Time of death for the Tooth Fairy in our household is officially clocked at 6:58 p.m. EDT on Monday, July 2.
So, after complaining that she was the only person in her grade one class with either loose or missing baby teeth, Vivian lost her first tooth this past weekend. A master of timing (she took her first step in full view of three sets of grandparents), this happened while she was Skyping with her Grandma Rosemarie. The tooth was placed in a bowl by Vivian’s bedside and, later that night, it mysteriously disappeared (though was kept in a jar by Erin) and four dollars worth of quarters put in its place.
But, yesterday at dinner time, Vivian turned to her mother and said, “Mommy? What’s the deal with the Tooth Fairy? Is it real?” And it was said with such a sceptical tone that we knew that she was onto us. So, rather than prolong the lie, we looked sheepish and admitted that mommy had swapped the tooth for the money.
Vivian actually came to her realization by logic. Fairies, she noted, were imaginary creatures, and the Tooth Fairy had the word “Fairy” in its name, so perhaps someone was pulling the wool over her eyes. And she wasn’t too upset about learning the truth, either. It probably helped that she’d already come to the conclusion herself and had just had her rationale validated by her parents. We also promised that she’d keep on getting tooth fairy money for each baby teeth she lost.
We explained to her that we kept up this deception to add a little magic to her childhood, and she promised not to let others in on this secret — such as the kids down the street — who weren’t willing to let this go.
At present, Vivian still believes in Santa Claus, but I think she’s starting to have her suspicions there as well. However, Santa’s cultural defences are way more reinforced, and he does bring in more gifts.
Why do we do this? Well, I did this because it seemed like fun, and causing no real harm to the lives of my children. But when we were called on our tooth fairy deception, I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a heel. And I was impressed that Vivian had been willing to confront us so early in her life about this when I myself willingly believed in Santa until I was at least eight.
But I wonder if this justification from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather doesn’t go a long way to explaining the motives we don’t know we have, and the benefit that these little acts of deception offer. It is a conversation between the character of Death and his very rational granddaughter Susan, as she struggles to understand why it is important that fantastical beings like the Hogfather (a.k.a. Santa Claus) are believed by so many people.
Susan: “All right, I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.”
Death: “No. Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Susan: “But Tooth fairies? Hogfathers?”
Death: Yes. As practice. You have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: “So we can believe the big ones?”
Death: “Yes. Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.”
Susan: “They’re not the same at all!”
Death: “Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through with the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet you act as if there were some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”
Susan: “Yes. But people have got to believe that or what’s the point—”
Death: “My point exactly.”
God is going to be an interesting discussion to have with my daughter. Erin and I believe in God, and Vivian knows it. I am far less sure if I believe in organized religion.