I don’t remember how old I was when I knew there wasn’t a Santa Claus. What I do remember is continuing on in my belief for years, even helping to make sleigh bell noises and eat cookies for my younger siblings. I am the eldest of three and grew up in a single parent household. I saw how much my mother struggled to maintain some normalcy in our lives, including childhood magics like the Tooth Fairy. I admire her for that and so continue on that tradition with my son.
Doodle Bug's Tooth
Doodle Bug, is 9 years old, going on 10 in November. He lost his first molar at school last week and delighted in grossing me out by rehashing the story of pulling the tooth out all by himself. Ugh. Blood, I don't mind... but dangling nerve endings creep me out.
Anyway, it had been 8 or so months since the last tooth and just as I was about to tell him we'll put it safely away in his keepsake box with the others, he asked how much I thought the Tooth Fairy was going to give him for losing a “big tooth”. And that's when I remembered my sacred duty as an ambassador to Tooth Fairy Land. I couldn't believe I'd almost forgotten! So, after tucking him into bed, I scrambled to find a few dollar bills in the various junk bowls and purse bottoms that they usually end up in. I folded them into a pretty shape, a kind of tradition for us, and waited.
And waited some more.
Honestly, I don’t remember ever having as difficult a time sneaking into his room as I did that night. I checked him every hour on the hour after 9pm but found that he either wasn’t asleep, or that he’d shut his bedroom door and locked it, or that he’d turned on the light in his closet so that he could catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy. After another failed attempt at midnight, I went to bed and set my alarm to go off every hour until I could get the deed done.
He woke up at 1am and at 2am whenever I walked down the hall. When he asked what I was doing, I just turned into the bathroom and told him to lay back down. Luckily, at 4 months pregnant he’s used to me using the restroom half a dozen times a night and obliged. At 3am he woke up again. This time I went into his room, turned off the closet light again, and sat on his bed. He asked why the Tooth Fairy had not come yet. He opened his hands to show me the little baggie with his tooth in it. I thought “Oh blarg! Even if I had searched under his pillow, he’s been holding the darn thing this whole time!”
I explained that it was because he wasn’t asleep yet and he hadn’t put the tooth in the proper place. I retucked him into bed and put the tooth back under his pillow. I told him that there are rules and that the Tooth Fairy was just like Santa Claus: she could tell if he was sleeping and whether or not it was safe for her to come yet. He seemed agreeable and finally, by 4am I was able to perform the little miracle without waking him.
And of course he burst into our bedroom at 5:30 in the morning celebrating his dollars and thrilled that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t let him down.
Outgrowing the Myth
When did you realize the Tooth Fairy wasn't real? Have your children figured it out yet?
After all the hassle of that night, I really wonder if the magic is fading for Doodle Bug. I always knew that his delays would grant me a little extra time with fairy tales as his innocence persisted, but something tells me he's entering the realm of curiosity that pushes children to test the validity of the world around them. Scholars call it "The Quest". There was a study published through Oxford back in 1982 and a more recent one put out last year in the journal 'European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry' that mentions "the quest" as a moment in a child's life where they naturally begin to question the spiritual world around them. They have questions, compile some doubts, and search for answers. The studies show that a child's quest is a very normal part of growing up and critical in forming their spiritual identity. My quest led me to Paganism. My brother's led him to become an atheist. The path is different for everyone.
While I'm happy that Doodle Bug is showing such excellent signs of social and emotional growth, I'm a bit sad that our friends Santa and the Toothfairy may be leaving us. Perhaps Doodle Bug will follow in my footsteps and play along for the sake of his sibling, due to enter this world at Ostara next year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see where his quest takes him.
Pagans and the Tooth FairyI don't think it takes much stretching for a majority of Pagan families to endorse the myth of a fairy who leaves presents or money for young children. The Fae are as prominent as dragons, spirits, and goddess' within most branches of Paganism. However, not all families do and I think that's fine. Not all Pagan families spin tales of Santa Claus to their children either. For those of us that do, her history is pretty nifty.
Trying to hunt down the origins of the Tooth Fairy is as difficult as seeking out Santa Claus! But, like Saint Nick, she appears to be a conglomerate of European mythos that Pagans may find interesting. [A majority of the information listed here was researched from a book called 'The Good People: New Fairylore Essays', Peter Narvaez, editor.]
In northwestern England, Jenny Greenteeth was a legendary fowl water spirit used to scare children into brushing their teeth. Named for a certain pond scum that looked like green teeth, children were told that if they didn't keep their teeth scrubbed, Jenny Greenteeth would get them!
|'Jenny Greenteeth' by Richard Svensson|
In north eastern Italy, a character by the name of Marantega [a literary cousin to the Christmas witch, Befana] is a witch who takes not only teeth, but dreams as well, in exchange for coins. In some tales she is referred to as the "Tooth Witch" who has a fairy apprentice.
In the late 1800's French children would put their tooth under their pillow and, depending upon the region, either the Virgin Mary or a good fairy would exchange it for candy. In modern France, children wait for a tooth mouse... and oh my goodness, how cute is that?
|Liesl van dur Hoven's "Tooth Mouse". She says that she grew up with the story |
of the Tooth Mouse and that children were told to keep their teeth extra clean because
he builds a house from them. Everyone wants a nice, clean house right?
Book to Share with ChildrenThere are dozens of excellent Tooth Fairy books out there, some even come with cute little containers for teeth. Here is a sampling:
[Marilyn Kaye & Helen Cogancherry] 1994
Elsie is excited when she loses a tooth because she knows that the Tooth Fairy will visit her that night. After sneaking a peek, she finds that it's only her mother. This is when Elsie's mother tells her a story about the mystical Tooth Fairy. Once a child awoke and was frightened by the Tooth Fairy's presence in her room, because she was a stranger. Since then, the Tooth Fairy has disguised herself as someone that the child loves whenever she enters a room.
Abra Cadabra and the Tooth Witch
[Nurit Karlin] 1999
Before there was a Tooth Fairy, there was a Tooth Witch. She grew old and Abra is brought in as her helper. She decides to start leaving rewards for children and tosses the teeth into the sky where they become stars. A creative and good witch, Abra brings joy to the job and becomes the Tooth Fairy.
[Selby Beeler & G. Brian Karas] 1998
This is a collection of tooth rituals from around the world. Under pillows, down mouse holes, up on the roof... this book will show your children what kids from other countries look forward to when they lose a tooth. Child-friendly format.
Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies
[William Joyce] 2012
Toothiana, known the world over as The Toothfairy, is the keeper of children's memories and a valued member of the Guardians of childhood. This entire series is wonderful and features other myths of childhood including Santa Claus and The Sandman.
This book's character is also featured in the Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians.
[Joan Aiken & Alix Berenzy] 1985
These are all highly treasured stories that some parents may have read in school. The one we're looking at is titled 'Clem's Dream'. In it, a boy goes on an adventure to find the Tooth Witch and reclaim a dream she took from him. In the end, he learns that she is an incredibly lonely creature and shares the dream with her.
There is just so much more to be said about this myth. I think I may have to continue to spread the Tooth Fairy love in another post. Until then, enjoy the little ones that put us in these strange predicaments <3