The Tooth Fairy

A Rite of Passage

By Marjorie Ingall

Published October 17, 2007, issue of October 19, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Josie lost her first tooth. How is this possible? Only moments ago she was teething. (Cue the music: “Sunrise, Sunset.”)

Illustration by Kurt Hoffman
Illustration by Kurt Hoffman

She already knew about the tooth fairy. We’re not raising her in a Skinner box. She hears things. Every day, as she wiggled her loose tooth, she asked whether the tooth fairy was coming. Would the tooth fairy leave her money? How much? And most important of all, was the tooth fairy really real?

I hadn’t prepared an answer to the last question. And I was taken aback by my own stammering. We don’t do Santa Claus; this was my first experience of making a conscious choice to lie to my child for no good reason except to create mythology and define the boundaries of childhood. Perhaps I was also having goyishe issues, latent anxiety from an Orthodox grade school education. How could I encourage my wee Jewess to believe in a false, winged dental deity? I employed the tried-and-true parenting feint of answering a question with a question. “What do you think?” “I think so,” Josie breathed. “Then she must be,” I said. But I felt weird.

Perhaps because of my tight-lippedness, Josie remained somewhat unclear about who this fairy was and what she was up to. One evening during the Loose Tooth Period, cuddled in my arms as we read a bedtime story, she asked, “Mama, if I’m bad, will the tooth fairy take all my teeth?” She apparently imagined the tooth fairy as some unholy cross between Tinkerbell and Laurence Olivier in “Marathon Man.”

The tooth finally bid her gums adieu the morning after an appointment with her asthma doctor. I’d bribed her with a pretzel from a street vendor. She’d wanted it badly, but her tooth was so loose she could barely eat it; she gnawed at it like a dog with a bone. The pretzel’s white innards were polka-dotted with teeny pink bloodstains. Then the next morning, as she sat at the kitchen counter waiting for her egg, worrying her tooth with her tongue, it popped out. She screamed with shock and, I think, joy, then reported the milestone to Grandma before heading off to school. I surprised myself, again, by spending an hour googling cute little tooth fairy pillows and boxes, then running to a local fancy children’s emporium to buy a fetching teeny felt tooth-shaped pillow with an itty-bitty so-cute tooth pocket in it. Gah.

That night, she had a massive tantrum. Jonathan was away on a business trip, and she refused to say good night to him on the phone. She became increasingly furious that I was talking to him instead of paying attention to her. When she couldn’t stop noodging and yelling and poking me, I put her in time out, and she began to scream in earnest. She went to Defcon Five, howling so loudly, with such loss of control, I know she scared herself. When she’d calmed down, we put the tooth in the teeny fetching pillow.

Josie was anxious that the tooth fairy wouldn’t come. (Or maybe she wanted the tooth fairy not to come? Or she wanted the tooth back, because change is scary and impending adulthood is scarier still?) I asked if she wanted to write the tooth fairy a note, and she said yes. She wrote, “Dear Tooth Fairy, I’m sorry I had a tantrum. I hope you visit me.” She signed her “love, Josie” in “script” (her latest obsession, printed letters with curving lines connecting them), and illustrated the note with a crazy giant mouth full of teeth with violent “sparkles” on them, plus a looming, ominous toothbrush. No, no worries there.

The tooth fairy nabbed the tooth in the dark of night, leaving in its place a note in swirly curlicue-laced handwriting. “Dear Josie,” it said, “I understand about the tantrum. Congratulations on losing your first tooth!” She also left a “Ponyland” set (a thrilling marketing innovation involving mutant shrunken My Little Ponies with minuscule choking-hazard accessories — in this case, a birthday party scene with teeny cake slices, a teeny pizza, teeny hats, teeny cups) at the foot of the bed. Josie’s entire collection of full-size My Little Ponies had been tragically lost in the Great Airplane Vomit Incident of 2007, when she hurled spectacularly as we were deplaning. In the mad rush to get her cleaned up, we abandoned her backpack full of Ponies, almost all of them gifts from Grandma and her friends, on the plane. They never turned up. I assume they were covered in hork and discarded and burned by a discerning Midwest cleaning crew. In any case, the teeny Ponyland ponies were a huge hit as a replacement item. In the early morning hours, a deafening shriek of joy went up from her bedroom: “It’s just what I always wanted!” At last, a triumphal parenting moment.

But my unease remained. A former folklore and mythology major, I knew that lost bits of one’s corporeal self (hair, fingernail clippings, teeth) have always held power; if they fall into the wrong hands, curses and spells and stolen identity may result. And because the loss of milk teeth marks the loss of babyhood, many cultures mark the momentous occasion. Most folklorists believe that the tooth fairy herself derives from “La Bonne Petite Souris,” an 18th century tale about a mouse who changes into a fairy and hides under a good queen’s pillow to taunt an evil king and then knock out all his teeth. (Welcome to the freaky land of fairy tales. No wonder Josie was unnerved by this entire business.)

Perhaps I’m just sad about loss. Josie’s loss of babyhood, her loss of innocence when she one day learns that the tooth fairy is Mommy, or my own loss of innocence about lying to my child.

Write to Marjorie at mamele@forward.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.