There are some parental roles I never mastered.
Playing the Tooth Fairy is one.
I should have known it was going to be problematic the day my son lost his first tooth.
He literally lost it.
He was on the playground in kindergarten, and I never got the full story about exactly what happened. The tooth may have fallen into a pile of mulch while he was on the swings, or he may have swallowed it while going down the slide. I don’t know. I suspect the latter because when my husband and I tried to convince our son that the tooth fairy would find his tooth anyway, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea.
That was the start of my short-lived and very spotty career as the Tooth Fairy.
Losing a tooth was never a big deal for my children because it likely led to disappointment.
Sometimes, one of my children would put a tooth under his or her pillow. More often, they didn’t.
They knew that sometimes the Tooth Fairy remembered to replace the tooth with money and sometimes she didn’t.
When I did remember to take the tooth, I never knew what I was supposed to do with it.
Other parents told me that they kept their children’s baby teeth, but that seemed kind of disgusting to me. I couldn’t imagine a day when I would look at a tiny tooth and get all nostalgic.
That was back in the days when I didn’t realize how quickly the years would fast forward to a time when the cost of college tuition was a much bigger concern than how much the tooth fairy should pay. That was also back in the days when I didn’t give any consideration to the fact that I would someday have to seek professional assistance to remove my child’s teeth.
Last fall, when our dentist advised me that my 16-year old son needed to consult an oral surgeon about having his wisdom teeth removed, I was sure he was going to add “in five years.”
And so, a few months later, I was trying to get my son to wake up after his first experience with anesthesia.
I could poke fun at how he behaved, but he really didn’t act much differently than normal. He wanted to sleep, and he wanted his parents to leave him alone.
The only surprising moment occurred as we were leaving.
I was handed a small paper envelope and told that it contained my son’s wisdom teeth.
“He wanted to keep them,” the oral surgeon said.
I stuck the envelope in my purse and immediately forgot about it. I certainly didn’t think that my son wanted his teeth so he could put them under his pillow in hopes that the Tooth Fairy would make one final appearance.
He and I both knew that my dismal performances as the Tooth Fairy were a thing of the past.
We didn’t realize I had one final curtain call.
A couple of months after my son’s surgery, I was checking out at the local grocery store when I was asked for my bonus card. I keep it attached to my key ring, which I had misplaced somewhere in my purse. I put my purse on the ledge by the debit card scanner as I searched. When I pulled out my keys in triumph, two large obviously adult human teeth popped out and onto the conveyor belt.
I couldn’t look at the clerk’s face as I scooped up the teeth and threw them randomly back in my purse.
I couldn’t look at her face as I handed her my key ring.
I couldn’t even look at her face when I paid for my purchase.
The only thing I could do was try to regain some semblance of pride while assuring the clerk that I wasn’t a complete freak.
“Being the Tooth Fairy can be a messy and sometimes embarrassing job,” I said as I walked away.
I didn’t need to look back. I knew the young woman couldn’t understand.
But someday, in the rapidly approaching future, she probably will.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.