falls out, you put the tiny amalgam of calcium, phosphorus and dental pulp under your pillow, and voilĂ ! Everyone wins. I don’t remember my teeth fetching more than a quarter each, but it was enough to buy a Jolly Rancher at the local market, so I didn’t complain. Now the tooth fairy is just one more imaginary friend in the cast of characters who live to drain my bank account. And if I was going to have to commit to this gig for 17 more teeth and then again for my youngest, I thought I should research what kind of tooth fairy I wanted to be.

A quick Google search later and I was immersed in all things dental meets fantasy. Apparently the tradition started among the British and Irish, with first traces of the custom not showing up here until the early 1900s. Children buried their teeth outside, but didn’t hit pay dirt until they’d lost their sixth tooth. (Unfortunately pun intended) I have no idea when the tooth fairy decided to upgrade overnight accommodations to the pillow, but I had to give her props for being my sort of gal.

The most fertile bit of research came from an online conversation thread that went on for 11 pages, inspired only by a Dutchman’s desperate search for tooth fairy answers because his British friend had blabbed to his son about her existence. Now he found himself beholden to figure out how to keep his son’s accidental dream alive. His questions were basic: “What does she look like? Where does she live? How big is she?” And my personal favorite, “Why does she like teeth?” As I read through the goldmine of responses (do these people work?), it was clear that most were just as confused as I was and yet, despite subtle variations on the theme, there were some very distinct versions of the tooth fairy that were alive and well. And then, of course other contributions —like the guy who wanted to turn his kid’s lost tooth into a ring—left me hoping some would consider seeking professional help immediately if not sooner.

There was the Trump Fairy: The American Dental Association published a survey reporting one of their respondents in Manhattan gave $1.2 million for their child’s first tooth and employed a sliding scale for each subsequent tooth lost. I’m trumped daily by all things motherhood, but this is ridiculous.

The Fairy With an Attitude: One Mom, after hearing her little girl’s plans to wait up and catch the Tooth Fairy in action, took the tooth undetected, left money and a note that said, “Better Luck Next Time.” I think you’ll agree that “sucker” was the implied close.

The Budget Fairy – No surprise, there were several versions of the budget fairy, but my favorite was the Dad who told his children they were lucky to get a dime because “Even the dime – the lightest of all American money — was difficult for the Tooth Fairy to carry.”

The Forgetful Fairy – There were more than a few who had to leave their little teeth under the pillow for several days before anything showed up. God bless the little tikes for keeping the faith.

The Absent-Minded Fairy – One man’s parents left notes without so much as an attempt to alter their penmanship, so he started writing letters along with his pulled tooth, saying, ”Dear Tooth Fairy – you are a FAKE – you have my Dad’s handwriting!” Smart kid? Think again, he just passed up free stuff times twenty.

The Creepy Fairy- This was by far, the richest of all Tooth Fairy categories I stumbled upon which can be summed up in one insightful person’s response to the question, “Now that I think of it, I can’t really think of a non-creepy story as to why there’s a fairy who likes to collect children’s baby teeth. Others suggested that the Tooth Fairy was life-sized. Good luck getting your kid to sleep after floating that notion by them. One English girl missed her teeth so much she wrote a note the next night with the money that was left and a note asking for her tooth back. She went on to say she still has them in a box and delights in showing them to people to freak them out. I bet she’s a fun first date. One of my favorite and frequently suggested Tooth Fairy explanations as to why the Tooth Fairy collects our dental discards is that she lives in a castle made of children’s teeth. I hope she never has to sell in a soft market.

What I didn’t know is that the Tooth Fairy has in fact, inspired a cottage industry of horror films on the subject. In one self-titled gem, the Tooth Fairy is an evil disfigured witch who kills children for their teeth and traps their souls on earth. In another, tooth fairies are depicted as small, ravenous creatures with a taste for calcium. And in case you’re wondering, it goes downhill from there, including one with an ending ripe for a sequel and some slightly off film student to use as his final project. Yikes.

The most worthy of my research came in the form of sound advice from a woman who urged anyone describing their brand of Tooth Fairy to be vague. Brilliant: built-in insurance that the details won’t trip you up in the future. I ultimately decided I would keep it mysterious and cheap.

So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered Jack had hit the daily double because my visiting mother slipped an additional five-dollar bill under his pillow thinking we might forget. Little did she know that we had only put a five-dollar bill under his pillow because we were out of ones. Thinking fast, I told him he must have been rewarded so handsomely because it was one of his fancy incisors. Clearly, this confirms that I’m a budget fairy, (although I wouldn’t rule out attitudinal), but I can’t see bankrolling Jack’s video game addiction when he did nothing more than experience a little movement under his gums. Unfortunately, my mom’s maneuver and my little white lie commit me to at least one more Hamilton for this tooth’s neighbor, but that’s life.

In the meantime, I don’t really care what kind of fairy you want to be, but can we all just make a pact to do a little price-fixing around here? Otherwise, I’ll be spending the lion’s share of my tax refund on dead baby teeth, while one eccentric pixie gets to upgrade her castle.