Monday, April 9, 2012


The past week’s holidays in our family were filled with talk of a much loved, monumental figure who was slain but, in the biggest comeback since Lazarus, rose from the dead.
I’m talking, of course, about the Tooth Fairy.
Long term readers will be familiar with her. For it was here last December that I exclusively revealed she had been destroyed.
Our six-year-old daughter Lani shot her down. Upset by the prospect of having her first loose tooth pulled, she would not be soothed by the promise of riches beneath her pillow, announcing that “the Tooth Fairy is a fairy, and fairies aren’t real, so therefore the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist.”
OK, she didn’t say ‘therefore’. But it would have been only marginally more impressive to us if she had. My wife Stef and I were very pleased, partly because of the logic, mostly because it saved us a lot of money. I know things were cheaper in my day, when we kids could buy a lump of coal and still have change of two-and-six left over from a guinea. But seriously, the Tooth Fairy’s appearance fees are out of control. Who does she think she is, Tiger Woods?
Four teeth later, we’ve learned the Tooth Fairy is indeed a foe to be underestimated at your peril. She’s as tough as nails. For while teeth two, three and four fell without a ripple – the last one self-yanked by Lani in one of those parenting moments which will forever make me sick – by the fifth one Ol’ Toothy was back from the grave.
The thought of a partially decomposed little fairy ambling into our girls’ room under cover of darkness in search of teeth is possibly more disturbing than watching a child pull one out of her own mouth. So we had to have a talk.

And so it begins: Lani and her mum after her first tooth
was yanked, the night the Tooth Fairy 'died'. If those
dreams you have where all your teeth are falling out
are some of the worst imaginable, this must be a very
icky time for children.

Or perhaps not. Four down and starting to look a bit
gross. Can't we plug that hole with something?

Oh good. A tongue.

Lani’s fifth tooth, one of the small or ‘useless’ ones beside the front incisors which as far as I know don’t even have a name, and so aren’t worth money anyway, came out during teeth brushing. Afterwards, I went to put it in Lani’s tooth box. We are saving them. We’re not that unsentimental. In saying that, this is a collection that needs bolstering, after her two front teeth were tossed down the sink.
This wasn’t by me. It was by our Chinese housemaid, who didn’t see them in a glass of salted water. In fact she didn’t see any of the FOUR that were in the glass. The Chinese wouldn’t think of keeping a child’s teeth, for it was here in 1949, after Mao Zedong seized power, that text books were altered and official photographs airbrushed to remove any reference to the Tooth Fairy. Luckily for me I was able to scrape Lani’s two bottom front teeth out of a slimy, smelly drainpipe, in another of those parenting moments which will forever make me sick.
Just as I was adding tooth five to the box Lani cried out, saying: “Don’t! I want to put it under my pillow!”
What? Hadn’t we been through this? Wasn’t it you yourself who had thrice denied the Tooth Fairy before the cock crowed? In the church of the Tooth Fairy, had you not ticked the ‘infidel’ box?
“Well, yes, but now I think she’s real.”
As a policy backflip, this was like the Communist Party saying elections were not a bad idea, really. Lani’s little sister Evie, a staunch Tooth Fairy believer in the last round of talks, strutted around proudly.

The Tooth Fairy as I imagined her with Lani's
teeth, and (below) how I think of her now. 

We told our American friend and fellow parent Amy what happened next. It’s relevant to point out that Amy is American. This is because the Tooth Fairy was invented there by Coca Cola in the 1930s, originally as a fat old man with a white beard.
No, it’s so you know her accent when she expressed her horror upon discovering what sort of parents her friends were. Since there are some different accents in America, I should further point out she is from Michigan, which makes her Michiganian. This is a word I made up because it sounded funny. Turns out it is also what they’re really called.
“I can’t believe there’s no Tooth Fairy!” she cried. This is 30-something Amy, I mean, not Lani.
We tried to tell her it was Lani’s choice, not ours. We told her we believe there is enough awesome wonder in the real world without needing to talk Lani out of her skepticism about the dental remuneration nymph. We told her we do Santa Claus in our house (although that was a battle this Anglo-Saxon male had to fight, against a wife raised in a Chinese household with no stories of Arctic dwellers circling the globe in one night delivering presents. It becomes more plausible, I told Stef, when you consider Santa ignores Muslims).
Still, Amy would not promise to not phone child protection on us. Adopting my caring parent voice, I said Lani had started it. Then she had bafflingly gone back to being one of the crowd. I suspected it was sparked by playground talk of tooth money.
Asked for her reasons Lani offered: “I think fairies are real if you believe in them.”
Hmmm. At her insistence, we put the tooth under her pillow that night. I was still undecided that night about whether to substitute it for some money. And I was still undecided the next morning, when I realised I had forgotten anyway.
“Oh my God! The tooth’s still there?!” shrieked Amy, not Lani.
I’d asked Lani to think of why the cash hadn’t arrived, hoping she would see she was right in the first place.
“The Tooth Fairy was probably just too busy last night,” she said. “We’ll try again tonight!”
“OK”, I said, at least admiring her optimism. The next morning, she came up with a new hypothesis. I think it was something to do with low-level cloud cover blocking the Tooth Fairy’s landing. Or else it was the Easter Bunny.
On the third day, Lani rose again with a new theory.
“It’s because I wasn’t smiling during the night. So the Tooth Fairy didn’t know I’d lost a tooth.”
So the Tooth Fairy checks every child in the world every night? I’m no theologian, but doesn’t this make her at least as powerful as God?
“Oh my goodness!” Amy said again later. “That’s it. I’m coming over to give this child some money!”
“Great,” we said. That will start a whole new hypothesis – that Aunty Amy is the Tooth Fairy.
I thought about it some more. I just found it too hard to backtrack and tell Lani she was wrong in the first place, that there really was a Tooth Fairy. Her dashed hopes might have been heartbreaking except it was clear there wasn’t much conviction behind her words.
“Do you just want some money?” I asked.
Aaaah. Now we were getting closer to the truth. It seemed Lani’s main driving force was indeed fiscal. We had a talk about introducing pocket money. As parents we believe most chores should be done because we’re all part of a team. And anyway, there aren’t many a six-year-old can do. But we did say that an attitude of helpfulness, responsibility and thoughtfulness would go a long way to showing she was deserving of an allowance in the near future.
Well - what a masterstroke. The tooth was promptly forgotten. In fact it was assumed a few days later that our maid had washed it with the bedsheets until I found it and put it in the tooth box.
Meanwhile Lani was racing around the house offering to help like some sort of mini Kofi Annan. She put her books and shoes away and tidied her room. One she even asked to be excused from the table! The fact she had left the table half an hour earlier was neither here not there.
She seems to have forgotten the Tooth Fairy again now. And for those scorning us for conspiring to kill off wonder, can I recommend The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins.

Perhaps there's an old Chinese saying: 'You don't need
teeth to be happy.'

This guy believes it anyway.

So does he.

Later, I asked Evie if she still thought the Tooth Fairy was real. Now it was her turn to wow me with an argument, one that bordered on existential theory.
“No she’s not real. But for Lani she is,” Evie said. I asked her what this meant. “Lani has the loose teeth, so for her the Tooth Fairy is real. I don’t have any loose teeth.”
 “So what about when you lose your first tooth?”
“Well then I’ll be rich!”
It’s this kind of capitalism Mao was on about.

* What do you think? Tooth Fairy - yes or no? (... as in, should we perpetuate the myth, not is she real or not?) Comments welcome below.


  1. Now that's a resurrection I can get behind!!!

  2. haha. We get round the lack of Santa by saying he doesn't visit Muslim kids and by saying he's "haram" (forbidden in Islam). Haram works for all sorts of things, certain sweets, TV shows. And it raises a laugh when they refer to alcohol as haram juice.

  3. Ha! So is the Tooth Fairy haram too? OR do you have your own version?

    1. Not there yet, need to wait for some teeth to fall out!

  4. What a wonderful article, I think that's the only process to grow full on teeth.

  5. Hey TF, Michiganders have very clear, articulated accents. Unlike some Aussies I know...also, because we live so far North we have a direct line with Santa and all Northern bound tooth fairies. I'll put in a good word for the kids.

  6. I'm sure that her teeth will grow back in no time especially now that she's still growing up. Thanks.

  7. I think that there's nothing wrong with believing in the tooth fairy especially if your just a kid.

  8. I think that it's all about cultural differences maybe she thought that it wasn't important.