If you want to maintain your child’s innocence, don’t buy him a loft bed. Because at a certain point, your child will start to question the actuality of certain folkloric characters, such as the tooth fairy, and you will be hard pressed to convince him that she does in fact exist.
In my case, my almost 10 year old son, Eli, revealed to me tonight with a sense of great disappointment that he no longer believed in the tooth fairy. “Why would you say that?” I asked, unsure of whether he was sincerely distressed or merely playing with me. “Because I’ve had my tooth waiting for her for two days and she hasn’t come to take it or leave me any money.”
“Well,” I answered without missing a beat, “You didn’t tell daddy or me that you lost a tooth. Parents have to call the tooth fairy and let her know that they need her to come. She’s not psychic. She just flies around and sprinkles fairy dust and turns kid’s teeth into dollar bills. Every super hero has her limitations.”
I’m fairly certain he’s known for years that the tooth fairy is fictitious. But I insist on perpetuating the myth just in the off chance that he might actually want to still believe in something magical and mystical and innocent.
“Besides,” I added, “She’s been extremely busy these days. She may just be running behind schedule.” He agreed to leave his incisor on his shelf inside the goofy little plastic tooth fairy tooth we’ve had since his older brother was three for one more night. “But if she doesn’t come tonight, I’ll know for sure that she’s a phony.” Then he smiled with just enough mischief to make me unsure of how much he knows and how much he doesn’t want to know.
When I climbed the ladder to his loft bed that night to tuck him in I looked around and couldn’t see the tooth holder anywhere? “Eli,” I asked, “Where’s your tooth?” “Oh the tooth fairy will have to find it,” he insisted, “That is if she’s real.” This is actually a test, I determined. He wants me to make this happen. “But the tooth fairy doesn’t have x-ray vision you know. Maybe she’s been coming and leaving because she doesn’t see your tooth anywhere.”
He then slid a few books over and pulled out the plastic container from beneath his Nook. I encouraged him to leave it in plain site, reminding him again that even his favorite comic book idols have weaknesses. “You can’t expect everyone in your life to have unlimited super-natural powers, Eli,” I told him, “Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for grave disappointment.” Then we said his prayers, I kissed him on the forehead and gingerly climbed down the loft ladder.
I walked around for the next hour and a half with two dollar bills in my hand so I wouldn’t forget to carry out my tooth fairy responsibilities. Finally, once I felt he had fallen into a deep enough sleep, I quietly snuck into his room and began my ascent up the rickety steps to his bed. I was sure that he’d awake with every squeak and creak I made. When I finally got to the top I had to reach over him carefully and try to grasp the plastic tooth that, although it was now visible, was still tucked deeply into a crevice that remained just out of my reach. I put one knee on his bed and leaned over precariously. He turned over. I held my breath and prayed, “Don’t wake up. Please don’t wake up right now.” He rolled over and stayed asleep as I lurched forward, grabbed the holder, and pulled myself back to the ladder. I opened the box silently and removed my son’s still tiny ivory tooth and inserted the two dollar bills I’d been gripping for hours. Then I repeated the ridiculous lurch and grab dance to replace the plastic tooth for morning discovery.
“That bed is a pain in the ass,” I told my husband later that night. “Why didn’t we think of this when we agreed to it?” “Because we figured he’d outgrow the tooth fairy by now,” he said, “and making parenting decisions based on fictitious characters hasn’t really been our M.O. in the past.”
I couldn’t really argue with that. I carefully put the tooth with all of his others in a small envelope I keep in a drawer. I have absolutely no idea what I will do with my children’s teeth nor any thoughts to justify why I am saving them. My 13 year old son, Levi, once found my envelope and was horrified. “Mom,” he gasped, “That’s just…creepy.” And I have to agree. It kind of is. But it feels so important to hold onto them. Like they’re the only proof I have of my kids youthful spirit and innocent hearts. One day I may need those teeth to remind me who my children really are. Maybe only mothers can understand that. Or maybe I’m as crazy as a loon and would benefit from attending a “Hoarders Anonymous” meeting.
Either way, I’m holding onto the teeth like I’m holding onto the idea that Eli wants to continue to believe in fairytales. And why shouldn’t he? Life is what you believe it to be. Holding fast to the notion that magic still happens is a lesson I hope my kids will carry with them forever. So I’ll keep climbing ladders, sprinkling fairy dust and leaving a few dollars on their shelves, at least for as long as they’ll let me.