Monday, October 10, 2011

Unmasked! (Babble)

Well, not that I had an actual mask, but my identity as the tooth fairy was recently revealed.

Our tooth fairy routine has been to put a small toy under the pillow in exchange for a tooth.  (Tip for those with kids who still just have teeth coming in and not going out yet: putting the lost tooth in a sandwich baggie under the pillow makes for much simpler retrieval in the dark.)  I always got a quarter from the tooth fairy as a kid, and that was fun too, but in our house I thought little toys would be nice.  I keep a little stash of things in a box in my room just for tooth fairy prizes, usually Littlest Petshop toys or small stuffed animals.

This went fine for a long time, and I liked hearing the shriek of excitement down the hall in the mornings when the prize was discovered.  But the last three tooth fairy prizes have left Aden disappointed, and there has been only sad silence to hear on those mornings from my bed.  Mona is still happy with everything, but Aden’s gotten pickier about certain toys, and I just guessed wrong each time I chose something for her.

I suggested maybe she should leave the tooth fairy a note with a list about what kinds of things she would like from now on.  I also told her it was fine to tell the tooth fairy to leave her money like most of her friends get for their teeth.  She just said no, she just wanted the right toys, but it was hard to figure out what she thought those might be.

Saturday when I got home from work I started chopping vegetables in the kitchen and Aden came in to work on peeling a pomegranate nearby.  While we worked she told me that she’d lost a tooth a few days back when she was at a friend’s house.  She’d put it under her pillow the night before without telling us about it and it was still there in the morning.  I told her maybe the tooth fairy just didn’t know what to get her anymore and was still thinking about it.

She came around to my side of the counter, sidled up against me, looked up into my face and said quietly (so her brother and sister in the next room wouldn’t hear), “I think mama is the tooth fairy.”  I try not to lie to my kids, and I certainly do my best to answer truthfully when asked anything directly, so I touched her on the nose and said she was right.  She looked both pleased and let down at the same time.

I took the opportunity to explain my thinking about the last few prizes that she didn’t like.  For instance, there was a fake jewel about the size of a half dollar that I picked up at an estate sale because I thought she would think it was as beautiful as I did, and it was interesting because it was old.  She said knowing more about it made it more special, and was sorry she hadn’t reacted positively to it at the time.

We worked at the counter quietly for a while, then Aden asked if my mom and dad were the tooth fairy to me when I was a kid.  I told her yes.  Being the tooth fairy was one of the fun parts of being a parent.

Aden walked with me to Target after dinner.  We admired the spooky decorations some of the neighbors have out, enjoyed the warmth of the evening, and oohed and ahhed at the changing leaves and the brightness of the moon.  For the parts of the walk where she didn’t need her hands to gesture as she talked, Aden held my hand.

It’s interesting how much growing up happens sometimes in conflicting little levels and not all at once.  There are so many ways in which Aden is still a little girl.  She’s not in a hurry to get older.  She doesn’t ask me for makeup or pierced ears.  She has no plans to move on from her stuffed animals or more childish toys.  And yet she’s getting more responsible and knows how to bake and can run errands to Target alone.  She can seem so adult to me one minute, and still my baby the next.  Both things make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

At Target I had Aden simply point out to me which things (in a reasonable price range) she would be happy about finding under her pillow in the morning.  I had her pick out things Mona might like, too.  Then I had Aden turn her back so she couldn’t see specifically which things I was going to buy, and I made her walk ahead when I got to the checkout so she still couldn’t see.  She looked giddy on the walk home, because there is still some element of surprise to this new version of the tooth fairy game, but now she’s confident she will like what she gets.

I’m a little sad.  Quinn still has all his teeth, so I know I sill have years left of tooth fairy fun ahead, but Aden’s on the cusp of a much more grown up existence than she was just days ago and it’s hard not to see her progress as just a step toward moving away.  To have the tooth fairy illusion broken opens the door to a different understanding of the world.  I’m sure the end of Santa is next, but she will be ten this Christmas, and that seems about time, but it changes my life as well.

My job as her mom now will be to encourage her to see the magic where it really was all along.  The reality and wonder of the universe is better than fairies who take old teeth, and love of family is better than an imaginary man with a sleigh.  There is still an endless amount of magic to appreciate in the world, it’s just now that she’s older Aden will have to learn to discover much of it for herself rather than have it handed to her.

But I liked being Aden’s secret tooth fairy.  It was fun while it lasted.

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