Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, my nine-year-old daughter Natalia and I were having a wonderful conversation about anything random, from school to family to life itself. This is what we do many nights, and as a parent, I understand simply talking with your little ones — without doing anything out of the ordinary — makes for great bonding.
While in the midst of our banter, Natalia unveiled a startling revelation to me, a revelation that was in line with the harbinger that she’s growing up.
She admitted she knows there is no such thing as the tooth fairy, and has known for quite some time.
Now I know every parent, including myself, will hit a crossroad every so often in their own and their own child’s lives, where with each passing day, and each advancement in the child’s motoring, cognitive and social skill, is a sign that the child won’t stay young and green forever, no matter how hard the parent wishes, wants and imagines. Natalia’s admission delivered a blow to the romantic concept I had of her as a naive little girl; though she’s far from the threshold of adulthood, she is no longer a little, little girl.
The conversation came about when Natalia first asked me if there is such thing as the tooth fairy. Attempting to tiptoe around this question, I replied, “Do you believe the tooth fairy exists?”
Hitting the tennis ball back into my side of the court, my daughter replied, “Does the tooth fairy exist?”
Again I asked, “Do you think the tooth fairy exists?”
“Does the tooth fairy exists?”
“Well, she exists if you think she exists.”
Now let me tell you, if you didn’t know her, you would know now she’s smart as a whip (as everyone who knows her is aware). She can run conversations and witty repartee around any adult, including me. The next question proved this point.
“Have you been the tooth fairy all along?” Natalia blurted out.
This question stunned me, although I thought Natalia wouldn’t be able to figure out the parent-as-tooth–fairy (and-Easter-Bunny-and Santa-Claus)-all-along routine until a few years later. Let’s say around 11 years old.
At this point, reluctantly, I admitted there was no such thing as the tooth fairy.
“How long have you known the tooth fairy didn’t exist,” I asked astoundingly, my hopes of ever keeping her as an innocent little girl in my mind forever slowing slipping away.
“Since I lost my first tooth.” That was when she was, if I may recall, around seven years old. The first two times her tooth came out, she didn’t get a chance to put them under her pillow for the tooth fairy. She lost her first tooth at her paternal grandmother‘s house for some reason. She swallowed her second tooth one night while eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger -which I knew would happen from the moment I purchased that Happy Meal at the McDonald’s drive thru. Nevertheless, she still raked in some dough for her missing teeth.
I asked her if she was disappointed at finding out the tooth fairy was just a fairy tale. She said a little bit. I told her it wasn’t actually me who was playing the tooth fairy (and thus sticking those $5 bills underneath her pillow); it was my mother, when we were still living with her.
I thought Natalia would get upset at me. I thought she would cry and maybe scream. But she took it all in stride. After all, she is growing up. And in this case, I’m glad she’s acting like a big girl, not like a baby.
“Mom?” Natalia wondered out loud. She wasn’t addressing me; she was referring to my mother, because Natalia considers her a second mother. Natalia was surprised it was her grandmother, not me, who was the tooth fairy.
I’m actually pretty jealous of Natalia; she can easily make $5 per missing tooth. Of course, that’s the going rate per tooth the “tooth fairy” sets. When I was a kid, the most I was able to make per tooth was up to $1. Obviously, the tooth fairy recognizes inflation when it happens.
A few more years will breeze by, and in a blink of an eye, my daughter will be a teenager — an almost-young woman. As an adolescent, Natalia would rebel one way or another, defy my orders somehow, slowly come to the realization it wouldn’t be cool to hang out with her old lady, and face temptations in her social circles and the real world that I care not to think about right now.
But for now at least I can hold on to the melting fantasy that she’s still my little girl. She still believes in Santa Claus, and said she’ll write to him this year as such. Needless to say, I told her to give the letter to me so I can “mail” it. With no stamp, of course.