My firstborn’s first tooth started to get wiggly a few months back. Even though she is one of the older kids in her class, she was one of the last to achieve Wiggly Tooth Status – and so her excitement at having a tooth starting to loosen its grip can hardly be described. She is, however, not one for risk or discomfort, and after her first bite of an apple with the said wiggly tooth, she declared that it felt too weird and that she would foreswear apples until the tooth made its graceful exit in its own sweet time.
The tooth chose a rainy summer’s day in the Netherlands to break free. After a thrilling day at a kids’ wonderland, losing her first tooth at dinner was the most magical way to end a perfectly magical day. I was exhausted and had no more mommy-energy left: so I chickened out of dealing with the liberated tooth and, after singing and dancing the required celebratory dances with her, also told her that we would keep her tooth for the American tooth fairy, since she doesn’t work in Europe (who knows what the Europeans do with felled teeth? After all, they have enigmatic characters like Zwart Piet at Christmas time!?) She bought it, and went to sleep with a sweet, gap-toothed smile on her face.
The next week saw us in Belgium, when a second tooth decided to wiggle free. We danced and celebrated, and put the tooth away carefully to take home for the American Tooth Fairy.
The next week we were in France for a day, and I helpfully volunteered to knock one of her teeth out myself so that she could lose one in every country. This would make her someone quite unique, I explained: to be the kid who lost her first four teeth in four different countries. She glared at me reproachfully. Clearly, I was not Respecting The Process.
Fastforward to this past week, when my three little ones and I hopped on a plane in Europe shortly after breakfast, and traveled for 22 hours continuously, chasing the sunset. We arrived just after sunset on the same day. It was literally the longest day ever. I collapsed, exhausted, into my husband’s arms at the airport, and handed over the motley crue of screaming, exhausted children. We fell into bed, and slept like the dead…
…until 4am, when that evil travel companion Jetlag crowed louder than the most obnoxious rooster and woke all my exhausted children one by bleary-eyed one.
We ploughed through the day. I fell asleep on the couch by 6pm, and my hubby put the kids to bed. Some time around 2am, Jetlag crowed again, and thus began another night of Musical Beds. The baby in with us. The baby back in his bed. The preschooler in with us. Me in the guest room. The oldest in the guest room. The preschooler back in his own bed. The oldest back to her bed. Me back to bed. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Somewhere around 3:30am, I took my son – who was whining on repeat IcantsleepisitdayyetcanIwatchashow? – down to the kitchen and set a glass of warm milk before him. “My mom gave me this when I was a kid,” I coaxed. “It always helped me sleep.” In hindsight, I should have laced it with Benadryl.
Twenty minutes later, my eldest stirred while I was tucking the boy back into bed. “Go to sleep,” I whispered. “It’s a long time til morning still.”
As I closed their door behind me, I met my husband’s groggy face on the landing. He mumbled at me, and it took two or three repeats before I decoded his whisper: “The tooth fairy. The tooth fairy. We need to do something about the tooth fairy. She put her teeth in the fairy tooth pot, and we haven’t done anything about it yet.”
Let me confess that I thought very ugly thoughts in that moment. “But she’s awake!” I protested, pushing my way past him towards the bed. “I can’t do anything about it now. We can deal with it before she wakes up.”
But Mommy Guilt is a cruel insomniac, and a few minutes later I was awake and at her bedside. “Would you also like some warm milk?” I asked, stroking her head with one hand while my other surreptitiously scooted the tooth box into the fold of my pajamas. Amazingly, she agreed. Downstairs, I warmed her milk while I found somewhere to stash the teeth and groped around my purse, trying to weed out American money amidst the European notes.
“Here you go, sweetheart,” I whispered – helping her sit up to drink her milk and sliding the tooth jar and the cash stash into place. She drank her milk and curled up dreamily on her pillow. I allowed myself a victorious mommy fist-pump as I left the room.
Not so fast, Gloating Mama.
Moments later, she was shouting. “My teeth are gone! My teeth are gone! Where are they?” We ran into her room to find her distraught. The tooth jar was empty, and there was no money to be found. I smirked in the darkness: “well, honey – sometimes the tooth fairy doesn’t leave the money in the jar. Sometimes its under the bed or the pillow. Why don’t you try looking there?” Seconds later, she was beaming as she retrieved her greenbacks and counted out her good fortune. Kisses were kissed, goodnights re-said, and heads re-settled on pillows.
Not so fast, Relieved Mama.
A few minutes later, a heartbroken wail arose from the room. I dragged myself into their room, and found my daughter keening at her bedside. The wailing had roused my husband and the littlest, who had trotted through and was trying to soothe his sad sister with gentle pats on the had, which she found neither soothing nor gentle. “I want my teeth back!” she cried. “I wasn’t ready for them to go: I was excited to have them for just a few more days! I want them back! Can you get them back? I just wasn’t ready.”
She turned to her Daddy and asked if he could get them back: “I don’t know where they’ve gone,” she wailed, “because fairies aren’t real anyway and there isn’t any magic – so I don’t understand where they’ve gone and I just want them back!”
I breathed in deep. What should we say? We have chosen to tell our children the stories of Santa and the Easter Bunny rather than sell them as fact – and somehow the Tooth Fairy myth had launched her presence into our lives without much forethought. And yet: it was 3am and we were jetlagged and this was our first experience with kids losing teeth – but all three of them were awake and listening for an answer. So what to do? Kill the Tooth Fairy on her maiden voyage? At 3am?
I searched for my husband’s eyes for a cue on how to answer, but his face was buried in her hair, whispering Daddy words of comfort. I sighed and whispered my answer over his shoulder: “you’re right. Fairies aren’t real, but we really do love stories about them. We love the story of the tooth fairy, but Mommy has your teeth.”
The wailing stopped. She blinked at me. “Really?”
She climbed into my lap, whispering thankyou and youcankeepthemoney and thankyou again and again. We laid her down, settled the boys, and said our goodnights.
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
Goodnight light and the red balloon
Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs
Goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens
Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks
Goodnight noises everywhere
Good night children.
And goodbye Tooth Fairy.