"The Tooth Fairy left my tooth."
My six year old stood beside my desk with a zipped snack bag in her tiny hand. Stuck in a corner of the bag was a miniscule, jagged white tooth. My daughter's facial expression revealed that she was confused and a bit angry, but not upset--at least not yet.
I stared at the tooth as though it were a piece of nuclear waste.
"Oh!" I shouted as I jumped from the chair.
Running up the basement stairs, my daughter and the tooth trailing after me, I tried to think up a plausible reason why the Tooth Fairy had done something so idiotic.
"Well, you know, sometimes she gets confused. Like, remember that time when she accidentally put the money for your sister under your pillow?"
"Yeah," she said, her lithe body right on my heels. "That was kinda dumb."
"Yes, well, it happens," I said as I spun around a few times in the kitchen, trying to come up with a way to make this work. "Maybe she thought you were in a different bed. A lot of times you end up in our bed in the middle of the night."
There! My purse was hanging on the closet door knob. If I could snatch it and get upstairs before she saw me, I could deposit a buck on the floor beside her bed and tell her it must have fallen from under her pillow.
But this little kid was right on my tail. She watched me as I lifted the strap of the purse from the knob and bolted like lightning up the stairs.
"Okay," she said in her sophisticated, six-year-old speak, "what I don't get is, why would she be confused about where to put the money if she saw me in my own bed? And why didn't she take the tooth? It's weird, isn't it?"
Why are you asking so many questions? I thought to myself. I've got to think here!
"You check your brother and sister's rooms, just in case. I'll check your room again." I needed to get rid of her so I could pull this together.
She opened the door to one bedroom, only to see her sister lying fast asleep in her own bed. She quickly shut the door. The only thing worse than being gypped by the tooth fairy is incurring the wrath of your older sister after you rouse her from a deep sleep.
"I'll check Dominic's room," she said.
I absentmindedly went into my room instead of hers. There, I tore open the flap of my purse and rummaged through receipts and library cards. My fingers were like big, clumsy blocks of cement as I tried to work as quickly as possible. A ten dollar bill drifted in the air, and five pennies clanked onto the floor. I think a four-letter word spilled out of my mouth about the same time.
"No, it's not under his pillow," my daughter called. She flung his pillows and bed covers to the foot of his bed.
I was running out of time. I scooped up the money that had fallen on the floor and fumbled for a dollar in my purse. I grabbed it, threw my purse in my closet and ran to the nearest pillow: mine. I stuffed the dollar under the floral pillow case.
"Why don't you look in our room," I called, acting very nonchalant. "You never know."
My daughter seemed to be as annoyed with me as she was with the Tooth Fairy. "Why would she leave it in here? You and Daddy aren't losing anymore teeth!"
"Just check," I insisted. "Maybe she thought you were in here last night."
"Just check!" I was losing my cool.
She slid her little hand under the pillow and pulled out a dollar. For several seconds, her eyes were fixed on that beautiful green bill. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "A dollar!"
"Yes, well, see, the Tooth Fairy may get confused sometimes, but she always ends up making people happy."
I literally was sweating. If it hadn't been 8 in the morning, I might have had to pour myself a glass of wine to calm down.
As excited as she was about the dollar, she still couldn't figure out what had possessed the Tooth Fairy to act like such a bumbling boob. If this is your job, and the only one you apparently have, how could you botch it up so badly?
"How does the Tooth Fairy know I lost a tooth anyway?" she asked as we headed down the stairs.
"Um, she's in with Santa. And he keeps her updated on who loses teeth."
"So how come Santa couldn't tell her where to put the tooth?"
Is it time for that wine yet?
"Even Santa gets confused sometimes. Plus, you guys are always hopping out of your own beds and into ours, and so maybe he told her to check in our room first and she saw a body and even though it was your brother's and there wasn't a tooth under the pillow she figured she'd leave the money there."
Wow, how'd you come up with that brilliant deduction, Sherlock?
My daughter decided she'd expended enough energy trying to solve this conundrum. "Boy, that Tooth Fairy," she said as she rolled up her new dollar and headed to the TV room.
"Yes, that Tooth Fairy," I said, shaking my head.
Later that evening, I explained everything to my husband.
"I mean, I wasn't even thinking last night about the Tooth Fairy coming," I said.
"Apology accepted," he sarcastically replied.
"What!" I almost popped him on the head. Since when did the Tooth Fairy become only the mom's responsibility? "I'd accept your apology, too," I called from behind the door I'd just slammed, "if you'd offer one."
The truth is, we've both gotten a little lax about the Tooth Fairy. After three kids and umpteen teeth, the novelty wears off, at least for the parents. So one assumes the other is still keen about the job and will shoulder the responsibility, but the other one's thoughts are focused on loading the dishwasher or paying the bills or watching some grownup TV.
The result: a negligent Tooth Fairy, two guilt-ridden parents and one annoyed child holding a tooth he or she had planned on trading in for some cash.
Luckily, these rituals don't last forever. My nine-year-old has already begun to see the light. "I don't think the Tooth Fairy's real," she whispered to me while I was tucking her in one night not that long ago.
"Because, someone at school said she saw her mom put money under her pillow."
It would be perfectly fine for me to tell a nine-year-old that, yes, her friend is right. The Tooth Fairy is really a mom or dad.
But knowing my oldest child, she would hold onto this shocking truth until she needed ammunition during a dramatic battle with her younger sister. Then, just at the moment that the little one had managed to get her goat, fix her wagon and bust her chops, she would pull out her weapon for the ultimate blow. "Oh yeah?" I could just hear her saying in her sassy voice, with her sassy hands on her sassy hips. "Well, there's no Tooth Fairy! So what do you think about that?"
I simply don't have the emotional strength to deal with that right now.
So I tell the nine-year-old, "If you want to believe in the Tooth Fairy, you keep believing, and let your friend have her own ideas." She seemed satisfied and drifted off to sleep. And so the fantasy continues in our house.
One of the greatest things about kids is their ability to forgive. They also like to offer the chance to try something over in the hopes that the other person--or in this case, the fairy--will get it right.
After my little one had finished ranting about the Tooth Fairy's bumbling mistake, she took the plastic bag with the tooth upstairs and stuck it back under her pillow. "I'm putting that back," she said, "to see if she takes it tonight... and leaves me a little more money."
The Tooth Fairy got the message: Finish the project, and leave some change to cover the cost of emotional duress.