In our home, we have a healthy regard for fairy tales. I grew up reading Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm’s (appropriately named) Fairy Tales, as well as a wealth of myths and legends from such diverse sources as Beowulf, the New Junior Classics, and Greek and Roman mythology.
My husband was similarly well-read, although he drew a bit more heavily on the Silmarillion than I (he would pore over the ancestry charts of the various sundering of the elves with the same rapt attention that I would devote to the royal bloodlines of Europe in the Middle Ages).
Sometimes it surprises me that I grew up with such a healthy appreciation for fantasy, given that many voices in the prevailing culture in which I came of age encouraged skepticism of all things magical or even—in the more extreme cases—fictional, deeming them as potential threats to truth, discernment, and wisdom.
Frankly, I understand this concern. This is a longstanding debate on behalf of parents everywhere, whether to encourage the development of imagination by enabling the proliferation of fantasies, or to protect children from the inevitable disappointment that will result when the prosaic facts eventually come to light. The conflict between expectations (fantastical or otherwise) and reality is a well-documented one.
I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but was familiar with the concept. And while I must have been pretty young when I outgrew the notion of a magical fairy that provides economic incentives for selling discarded body parts, that was a fun cultural tradition my parents indulged, and I always enjoyed playing along.
So, naturally, that’s the pattern we carried on with our children: Mama and Papa (or other friends and relations) are responsible for Christmas gifts, so proper gratitude is a must. Easter egg hunts are a community event, so be sure to express thanks to the organizers. But money mysteriously appearing under your pillow in the morning? Why not? Live it up!
Our children have gamely played along. (Naturally. They’re my children, after all, with my entrepreneurial sense of a bargain. Why wouldn’t they be in favor of a system that rewards them with money for old teeth?) As befits our household’s values, our resident Tooth Fairy set the rate for old teeth at a quarter a tooth, and has never, in her five years of operation, adjusted for inflation.
Somewhere along the way, about the time our children began displaying an interest in their origins and indulging a sentimental predilection for poring over baby books, we realized that our family mythology required an explanation for why teeth that disappeared from under pillows at night turned up in scrapbooks on the shelf.
Ever the intrepid teacher, my husband explained to enquiring minds that the Tooth Fairy actually worked in coordination with parents to retrieve and catalogue the teeth. Precisely what she did with the teeth had always been a little vague in the telling, so it wasn’t such a stretch to imagine that her role as family trinket curator was a plausible raison d’être.
Somewhere around the loosening of her seventh tooth, our second eldest began to question the existence of the Tooth Fairy. We teased her for a bit about the logistical whys and wherefores, as we always had, but as she began to exhibit genuine concern about her need for definitive answers, I asked her quite seriously if she was ready to accept the consequences of plumbing the depths of this mystery. She assured me she was ready for the truth, so I told her, quite plainly, the unvarnished facts about the whimsical system we had perpetuated.
There wasn’t so much disappointment as triumph in the mood of our eldest, who was sitting in on this conversation—and was probably responsible for egging her sister on in this quest for answers. With a flourish, she produced a baby tooth, carefully taped to the traditional index card and labeled with date, age, and so forth. “Well, I was wondering about the Tooth Fairy myself, so when I lost this a few days ago, I stuck it under my pillow and didn’t tell you! When no money appeared in the morning, I suspected that you were really the Tooth Fairy.”
Smart girl, that one. We should have granted her the Pyrrhic victory, awarded her brownie points for cleverness, and cut off the gravy train. Instead, being the suckers for tradition that we are, we encouraged her to put the tooth under her pillow anyway to see what happened.
It was just as well that they had uncovered the truth, as it was about that time that the Focht Household Tooth Fairy really began just phoning it in. Instead of removing the tooth and replacing it with a quarter, she fell to shoving quarters under the pillow, leaving the tooth for the happy child to post to his or her own baby book. I guess the moral of this tale is that for an imaginary creature, you get what you pay for.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Rose Focht.