“Is the tooth-fairy real?”
The six-year-old shows me a new hole in her mouth. First wobbly baby tooth fell out over the past week, welcoming this Kindergartener to a new world, as well as placing her face to face with the frail veil between reality and fantasy, logic and magic.
“What do you think?” (again, my standard reply: she must have some hypothesis about this if she’s asking. I’m more interested in knowing what she’s thinking than telling her about mine)
Frown. Pause. A searching look–am I doing the ‘adult avoidance of answers dance’ or am I really interested? She decides I’m worth the effort.
“I think she’s not real,” the little girl curls one side of her mouth with the bitterness of the words.
“Wow, really? Why??” The surprise in my voice is real enough, even if the extra oomph to it is intentional as a way to mirror the depth of the child’s emotion about this.
“Because it is really not her. It is mommies and daddies. The tooth-fairy is just pretend. I saw my mommy put the dollar under my pillow,” she is trying to sound very matter of fact about it, but she is disappointed. Crushed, more like. A little miffed, too, for the charades, and for having noticed it. Certain kinds of knowing exact a high price.
“Oh, well, maybe the tooth-fairy just needed their help,” I note. Sometimes such announcements about magic-loss are actually challenges, fragile requests for help in restoring the possibility of wonder, Santa-Clause, and fairies.
Eyebrows raised–am I trying to trick her?–but there’s also a smallish rounding of wonder in her eyes. She’s curious now. Hopeful. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m thinking, all those children losing teeth. I bet sometimes there are just too many in one night for the tooth-fairy to get to, so maybe she asks the parents to help.”
“Oh.” A moment of silent thinking. She’s letting this in, perched on the fence between accepting what she wants to believe, and what would put doubts to rest but also put out magic.
I wait. There’s no rushing works of hearts.
“So …” she pipes up, “Maybe my mommy helped because there’s only one tooth-fairy and she was too busy?”
“YEAH!” her face transforms. It is lit now. “Because the tooth-fairy, she only has little wings, and maybe she had to be very far, like in California … so she couldn’t have time to come everywhere at night!” Pause. Smile. Wonder in her eyes. “You think maybe next time … when my other tooth falls, see? (she demonstrates a minor-wiggle in the other top incisor), you think the tooth-fairy will maybe be in New York?”