Photo credit: David Clinton

I have had the following conversation with my seven year old son approximately ten thousand times this week:

Wanna see my wiggly tooth, Dad?

No, I do not.

Look what I can do with it! *Presses tongue against a tooth dangling from a lone, fleshy thread and twists it like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. 

Ew. Go show mom.

Okay! *Bolts out of the room

Typically this maneuver buys me five minutes of solitude, but this evening he returns with an eyebrow raised and a gap-toothed smirk on his face. Holding a small, questionably brushed tooth between his fingers, he asks, “Sois the Tooth Fairy going to come tonight?

It brings my son great pleasure to tease me about being the Tooth Fairy. He accuses me of having wings and wearing a tutu, and then doubles over in laughter at his own cleverness. I play along and insist I have no idea what he is talking about. But secretly, I agree with him. The Tooth Fairy is a dumb tradition and it’s ridiculous that I continue to go through the charade every time one of the kids loses a tooth. What’s the point? This Tooth Fairy is burned out.

Once my son is asleep, I reluctantly transform myself into a mythical being. I gather three essential tools of the Tooth Fairying trade:

Cash

I check my wallet. Empty. I check my wife’s purse. She has a twenty which, unless the Tooth Fairy is putting a deposit down on future incisors, won’t work. Other options? A Ziploc full of change from the car? An I.O.U.? A partially used Target gift card? Or…I could take a dollar out of my son’s piggy bank and give it to him. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.

Stealth

I slink down the hallway and into his room, carefully evading two squeaky spots in the floor. I move in the shadows cast by moonlight peeking through his curtains and slip a dollar out of his piggy bank with the nimble touch of a ninja master.

Focus

My son’s room looks like a crime scene. Stuffed animals and overturned books are scattered across the floor. The day’s clothes lay feet from the hamper. There are many potential distractions. Is that a drawing of a dog peeing? Why does that exist? Why is there a half-eaten ring pop on his dresser? No wonder his teeth are falling out. Everything in me wants to throw it in the trash, but I am determined to finish what I came here to do.

At his bedside, my eyes narrow as I slip the dollar under his Spider Man pillowcase with precision. In the same motion, I find and gently extract the tooth. Evading rogue Legos sprinkled across the floor, I slip out of his room without a sound.

Tooth Fairy mission accomplished.

Ready for bed, I open the drawer in my nightstand and pull out a small glass jar. I remove the cork and drop the tooth inside.

Clink.

I look at my boy’s tooth in the jar with his other baby teeth. There are a lot of them now. Why do I keep them? Are they a record of the passage of time? No, I’ve got photos for that. Are they sentimental reminders of who my son was when he was little? I have journals and home movies for that. Then why do I hold onto his lost teeth? Staring down at the jar in my hand, I know why.

They are his first losses.

In his little boy world, a perfectly fine tooth that had always been there got wiggly and fell out. That is upsetting. I would freak out if that happened to me – and I’m an adult. So, I pretend to be the Tooth Fairy to help him face the loss. It’s a way of saying, “Your losses are valuable. More than that, they are treasures.”

Then it occurs to me, there’s loss in everything. Even the good. It starts with tiny teeth and doesn’t stop until our last breath. My chest tightens. I feel an intense desire to protect my son from a life filled with loss. I want to spare him the pain and unfairness of life, but I know I can’t.  There is no Job Loss Fairy. Or Your Girlfriend Dumped You Fairy. Or Bad News About Your Biopsy Fairy. Or Your Parent is in Hospice Fairy.  He will have to face the hard lessons of life as we all do.

But I can love him. I can grieve with him. I can try to help him see that sometimes the holes left by losses leave room for new growth. Like the gap in his smile.

I set the jar of teeth back in the drawer of my nightstand. As I drift to sleep, I think about my son laughing really hard earlier in the evening. This warms my heart and I feel a deep sense of gratitude for these years. And then I decide I will make him clean his room first thing in the morning. It’s a jerk move, but no one ever said the Tooth Fairy was a saint.

_____

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David Clinton

David Clinton

David works with adolescents as well as adults. His clients deal with a wide range of challenges including anxiety, depression, relationship and family conflicts, trauma, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and spiritual struggles related to mental health.

David and his wife live in the western suburbs on Chicago with their two children, who David says “fill my days with laughter, excitement and a significant amount of property damage.”

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