Traditional values in many American families include devotion to a benevolent and mystical Trinity. I mean of course, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We encourage our children to have faith in unfair trade practices, endorsing the exchange of a plate of stale cookies, inexpertly dyed eggs or a bit of bloody enamel for disproportionate material gains. Those heretics that dare to question how that Jolly Old Elf manages to cover the entire world - chimneys or not - in a single night from his secret base in the warming Arctic are willing to suspend their disbelief in the face of mountains of loot.
With all false gods, though, there comes that time in every child's life of First Disillusionment, when the scales fall from their eyes, adults are fallible, and they must learn the vital life lesson that you can't trust everything you hear from those in authority. My own parents decided when I was of tender years that they would no longer be complicit in the cult of the Dread One in the Red Suit who knows if you've been bad or good, but like all good fundamentalists I insisted that they were wrong and Santa Claus was as real as the rising sun.
If you are going to deny all the evidence of modern science and put your faith in magical beings, then beware the Tooth Fairy, for she is fickle and prone to nodding off before you do and neglecting to stash a windfall of cash beneath your pillow. Santa and Peter Cottontail pile on the sugar plums and gum drops when we have not yet reached the age of reason, but the Tooth Fairy waits until we are six, already well acculturated by our peers in school, and master of such exceptional achievements as the rudiments of reading, counting by tens, and riding without training wheels. We may have seen elder siblings triumphantly gap toothed and clutching the ever inflationary rewards of their biological achievement, and so we block out any nagging doubts about who it might be who actually stuffs the stockings while we wait for our seat at the tooth exchange.
Elias is six, and has a loose tooth. Already I sense him wavering about St. Nick, although like the second child he is, he wants to be sure before he proclaims his disbelief. It has never bothered him that the Easter Bunny hides the very eggs he made, but that house of cards is also ready to topple, because this is the year - just as he starts to cash in on his toothless status - when the Tooth Fairy will slip up and reveal all.
It happened that way for his sister Emily three years ago when she was in first grade. It may have been her third or fourth tooth - the first had fallen out in the car and only a tear stained letter to the tooth fairy had accomplished the traditional exchange. In our house the task of tooth fairy falls to the night owl, rather than she who retires with her books and is out like a light by 10:00. There was great wailing and lamentation the next morning, when the bloody tooth was still beneath the pillow and NOTHING ELSE. My daughter was inconsolable thanks to that inconstant pixie, so I was forced to peel back a layer of the onion and declare;
"I'm the Tooth Fairy"
And so, it quickly followed, I am also the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. Emily was quick to catch on that far from crashing disillusion, this in no way meant a halt to the seasonal swag. It also was her initiation into the Grand Secret, for her brother still believed. And believes to this day, but he has no younger sibling to smile at knowingly when he learns the Truth. He may only have a passing acquaintance with the tooth fairy before he sees through those gossamer wings. I suspect he will take it in stride, for there is still the same effect even if he needs a new hypothesis for the cause. It will probably affect his parents more, our dissembling exposed, the secret out, and another milestone of childhood passing before our middle aged eyes.
The tooth fairy will remember to set her alarm clock this time.