You Can’t Handle the Tooth!

Every parent knows the drill.  Kid loses tooth (usually in a dramatic 3-part episode building up to a bloody, dangling tooth hanging on by a thread before the parent steps in to put the tooth out of its misery).  Kid quickly trades tears for excitement over an anticipated visit from the Tooth Fairy.  Parent helps kid write a special note to Her Highness O’ Teeth and they place the tooth and note under kid’s pillow.  The next morning, kid rejoices at his/her newfound riches, ditches the tooth, and lives happily ever after.

Having a six-year-old means we’re in the thick of the tooth-losing stage.  We’ve effortlessly moved through the above steps seven times thus far.  But tooth #8 proved to be a bit problematic.  In short, Bailey lost her tooth and then actually LOST her tooth, so there was no evidence to leave for the Tooth Fairy. She was very concerned about this anomaly but I, in my infinite wisdom, assured her that a note explaining the situation would suffice and the Tooth Fairy would visit her anyway.

And then the Tooth Fairy, well, didn’t.

I gave her hope and then I, as the resident Cox family Tooth Fairy, forgot to carry through on my promise.  Now, I’m not talking an “almost fail,” the kind where you’re bustling around the house in the morning, all of a sudden realize you forgot, and then gingerly tip-toe into the room as you try not to breath while you slide a dollar under the pillow seconds before the child wakes.  Nope, I just plain forgot…like left for work when the kids were still sleeping and didn’t think about it until late in the afternoon.  By this time, Bailey had long since discovered the untouched note and the absence of cash on her pillow.

The worst part was that it was my mistake alone.  Jason didn’t know that I’d convinced Bailey to leave a note even though she did not have the tooth in her possession.  I didn’t ask him to help me remember to find some money before we retreated to bed.  And I felt terrible.

So what happens when human failure ruins a long-trusted childhood tradition?  In Bailey’s case, I was able to save face by acting as stumped as she was and concluding that perhaps you really DO have to leave the actual tooth for the Tooth Fairy to visit.  She was content to learn a valuable lesson that day about the way the Tooth Fairy operates.  But, I might not have lucked out on the circumstances surrounding the loss and I know this would have prompted questions about why she didn’t come and if she really exists at all.

On the heels of this incident, I started thinking about why we choose to keep up the façade.  I know plenty of parents who feel strongly that partaking in myth-based traditions is essentially lying to kids and serves as a fundamental breach of parent/child trust.  Additionally, many Christian parents have concerns about Santa and the Easter Bunny overshadowing the true meaning behind the religious holidays or confusing kids about what’s real and what’s not in the “things I can’t see” category.  Outside of religious considerations, some feel the story of the Tooth Fairy makes kids feel entitled to monetary gain in exchange for losing a tooth – over which they have absolutely no control – instead of teaching them that rewards come from an investment in hard work.  Regardless of the motivation, many families bypass these childhood stories in favor of different traditions that are more relevant to their family mission.

While I can see valid points in each of these arguments, I’ve always felt that these myths are simple and innocent “coming of age” practices.  I believe that these stories can co-exist with both Christian beliefs and good solid parenting and feel confident in my ability to talk about myths and magical traditions in a far different way than I talk about aspects of our religious faith.  We have the reinforcement of weekly visits to church and daily conversations about the role of God in their lives whereas references to Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are few and far between if not simply once a year as the holiday approaches.

As for the concern about lying, I’ve never seen this create long-term problems but I don’t doubt this could be the case for some children.  I grew up with these traditions and know I found out they weren’t real at some point.  I don’t remember how old I was but know for certain I wasn’t angry with my parents nor did I harbor feelings of betrayal.  In fact, I remember trying very hard to carry on the tradition with my younger brothers and working in tandem with my mom to keep the magic alive as long as possible.  I think we all saw these practices as ways to preserve the simpler aspects of childhood before the all-too-soon day when the cruel world would inevitably take control.

My gut says that it all comes down to age appropriateness.  It’s appropriate for a four-year-old to believe in Santa, just as it’s appropriate for a 12-year-old not to. The problem is I know how to enjoy and manage the magic while the kids are in the believing stage, but I’m not entirely prepared to answer the tough questions when they start to realize something is rotten in the state of Denmark.  Do I go with the “When you stop believing, they won’t visit anymore.” response to expressed doubts?  Do I take the therapeutic approach of “Well, what do YOU think?” when asked point-blank?  Or, do I go with complete disclosure about our role all these years?

If I had to predict the future, I’d say that I will probably be up front when asked about what’s real and what’s not.  When I look at my beautiful, intelligent daughter experience the wonder of a visit from the tooth fairy (or Santa or the Easter Bunny), I feel confident that these practices do play a significant role in my expectation of what being a kid is all about.  I desperately hope she will continue to believe without questioning and without rationalizing for as long as possible.  However, given the Tooth Fairy’s recent absent-mindedness, I think I should go ahead and work on my full disclosure speech.

What are your thoughts and experiences and how have you handled these issues with your children?




8 thoughts on “You Can’t Handle the Tooth!”

  1. It’s coming soon. Tatum no longer believes. I was totally honest.

    Once she knows, when she reminds you about this little “incident,” just tell her to add it to the list of things to discuss with her therapist one day while she’s blaming all of her problems on her parents anyway 😉

    We’ll screw them up one way or another, right?

  2. I saw that you posted this on the day back in June but I didn’t have time to read it then. I came to read today’s post and was reminded of this one. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this one. Your posts help me remember and smile.
    Sheri: I absolutely LOVE your Christmas traditions. I wish we had done that so many years ago. Maybe it would’ve helped with the transition to young adulthood Christmas expectations.

  3. I can’t really see how a child gets through live without the magical moments of such events. They’re made to feel special, and loved at a time of life when those gifts are important. I feel bad as we grow older those moments are far and inbetween. As a parent if we admit, those time make us feel special and the joy of watching the excitment and wonder of it all takes us back to a time when life was a little simplier. Magical moments are created and may we all receive them how ever how old we are.

  4. Kendy, Loved the story. I can just see her face when she lifted up the pillow. Kate had one dangling tooth last week. She was in her cousin’s wedding last Friday. We were walking around before the walk down the isle. All of a sudden she yelled, “Annie, my tooth!” I had visions of blood all over the white dress. I put my hand under her chin and thank heavens the resrtoom was close by. We quickly escaped to the sink with hand still under the chin! We were fortunate– no blood on dress. She was so excied with giggles emitting from her mouth constantly. She made it down the isle as the toothless flower girl. It was a special night to keep in her memory bank.
    I think these fantasies are part of childhood. They are fun for all and no harm seems to come from them.

  5. Oh Kendy, I love this. I deeply struggle with this topic as a parent myself and do see both sides. The two things that we did in our family growing up was that Santa filled the stocking but left no additional gifts… so is was small and not made out to be a big deal but always had some sorta magical toy or item. However, leading up to Christmas we were to donate one or two old toys to the someone needy and *Jesus* would leave one gift under the tree as a thank-you for being faithful and giving to others. It keep the spirit of Christmas of giving of love alive while reminding us that God loved us personally. So I feel I had the magical of Santa and the reminder that I was personally loved by Jesus at Christmas. As for TF and EB well that was a bit more of a challenge.

  6. I teach my kids all about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunney, etc. I’m not lying to them. I’m pretending which is prefectly healthy. I grew up with all of these same beliefs and remember how fun it was. As the tooth fairy, I forgot once, too. I just said that sometimes the tooth fairy gets overbooked and would probably come the next night. She did and brough a little extra cash.

  7. When adults play TF, SC, EB, we have the opportunity to again experience the magic and delight of being
    remembered and showered with goodies! When our son was barely 2 (we were far away from any relatives), I recall his excitement with the contents of an Easter basket. When I said, “Guess the EB really likes you,” he replied,
    “Yes, the EB likes me…SC likes me…EVERYBODY likes me!” That was very important in his small world.
    I certainly vote for keeping this magic in our lives at all ages, whether we’re the giver or the receiver!
    Kendy, your blogs make us think, and smile….Thank you!

  8. I too played the role of “Tooth Fairy” and forgot at least once with each of the 3 girls. I told them that the TF was probably very busy and just keep the tooth there and maybe she would catch up the next night. And sure enough she did. We also used the “lost tooth” note a couple times. Make-believe and our imagination are key in our lives and the creative minds of the world. But as you wrote it has to be balanced with religion.
    I enjoy your blog!

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