Sunday, December 11, 2011


The Tooth Fairy died before we’d even met her.
There she was, I imagined, lying dead on a high-stacked bed made of little white teeth, wings all limp, her little fairy face frozen as flies buzzed round her mouth and eyes. Who knew when she’d be found?
It sounds like a peaceful passing: Tooth Fairy Dies In Her Sleep, whispered the Clarion.
In fact it was a death of utter violence. On the verge of her first appearance at our house, Toothy was ripped to shreds in a blaze of words from our then five-year-old daughter, like a pizza man met at the door with a hail of bullets.
It happened before the loss of Lani’s first tooth, often a nervous time for children. It can also be a nervous, stomach-turning time for parents. I freely admit I can’t do it. I can’t watch a child happily wobbling their loose tooth around like it’s some sort of toy designed to cause revulsion in grown-ups. I would gladly give my daughter a drum kit she could play all day, or even a violin, in exchange for a vow not to show me her wobbling tooth ever again.
They say: “Look Dad! Look how wobbly my tooth is!” And I say “Nooo that’s alright,” as I squeeze my eyelids shut. I’m taken back to when I was six, not for a wobbly tooth but for when Uncle Billy used to make us touch his glass eye. This I really can remember.
“Tooch me glass aaih,” he’d say in his thick accent from Newcastle, England, as he pulled my straining arm towards his face. “It’s okaih. Ah cahn’t feel it.”
“Yes but I don’t want to feel it,” I’d say, all too late. Don’t make children touch your glass eye when you grow up, children.

A child wobbling her loose tooth. Can you believe
they let people put pictures like this on the internet?

If I can’t touch an eyeball, I’ll be able to get my shudders for a few years from watching the teeth fall out of my daughters’ heads.
Initially, Lani wasn’t too happy about this rite of passage, which is where the Tooth Fairy came into it, or didn’t.
My wife the logician and I weren’t wholeheartedly behind the idea of the tooth fairy. My wife even has a problem with Santa Claus. I disagree with her on this view, but will defend til the death her right to hold it. That’s because it makes me feel better when she criticises me. “Don’t worry, Trev,” I tell myself. “This is a woman who hates Santa, so what hope do you have?”

Of course when I were a lad we never had any
talk of pretty little fairies flitting in to take
our teeth away. Oh no. My idea of the
Tooth Fairy was pretty much this.

In any event, Lani took any debate about the Tooth Fairy fib out of the equation. She was reluctant, in a hysterical sort of way, about losing a front bottom tooth, especially when her mother suggested pulling it with a cotton noose. I tried to help in the traditional style handed down by the men in my family.
“I’ll go get my pliers!” I said. I thought it was funny, anyway.
Once Lani stopped screaming, and her mother stopped glaring, I tried talk of financial inducement.
“If you put the tooth under your pillow, the Tooth Fairy will come and you’ll get some cold hard cash,” I said.
Without any of us seeing her move, our daughter drew her gun and shot the Tooth Fairy down. She’d have none of this talk of having her tooth pulled and none of this deal-sweetening rubbish either.
“The Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist!” she barked. Cue surprised looks from parents, distress from four-year-old sister Evie.
“She does so exist!” said the sibling, citing Susie at school. “Susie lost her tooth and put it under her pillow and got ten kuai!”
More shocking than her sister’s denial, and my self-dating choice of “Susie” as a fake name, was the price. Ten Chinese yuan? That’s almost $US2.00! It were ten cents when I were a lad. Plus Lani had one more molar than usual. We could have been staring at $42 for the whole set!
But Lani, who has read lots of fairy books, saved us with an argument of inordinately mature logic that drew gasps from the jury, especially my wife the former school debater.
“The Tooth Fairy is a fairy. Fairies are not real. So the Tooth Fairy is NOT REAL!” she thundered, before closing her mouth tight again. All that was missing was an ‘ergo’. The defence rested.
Evie wept.

How most young girls imagine the mythical
nymph who comes into their bedroom
at night bestowing little rewards.
Of course in our house, we don't believe
in fairies.

But this guy clearly does.

My wife and I looked at each other, trying to guess the next step. Wasn’t much we could say, really. “Any further witnesses, Evie?” I said.
Evie, who hadn’t changed out of her school clothes, considered her options.
“The Tooth Fairy does exist and I’m wearing my school uniform!” This sounded less logical. But given her surroundings it might have been cannily thought out. Logic might sometimes fail but the presence of a uniform will carry most arguments in China.
But not this one. Lani had a look on her face as if she was arguing with the Flat Earth Society, a Holocaust denier, or the Boyz II Men fanclub. A fairy was a fairy.
We parents were looking in real trouble now. But eventually, the “You might swallow it in your sleep” warning won out. The tooth was pulled, of course with a lot less fuss than Lani envisaged. Indeed, the night when teeth three and four came out – her top middle ones – Lani yanked the last one herself.
With her thumb and forefinger.
God it was awful. (Alas I couldn’t look away for I had volunteered for camera duty, unlike my far braver wife. She is a doctor, after all, I should add in my defence).
So instead of having Lani’s teeth carted away by some wealthy little beast from the spirit world, we all decided we would hold onto the four teeth as a sentimental keepsake. I put them in a glass of salty water to clean them, and then imagined the day when, as an old man with a grandchild on my lap, I would take them out and look at them while recalling the early years of our beautiful daughter.
Then our maid chucked them down the sink.
She found what looked like a shallow glass of water, tipped it out, washed and dried it. Ker-bang! All over.
I was crestfallen, and sorry for my daughter. But then I sprang into action. It was in fact a rare moment of opportunity for the house parent to rise above mundanity.
I studied the plumbing. Thankfully there was a little cup-like bit beneath the junction of downpipe and exit pipe, designed specifically to catch diamonds before they are swished away. I unscrewed it and discovered two things: 1. Lani’s two little bottom teeth had been saved. 2. The pipes hadn’t been cleaned, ever.
Now, there’s probably a worse experience than sliding two human teeth around in a four-millimetre thick layer of smelly, green brown slime in a bit of plumbing, but I don’t know what it is. And I’m very sure there was no mention of it in the maternity ward five years ago.
Still, for the rest of the day I got to play Dad the Hero, albeit one who after his teeth-in-slime adventure looked like he was sucking a lemon in a pit of warm sick.
So we will never have to break it to Lani that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. But I ended the episode firmly believing in a God of Parenting – a vengeful god with with a sick sense of humour, who ensures we never get off from these lucky breaks scot free.

American rapper Flavor Flav has created
the myth that he grew up hard in a poor
neighbourhood amid squalour and
 desperation. The truth, however, is his
upbringing was one of privilege provided
by his banker father and dermatologist
mother. When little Flavor's teeth fell out,
Mr and Mrs Flav gave him so much
supposed "Tooth Fairy" money he was
able to buy a complete new set -
made of solid gold!  

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