After many weeks of diligent wiggling, my daughter has finally lost her top, front tooth. It happened at school, during lunch, which meant that not only did she get to be the center of attention as blood gushed out of her mouth, necessitating a trip to the nurse—stat!—but she also got a cool necklace box to put her tooth in. It’s every 7-year-old’s dream!
But here is what else happened because she lost her tooth at school: A whole host of people, from kids to parents to teachers to even the security guard, made her promise that she’d tell them the next day what the tooth fairy brought her.
Except…the tooth fairy doesn’t stop at our house.
She never has.
I think it’s because the tooth fairy is a quintessentially American tradition, one that I didn’t grow up with in Soviet Russia. In fact, when I immigrated to the United States at the same age that my daughter is now, and first found out about this fantastic creature, I was skeptical.
I expressed my skepticism to my classmates. (I was a very, very unpleasant child; I’ve already apologized to my mother for it publicly). They insisted it was true. So I ran a scientific experiment. The next time I lost a tooth (to little fanfare beyond my father yanking it out and then giving me a handkerchief to mop up the blood), I went ahead and put it under my pillow without telling anyone. And guess what happened? Nothing! Not. A. Thing! I returned triumphant to school the next morning to share my systematic findings, unaware my classmates weren’t too keen on the scientific method.
All of which is a rather long-winded way of explaining that the tooth fairy wasn’t a part of my growing up, so it never became a part of my kids’.
And they’re fine with it. They don’t expect anything. They actually like hoarding their baby teeth in specially designated containers and periodically taking them out for a look.
My fellow parents, however, are horrified. Back in preschool, another mom asked me if I knew what the going rate was for a tooth these days. She’d heard $20, but didn’t want to lowball and embarrass her son.
I make less than that an hour! No one at my house is earning more per hour than I do for a basic biological function! What next, spare change for blowing your nose?
It’s not just the tooth fairy, though. It’s all sorts of other things. Like allowance. My kids don’t get one. And no presents on Hanukkah. As I explained two years ago, fed up with the sheer amount of crap my kids already have, I put my foot down: Instead of gift giving (and/or receiving), we would be spending our festive eight days doing good deeds.
My kids grumbled a little, then got with the program. Other parents, however, looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Not because they disagreed with the concept. In fact, everyone I mentioned it to said they thought it was a great idea. They said they wished they had the guts to try it. But, “There’s so much pressure on the kids.”
Pressure on the kids?
(Do you notice the overabundance of question marks in this post?)
These parents were worried about how bad their kids would feel when everyone around them was showered with gifts, and they got nothing. They were worried they’d have nothing to boast about. It was keeping up with the Joneses (Jonesteins?). Won’t someone think of the children?
I am not about to parse these parents’ true motivations when it comes to Hanukkah gifts, allowances, or tooth fairy leavings. For one thing, it’s none of my business. For another, I have a hard enough time figuring out why I do the things I do; how presumptuous would it be of me to pass judgment on others?
All I can offer is reassurance based on experience: No one ever died from not wearing the hottest fashions, owning the latest iPhone, or vacationing at the same resort “everyone else goes to.” This, like my unfavorably peer-reviewed 2nd grade tooth fairy experiment, is scientific fact.
As for their potential embarrassment, social shunning, and inevitable descent into the dreaded low self-esteem…I suspect that trickles down from above. I’ve taught my kids to take pride in my cheapness and in their subsequent independence, not just when it comes to things like walking home from school alone in a blizzard but in their lack of attachment to material things. (We are all ready to flee at a moment’s notice should the Cossacks come. Again.)
At our house, because I’m not embarrassed to say I see no reason to distribute cash willy-nilly, my kids don’t seem to be, either. In fact, they take a sort of twisted pride in their suffering. I wouldn’t be surprised if, on the playground, I’m known as the mom who feeds them gruel in between stints at the sweatshop.
I have to confess, I did hold my breath to see what would happen when a friendly neighbor in the elevator asked my daughter how much the tooth fairy had brought her.
And I smiled in relief when she cheerily replied, “Nothing. That means I get to keep my tooth. It’s all bloody.” She held up her cherished necklace. “Want to see it?”