Last week while I was cooking dinner, my 11-year-old casually handed me his molar (the third one in as many weeks) and held his hand open for money. This has been our routine — him trading his tooth for a dollar — ever since I told him the truth about the tooth fairy almost three years ago. Customary? No. Practical? Yes.
It wasn’t always this way. When my boys were much younger and losing a tooth — especially the first tooth — was exciting and novel, we did the whole tooth-under-the-pillow thing. I’d make a big fuss about the tooth falling out, then whichever kid lost the tooth would put it in a tooth-shaped felt pocket and place the pocket under his pillow. After he went to sleep, I’d sneak in and swap the tooth for a dollar, a la the tooth fairy. It was a sweet tradition — until the nights came when I forgot to make the exchange or didn’t have any small bills to leave. That endearing custom soon became a source of high anxiety for me. Being a pragmatist, I decided the best way to avoid this stress was to come clean. The tooth fairy was next on my kill list anyway, as I had already successfully iced the Easter Bunny, leprechaun and that dreaded Elf on the Shelf (ours was named Zachary). After outing the pilfering pixie for who she really was (i.e., me), I promised to still give the boys a dollar for each fallen tooth, but without all the trickery. Problem solved! That’s some magna cum laude mothering right there, if I do say so myself.
The thing is, before I had demolished the tooth fairy, the experience had already been ruined for my boys by their classmates. Kids talk, and in our ‘hood, apparently, they get big bucks for their baby teeth. Gone are the days of finding a shiny quarter under your pillow. These days, the going rate is anywhere between twenty and one hundred dollars for the first tooth and five to ten thereafter. For real. I asked around to be sure and those are in fact the amounts other parents fessed up to. Do the math: With twenty primary teeth, that’s a minimum of $115 and possibly as much as $290 per kid. I honestly do not remember how much we gave each of the boys for their first tooth — maybe five dollars, possibly ten — but I do know that the going rate in the Tarr house for each subsequent tooth has always been just one dollar.
And it’s not just about the money: Today’s uber-competitive parents have turned the tooth fairy into the year-round sister of the Elf on the Shelf. Thanks to social media, the pressure to be cute and creative — leaving traces of glitter (excuse me, fairy dust!) on the windowsill, doctoring photos of your sleeping child to make it look like the tooth fairy is beside him/her, writing miniature handwritten notes that lead to hidden prizes (like a new video game) and folding those crisp bills into origami-inspired art — is as bad as it is with that damn Elf. It’s stressful enough just remembering to leave the money and take the tooth. Who wants to spend their night staging photo shoots or crafting treasure hunts, too? And don’t get me started on the glitter mess.
Thankfully, my boys are too old for all that nonsense. The tooth fairy doesn’t live here anymore and that is just fine by us. Now I just have to figure out what to do with that box of baby teeth in my vanity.