The wait for Joseph’s first tooth to fall out felt like an eternity. Children regularly start losing their baby-teeth at 4 or 5 years old, so Joseph has noticed that at “6 and three quarters” (his words) he still has a full set of pearly whites. By contrast, most of his first grade classmates look like vampires or NHL players.
With each day the anticipation kept building, so much so that I had considered passing the time by writing “What to Expect When You Are Expecting Your First Tooth to Fall Out”.
A few weeks ago we were swimming in my in-law’s pool in Florida. Joseph and Benjy, his 3-year-old brother, love the water, especially when they dive and generate a big splash.
In the midst of our aquatic playtime, Joseph enthusiastically emerged from the water with a wide smile. Something, however, seemed strange. He looked different. He was bleeding.
My first reaction to the blood was alarm. Did he hurt himself doing the cannonball? Then I noticed that the blood flowed from his mouth, and that there was a gaping hole in his beautiful smile.
“Joseph, you lost your first tooth!”
Despite the blood, Toothless Joe was overjoyed. Hallelujah! Julie and I rushed over to give him a big hug. I had just started to imagine fulfilling our Tooth Fairy duties, when it occurred to me that something was missing.
“Joseph, where’s your tooth?” As soon as you could say “Tooth Fairy,” he began to cry. Not yet dry from the pool, his tears co-mingled with the water still streaming down his head.
“What’s wrong?” Julie asked. “Are you in pain from your tooth?”
“So what’s wrong?”
“I lost my tooth.” He had not just lost this tooth; he actually lost his tooth, as in it was gone.
“What’s the Tooth Fairy going to do now?” In between tears, he explained, “Without the tooth, I won’t get anything.”
Appreciating his logic, we engaged in a full underwater search and recovery effort, our version of finding Nemo’s tooth. We searched for at least half an hour without success. Unfortunately that precious first tooth had probably gone down the drain and was heading towards the Florida Inter-Coastal.
As our search came up empty-handed, we could read the disappointment in Joseph’s face. Hoping to ameliorate the situation, Julie and I whispered in a corner about what to do next. Julie remarked that it didn’t matter if he had the tooth anyway. “It’s not like we were going to keep it.”
“Not going to keep it? Of course, we would have. It’s a tangible milestone.” I retorted incredulously.
“You didn’t keep your baby teeth, did you?” It was then that I learned that Julie’s family neither saved baby teeth nor promoted nocturnal visitations of the Tooth Fairy. Alas, the things we don’t discuss while dating.
Then Julie had an idea. We would tell him that there is no Tooth Fairy, thereby confirming that he would get a gift for reaching this milestone. Since Julie did not grow up with the Tooth Fairy, she was comfortable with debunking the myth.
I, however, had my reservations about clipping the Tooth Fairy’s wings. Some childhood myths and fantasies are easier to debunk than others. As a Jewish dad, I had no hesitation explaining to our kids that there is no Santa Claus. At the same time, I appreciate the value of the myth for countless children. They care so deeply about Santa’s visit that they flood the Post Office with heartwarming letters. It’s ironic that no one gets that kind of mail today, except an imaginary present provider.
While I am comfortable with teachers telling the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, I always wonder how we can promulgate something we know to not be true. This may explain Julie’s families approach to the Tooth Fairy.
In my eyes, the Tooth Fairy seems special, even sacrosanct; a mythical character flittering across geographic, religious, and cultural divides. The innocence of childhood is as fragile as the roots of a baby tooth, and ultimately I saw no reason to rush the process.
My reservations were counterbalanced with a desire to make our son feel whole, in the face of this extraordinary situation. I agreed with Julie that we should try this approach.
“No tooth fairy!” Joseph exclaimed as he cried some more. This was a lot for a 6-year-old to handle at one time.
When all else failed, we resorted to “Plan T” (that would be “T” for toys). Within an hour, Joseph got the “Cars 2″ gift set that was number one on his Hanukkah wish list. Loving the gift, he smiled for the rest of the day. Truthfully it was the sort of gift, under normal circumstances, that he should’ve received for losing a whole set of teeth, not just one.
Under normal circumstances, I had imagined giving him a quarter. It felt like we paid a premium for, well, telling the truth.
Weeks later, Joseph lost another front tooth. He currently looks like an awfully cute vampire, our very own Count Joe-cula.
In case you were wondering, he got a quarter under his pillow from a Tooth Fairy who looks a lot like his father.