One morning, my husband woke up to find Ryan’s tooth on our bureau. Since it had come out several weeks prior, the tooth had been travelling around the house. It was on the kitchen counter for a while.
“When is he going to leave it for the tooth fairy!” My husband was losing a tiny bit of patience as he had when Ryan stood crying out in the rain, hugging a broken, three-legged table he was trying to throw out. “I’ll miss that table…” he sobbed.
The tooth had fallen out in school, and his teacher put it in a cute little plastic tooth-shaped box. To put under his pillow for the tooth fairy, of course.
But Ryan couldn’t part with the tooth any more than the broken table. He would miss it too much. He worried whether it was ok if he kept the tooth, would the fairy be mad. I said no, he just wouldn’t find any coins under his pillow in the morning. He seemed ok with that, oddly enough; he’s always quick to snap up lost dimes and nickels around the house or in the car, to claim as his own.
The little plastic box was on a string, and he hung it on his bedpost, alongside the beads he’d strung back in preschool. He couldn’t part with anything, and when I emptied his pockets for the wash, I’d find all the things he’d collected, the little plastic tabs from water bottles etc. Not to mention that the only old toys I could give away were ones I was sure he wouldn’t miss, and only under the complete cover of darkness (literally, I’d haul the bag out to the porch for Big Brothers and Sisters to collect in the morning, grateful that we were one of the first houses on their route, that the bag would be gone before Ryan left for school.)
My husband told me he’d taken the plastic tooth box from the bureau and put it in my jewelry box – I suppose for safe keeping, though I can’t find my jewelry half the time in the knotted mess of necklaces, let alone a tooth…
Now another tooth is getting ready to come out. Ryan especially likes to wiggle it at the dinner table, opening his mouth full of food.
“So do you think you’ll leave this one for the fairy?” His younger brother asked, steeped in jealousy that he himself hadn’t lost a single tooth yet.
Ryan turned ruminative. “Not sure. . .”
Then Kenny went on about some book in school his teacher had read: “In China it’s a tooth mouse that comes, not the fairy. And you know what the baddest is? When you have to throw your tooth in the fire. So witches don’t get it.”
He went on to elaborate, that if the witches do get your tooth, they throw it in a big “pot with other stuff” and then all your teeth and your gums fall out.
Ryan just stared at Kenny.
To break the spell I suppose, I got up to go find the little box of my own baby teeth. It was in the drawer where I keep the placemats. It bothers me that I can’t remember why I put it in there.
I opened it at the dinner table. The tissue was as yellowed as the tiny teeth. Artifacts.
Ryan was fascinated. “You didn’t give your teeth to the tooth fairy either?”
I wrapped the teeth back up in the ancient tissue. I was stupid. Why hadn’t I anticipated this question? “I guess not….”
I suppose I was lying, because I remember the quarters I would find in the morning under my pillow. But when I finally stopped believing in the tooth fairy, did I ask my parents what they had done with all my teeth? Or did they present the little box to me as a rite of passage at my high school graduation?
Since that dinner moment, Ryan’s wiggly tooth still hasn’t come out. But Kenny actually had to have an upper tooth extracted due to an infection. He was thrilled.
That night at dinner, Ryan asked Kenny whether he was going to give his tooth to the tooth fairy.
The Novocaine numbness had worn off, and Kenny’s gums had stopped bleeding. “Sure,” Kenny said with a shrug.
“Really?” said Ryan. “Your very first tooth?”
“Yeah.” Kenny gently chewed his elbow pasta, having been instructed only to eat soft foods. “I want the money.”
In the morning, Kenny found two shiny new quarters under his pillow.
“My friend got ten dollars,” he told me, but he was happy. He believed in the tooth fairy, as he believed wholeheartedly in Santa and the Easter Bunny who he was convinced was very large and pink.
I tried to think what parent would leave a small child ten bucks under their pillow. “Maybe the tooth fairy isn’t finally all that rich.”
“I know,” he said. He grinned his new grin, with the big gaping space. “I like coins.” And he did a little dance. “The tooth fairy really came! The tooth fairy actually really came!”