Ahhh…yet another one of those childhood myths, the deadline of which looms ominously before me. When my children lose teeth–and that seems to be happening every other day lately– I agonize over what to give them. I always choose something simple and preferably from nature. At first I gave semi-precious stones. That worked beautifully. When they were younger, they loved to see just what kind of stone would appear under their pillow. But my stash ran out and I could no longer find an assortment. So I have had to branch out to other things, my creativity stretching to the limit. I believe I gave money only once–when the tooth fell off late at night and I had nothing appropriate to give. I chose my shiniest 5-peso coin and that was it.
Since then I’ve given little gifts, mostly handcrafted (though hardly ever by me)–a finger puppet or gnome, a turtle pendant, string bracelets–all very simple things. My younger son came home once, saying that the tooth fairy gave his friend a big, elaborate toy because he kept his tooth on the floor–or somewhere far away–so he wanted to do this as well. I just told him that the tooth fairy will give him what he thinks is best. He brings this up every time he loses a tooth but I also remind him that if he hides his tooth somewhere too far, the tooth fairy might get confused. And its true! It’s nerve-wracking enough to have to creep in at night and do the switch when you know exactly where the tooth is. I’ve also actually woken up with a start at 2 or 3am, realizing I’d forgotten to be the tooth fairy and, fighting my grogginess, will myself to get up and accomplish the task.
It takes tremendous effort to keep the little rituals and surprises going, but I always make sure that the gift is but a token–not an end in itself. I will never give more cash, or things that are so “material”. It’s just a sense I have that these things must be kept very simple so that the children feel in it a sense of something that belongs not in the material world of consumption, but in another special realm that is still around them.
Until last Christmas, we didn’t have a Santa. St. Nicholas was it. But our Christmas celebrations have always been very full starting with Advent. They have always been simple (though not simple for the mothers to create) but wonderful, wonderful! Suddenly, last year, there was a present from Santa (not from my end)–a remote control something that I told them they could have when they are older, but not now. Right then, their Santa became a provider of things Mama won’t give. Sigh. My little one apparently also sent a message to Santa via computer in the mall. I was quite disheartened by that, as it was yet another very materialistic view of the essence of Santa Claus and Christmas. It breaks my heart to know that something so pure and alive in my child is being commodified, but I can only trust that all will be well.
It’s the same with the tooth fairy or any other family tradition you would like to start. I try and remove my children from the material plane of more, more, more and bigger, bigger, bigger because children are so appreciative of very simple things anyway. They find beauty where we are jaded. When we bring our own cynicism and materialism into the picture by thinking we’re not giving them an expensive enough toy or gift, or that they are deprived because they are not playing with remote control toys, we are killing that in them which is still pure, honest and full of beauty.
To me the tooth fairy is one of those precious spaces of childhood that we would do well to keep alive and simple. Have your child wake up to the magic of a shiny colorful stone where his little tooth used to be. Do not overwhelm him with presents or cash and trust that he is already getting everything he needs.
A few weeks ago, my older son came out holding a tiny felt gnome in his hand. He showed it to me and I asked where he got it. ”From you!”, he said, even though I could have sworn it was the tooth fairy who brought it to him. I was inwardly rattled but managed to say, “Me? From me?” and he said, “You’re the tooth fairy, right?” “Is that what you think?”, I asked back and thanked the angels that was the end of it. A few days later a teacher confirmed that I had somehow given the right response. He is turning 11 in one week and already I feel accomplished that we have lasted this long.
He came into my room yesterday morning bearing another tooth. I cleaned it as usual and laid it on a tray near my sink. I didn’t mention it again but right before bedtime last night, he asked me to bring it to him, then he looked at me meaningfully as he put it under the pillow closest to the edge of the bed saying, “So the tooth fairy can easily find it.” Then he raised his arms for the usual bedtime hug. Part of him knows just what this is about, yet another still wants life to be the same. And so the tooth fairy was quite happy to come again.