Lainey lost her second tooth this weekend, its exit from her smile made with a clean snap, no blood, caught between her fingers rather than landing in a pile of broken shells this time. She was wiggling it, examining its position in the bathroom mirror, when I stepped into the shower; and by the time I was lathering my hair, it was out. Calmly holding the tooth between her fingers, she tapped on the shower door to show me.
“Just now?” I asked.
“Yep. Look.” She flashed an underbite to reveal the cavern, the lost tooth’s successor already pushed through and making its way to the front.
I congratulated her on her new smile and hyped up the tooth fairy’s arrival.
Spoiler alert and Tooth Fairy Rule #1: Don’t hype up the tooth fairy’s arrival if she’s not going to arrive.
This was our second chance to give the tooth fairy thing a good start, so you’d think we’d be on high alert to do it right. That said, fast forward to yesterday morning when Lainey woke up and announced, perplexed, that maybe the tooth fairy didn’t come because her head wasn’t on a pillow.
Seriously, only second tooth in and we’re already screwing up?
“Oh, I bet you’re right,” I agreed. “No worries, Lainey. We’ll make sure it’s under the pillow tonight and I’m sure she’ll come.”
This was all fine and dandy until an hour later, Brett came running in the kitchen frantically whispering, “We forgot about her tooth! I went ahead and put a dollar under the blanket and told her to go check again.”
“For real?” I asked. “I just told her the tooth fairy probably looked in the wrong place and would come back tonight.”
Rule #2: Cross-check bullshit stories between spouses before implementing recovery plan.
Following Lainey into our bedroom, we watched while she picked up the very obvious posed blanket to find a dollar, our cue to proceed with Operation Bullshit: “See! The tooth fairy did remember. The dollar was there all this time. You just didn’t see it.”
Rule #3: Don’t blame your kid for your failure.
She stared at the dollar, her amazement/thrill/curiosity/excitement all buried in the cutest little smirk I ever did see.
I kissed the top of her head, in love with her innocence. “Now you have TWO tooth fairy dollars! Let’s go put it with your other one.”
Suddenly, Brett’s head snapped in surprise, a look of horror swallowing his face. “Nooooooooooooo!” he mouthed, his hands flailing above him like a referee.
I realized the horror. Oh my God. He TOOK THE FIRST TOOTH FAIRY DOLLAR FROM HER PIGGY BANK TO PAY FOR THE SECOND TOOTH. For the love of God, how come we never have cash in this house?
Rule #4: (you’d think this would be a given): Don’t steal from your kid.
Rule #5: Keep cash on hand.
At this point, there was nothing I could do but laugh.
“We suck at this,” I whispered to Brett before swooping in to distract Lainey from fetching the first dollar.
We recovered well, but I’m pretty sure we used up all our Get Out of Jail Free cards. She has to be on to us. We’re one mishap away from The Jig Is Up—from blowing all of it—Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the freaking Elf on a Shelf. We’re too laid back, we’re too forgetful, we’re too gung-ho-at-first-but-fizzle-out-later for this shit.
I retold my story to Heidi this morning.
“Dude, you have a lot to learn,” she said, “Let me give you a few more tips.”
By the way, her tooth fairy credentials: 14 teeth.
Heidi continued, “Don’t sprinkle glitter, don’t write a poem, don’t write a note. Just leave the dollar and walk away. If you don’t, they’ll expect it every time. Trust me. I’ve heard one too many times ‘How come there’s no glitter?! She didn’t leave a note!’”
“Oh this is good,” I said.
“And here’s another thing,” she continued, “Don’t fall prey to one of those stupidass sites where you pay $10 to upload a picture of your sleeping child so they can Photoshop a fairy on their shoulder.”
“Oh Heidi, you didn’t. $10?”
“Okay, it was $15. Don’t judge. Also, don’t let your kids see The Tooth Fairy with the Rock or you’ll have to answer all these %$#@ing questions. I mean, seriously, the Rock as the Tooth Fairy?”
“I guess this is a good time to admit something,” I jumped in.
“What’d you do?” She started laughing before I even told her.
“That last tooth? I overcompensated for the shell disaster. Hours after she found her dollar, I read something about tooth fairy footprints, and…”
“Kelle, stop,” Laughter.
“Heidi, I stamped a Barbie’s foot in an ink pad, stomped it all over paper and then dragged Lainey in to see it. It didn’t even look like a foot! Barbie doesn’t have any toes!”
“She has a whole mouthful of teeth to go, how long can I keep this up?”
“You have three kids,” she said, “be prepared to burn out by Kid #2.”
“Hey, it happens.”
The crazy thing is, I was so excited for that first tooth. Years before even having kids, I thought about how we’d do the Tooth Fairy, how fun it would be to plan a kid’s birthday party, how I’d continue the Christmas traditions my parents did to make Santa as real as he could be even if I cursed ever starting that make-a-reindeer-hoof-stencil nonsense, and this was all before Pinterest. I played out these magical childhood scenarios in my head much like I took notes while student teaching—writing down all the cool classroom ideas I collected, storing project sketches, making promises to myself that when I taught the Boston Tea Party lesson? I’d build a ship in my classroom and let the kids act it out.
There was an article that went viral last week about how childhood is magical in itself, and we shouldn’t try to make it more magical. I laughed and shook my head with an, “Oh my God, so true!” but later felt a little voice, perhaps my own insecurity in wanting to defend our sometimes outlandish and yes, highly unnecessary, attempts to create magic. I mean, a North Pole party? Really? “Defend the magic!” the voice whispered—an ironic plea, considering our Tooth Fairy magic was a big fat flop days later. It’s just that, even though we mumble and complain about how ridiculously far we’ve gone, even though we set ourselves up for failure more times than not, even though it often seems too much (sometimes it is), even though we curse the mom who created the list of 101 Things to Do With Your Elf on a Shelf, sometimes trying to create magic is…well, magic. It was to me the night I stayed in my classroom wee hours of the night, rigging flaps of butcher paper to the ceiling to build a ship for our Boston Tea Party lesson—an overzealous teacher not yet fully poisoned by benchmark demands, standardized tests and people who thought that the Boston Tea Party was pretty entertaining in itself, so stop trying to make it more. Teachers don’t have time for this. Stop purposely adding stress to your job. You’re making us other teachers look bad. Kids are going to expect this. They’re losing their ability to independently find magic in books.
I get it, I get it. There’s a point there. But, you know what? I hope somewhere in the line of competent, benchmark-conscious teachers (“all good things, all good things,” as Olaf would say), my kids will have some overzealous ones too—ones who go beyond “Education is magical in itself” and maybe take a page from the student teaching notebook and build the damn ship. Take on the added stress. Song and dance it once in a while. If we’re creating magic from Pinterest pressure or to Facebook one-up or because we think our kid’s childhood has to have a dog-and-pony-show for happy memories, then yes—not good things, not good things. But don’t throw Peter Pan out with the bath water.
Maybe the “epic fails” like forgetting to put the dollar under the pillow or starting Elf on a Shelf and canning him three days later are exactly what balances all this out, toughens up our kids, allows us to create magic now and then without becoming one of “those parents.”
We’ll forget about teeth again in the future, I’m sure. We’ll complain about how late it is on Christmas Eve when we still have to sweep up the reindeer food. We’ll say, “Look at us, we’re ridiculous, what a joke” while we drop Easter Bunny poop all over the yard. But you know what? We’ll also admit that we like it (sssshhhhhh). That we’d do it again in a heartbeat. That while we curse the fluffy holidays and the stories of what other parents are doing, we might actually enjoy, even for just a moment, dipping our toes into magical childhood while we knock down chairs and dye shit green the night before St. Patrick’s Day because, “Oh My God! Look! The leprechauns came!”
Will our kids need therapy? It’s likely. But it’s likely without all these shenanigans, so what’s one more thing? Just think—the stories we’ll tell around the Thanksgiving table someday. One of them will be that one time when Dad stole your dollar to pay you for your tooth, and my, how we’ll howl and slap the table.