As a young man I decided I would be the “best” something one could be. I wanted to be the best catcher in the rye but Holden Caufield beat me to it. So I decided to become the world’s best tooth fairy. This is my story. 

From the beginning, I took the job seriously and  honed my skills through study and experimentation. My approach became a delicate, surreptitious exchange performed lovingly.  My tooth/coin exchange became so good ESPN  wanted to cover it.

I became the best Tooth Fairy of my generation. My exchange was not the jarring hand-off of a quarterback to a slashing halfback, nor the speedy passing of a baton in a relay. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let me begin by explaining why it is so important to be the best Tooth Fairy one can be.

The loss of first teeth is a child’s initial experience with life, death, and rebirth through
regeneration. It is the cycle of life played out in a small, moist mouth. If not handled properly it can traumatize or be the basis of unpleasant memories. That was pretty much my own experience. I did not learn my craft studying at the knee of a master TF. Rather I observed and learned from my own negative experiences as a child. I came from a large family. By the time I was ready to enter into the unique rite of passage that encompasses the tooth exchange, my parents had lost their enthusiasm for the ritual. My baby teeth were flicked out of my mouth while they were dangling by the thinnest membrane like a gnat being flicked from a sleeve. Then I was given a penny. Once when two teeth departed to the flicking finger at the same time I got a nickel.

I had to learn from my older siblings that there was indeed a procedure to celebrate the cycle of life represented by the tooth fairy saga. I remember sitting enthralled, yet dumbfounded, at my older brother’s recounting of how the system had worked for him. The ritual of the placing the dead tooth under one’s pillow so that the Tooth Fairy could creep silently into the bedroom and exchange it for a shiny coin was as exciting to me as the Santa Claus/Easter Bunny legends. Even at an early age I saw the depth of the symbolism. The dead tooth, the child asleep, mimicking death, the Tooth Fairy carrying off the dead tooth and leaving the money not in expiation for the loss, but to imply the child has the wherewithal to purchase (through regeneration) a new tooth. Dynamite stuff!

Preparation is the key to becoming an expert. Preparation begins with taking the child to the dentist for her first check-up. The Dentist explains the importance of good oral hygiene. At home, I become the Dentist’s surrogate. I bought a dental mirror. Had they been available when my children were small I’m sure I would have purchased an intra-oral camera that many progressive dentists use today.  I could not tell tartar from Tarzan,  however the dental mirror gave me access to their mouths long before it was necessary for me to be there. So when the time came for me to assist in the actual removal of the tooth the child readily accepted my place there.

When during a cursory examination of my child’s mouth I discovered the first signs of looseness I would never say anything about it. Discovery by the child is imperative to the entire process. Why? Simple. She’s been prepared – first by the Dentist, and subsequently
by me, that the event definitely was going to happen. So she is not a surprised when she notices the first shaky tooth in her mouth. It is extremely important not to deprive her of the excitement of running to you screaming:

“Daddy, daddy, look … look, my tooth is loose!”

This allows you to look in her mouth while she points to the loose tooth. It leads to holding her in your arms while you go to the bathroom cabinet mirror so you can see together. It allows for hugs and pinched cheeks, (very important) and it is mandatory at that point you give kisses and say: “Oh, what a face. What a beautiful face!”

Now it is time to shop for the coins. The coins should be minted in the year the tooth falls out. It is another way to hold on to the memory of the event if the child decides to keep the coins as mementos. (encourage this!) They should be the shiniest you can find. The denomination isn’t so important. A dime should be the minimum and a quarter the maximum. I’ve heard of tooth fairies who leave dollar bills. Too extravagant. This isn’t going to be the child’s vocation. Make sure you have plenty of new coins because the child is going to lose a mouthful of teeth, sometimes in spurts of two or more at a time.
Don’t be stingy if that happens. A coin for each tooth. No two-fers for two teeth.

It helps to develop a good relationship with one of the tellers where you do your banking, preferably, one with children of his own, who will understand the process. I’ll admit to
being caught once or twice without the shiniest coin I could find and polishing it just before the exchange took place. Shiny is important because it is part of the newness so important to a child. No matter how many teeth they lose each one will be as exciting as
the previous one if you make it fun and allow the child to participate in the ritual.

I always wanted my children to keep their very first lost tooth as a memento because I had found a charming storage container in a gift shop. I had to develop a story that deviated somewhat from the stories their friends were getting from their parents.

“With the first tooth,” I told them, “the Tooth Fairy gives you the option of keeping it or letting him take the tooth away.”

I found a set of containers for holding baby’s first tooth,  and a lock of hair. The containers were pewter, about the size of 35mm film canisters. They rest on a small pewter tray that has room for engraving the child’s name. The containers have removable tops, often with a tooth and lock of hair designed into the handles of the tops. Parents are usually more thrilled than children with this gift. I bought one for each of my children when they were born. As soon as they were able to comprehend,  they were constantly reminded what they were for,  so the containers became part of the entire build up to the Tooth Fairy Saga.

I mentioned earlier the smoothness of the exchange. Again, preparation and practice are necessary in carrying off  the smooth exchange. I began practicing long before my first child lost her first tooth, honing my skills, until I was able to make the exchange with the same flair some modern magicians make aircraft carriers disappear, and without
disturbing the child’s sleep.

I began practicing during daylight hours by placing a single navy bean under my child’s pillow. Then I put a block of wood five inches square on top of the pillow. The wood approximated the weight of the child’s head on the pillow. On the wood I rested a 4 oz. paper cup, half filled with water. Then I began practicing removing the bean from under the pillow without disturbing the wood or the water.

My first attempts were disasters in clumsiness, especially if the bean was situated under the  middle of the pillow. There was no problem if the bean was near the edges of the pillow. I once heard an interview with George Brett, the hall of fame baseball player. The interviewer asked him the secret of his batting skills. Brett, replied, without cracking a smile, that he had done it thousands of time. It was a great answer. Thousands of times. I needed more practice. It paid off. Soon I filled the cup to the brim. Then I replaced it with a tin pie plate filled to the brim. No matter where the bean was I could slide it out, replace it with a coin with nary a quiver in the water. Still, no matter how good I got practicing with props, I knew it would be different with a real person.

I began practicing on my wife. My wife slept like a child. Almost before the pillow went  cush from the weight of her head, she was asleep. She hardly moved for the rest of the night. I placed a bean under her pillow one night before bedtime. Even though I knew
she was asleep I waited for more than an hour hoping she had drifted into REM sleep. I got up and went around to her side of the bed, simulating the position I would be in with my child. With my head not more than six inches from hers and a quarter in my left
hand I slid my right hand under her pillow. At first I couldn’t find the bean. It had moved. Then my hand covered it. Just as I was sliding my hand out she woke up.

“My god …what?” she said drowsily.

Then she lifted her head quickly, banging into my head. She swore. I saw stars.

“What on earth are you doing!” She grabbed her own head in pain.

Several weeks passed before I tried it again. The second time it went off without a hitch. She never felt anything. When I showed her the quarter under her pillow the next morning she just shook her head and said nothing.

I wasn’t a flicker-er, either. When the tooth was ready to come out it was done under clean, if not sterile conditions. I used medical grade gloves, cotton swabs, alcohol, and warm salt water for rinsing. With the removal of the first tooth my moment had arrived. My worries about awakening a sleeping child were unfounded. I had forgotten how soundly the innocent sleep. And that was another good lesson to learn. It seems that with our first child we hover above while she is sleeping, lost in the beauty and simplicity of
what we have created. As children grow older we check them occasionally, if we hear them stirring. The tooth exchange brings us back to those early moments. It presents us with more opportunities to hover above them,  parental Goodyear Blimps, watching silently, feeling love as tender and pure as the child sleeping there.

Then the next morning it all comes together. That gleeful voice, bursting with excitement, rushing into the kitchen. (where I had been waiting impatiently for hours)

“Daddy, daddy look … look what the Tooth Fairy brought me!”

Suddenly thirty pounds of pure happiness leaps into your arms, hugging you and displaying the shiny new coin. Can you ask for a better job than that?


This entry was posted in Columns and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *