Oliver just lost his fourth tooth, one of the front ones. He pulled it right out yesterday afternoon on his way to the skate park, after terrorizing me for days with it (wiggling it in my face, moving it around with his tongue and then laughing because he knows it grosses me out, that sort of thing).
He put the tooth in his little tooth fairy pillow thing that one of his grandmas bought for him, and we hung it on his door to await the exchange of money for tooth.
Except, uh, the Tooth Fairy forgot. I awoke at 6:00 a.m. to, “Mom, the Tooth Fairy didn’t leave me ANYTHING.” Ooooooops.
“Well, it’s still dark out. Maybe the Tooth Fairy is just running behind schedule. You should get back in bed because she won’t come if you’re awake,” I said.
And then I insisted we should put the tooth pillow in the living room to be extra sure that Oliver wouldn’t see her (because the Tooth Fairy, like Santa, doesn’t show up if she can be seen, of course), and then I swapped the tooth for the money, and told Oliver to stay in bed for a while to allow the Tooth Fairy ample time to do her work (work = going back to sleep for 30 minutes). Not my finest parenting moment.
Of course, when he discovered his money in the pillow, he was thrilled. But then he asked why he only gets $3.00, when some of the kids at his school get $5.00 to $20.00 per tooth. Yeah, twenty dollars. Balderdash! And I thought $3.00 was pretty generous, considering I only got like, 50¢ when I was a kid.
So here’s Oliver, thinking he’s not good enough or whatever, because he doesn’t get as much money from the Tooth Fairy as the other kids do. And I had flashbacks to my own very sad Santa story, and before I even knew what I was doing, I blurted out:
“Well, I leave money out for the Tooth Fairy to put in your pillow. That’s why you don’t get $20, because I can’t afford to give you that much.”
Not, Hey sweetie, I’m sorry but there is no Tooth Fairy. I felt the need to soften the blow by only telling him part of the truth. Yeah. So now my kid thinks he knows this big secret about the Tooth Fairy, and I warned him not to ruin it for the other kids at school. Lies upon lies upon lies! I’ve spun myself quite a web here.
We weren’t even going to do the whole Tooth Fairy thing. See, having a bio-dad who was a pathological liar made me really sensitive about lying to my kid. And I like to be as truthful as I can be with him. I value honesty in my relationships, including the one I have with my son. And he knows that lying to me has serious consequences.
But one day he came home from school, when the other kids were starting to lose teeth, and he was freaked. The fuck. Out. I mean, think about it: you find out that your teeth are going to fall out of your head at some point. Scary, right?
The look of terror on his face was heartbreaking. I tried to explain the process to him, assure him it doesn’t hurt, that he’ll grow new teeth in their place -- but he was having none of that. So finally I just told him that yes, his teeth are going to fall out but you get money for them, kiddo. From the Tooth Fairy, who is magic, like Santa Claus.
And then I understood why the whole Tooth Fairy thing exists in the first place -- to alleviate the fear of losing those teeth.
I initially said, when Oliver was a baby, that we would not perpetuate the Trifecta of Lies: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. But a few months of daycare taught Oliver about Santa, whether I wanted it or not, and I just sort of went along, figuring that we all survived finding out the truth, and he would, too. Still not sure how we’ll handle that. (I think my mom told me that Santa used to be real, but he died and now parents all over the world continue the tradition, or something like that.)
But I’m afraid the lies don’t end with mythical beings who bring gifts and money. The other night Oliver was refusing to eat the thing I made that had onions in it, and he was picking his meal apart for like 20 minutes. Finally I’d had enough.
“You know, onions help make you not die,” I said.
And like that, he stopped picking apart his food and ate everything on his plate. I mean, it’s not really a lie, right? Onions have all kinds of crazy anti-viral properties and stuff, and they have cancer-fighting compounds or magic or whatever. So really, “onions make you not die” is like a half-truth wrapped up in very simple, easy-for-kids-to-understand package. Right?
But I still felt pretty terrible. I said this off-the-cuff thing to my kid, who believes that everything I say is the absolute truth. His trust in me is astounding. It is a gift, and here I am walking all over it by bending the truth to get him to eat his dinner. And I still don’t know how I’m going to dig myself out of this Tooth-Fairy-shaped hole.
Are there any ridiculous lies that your parents told you when you were a kid? How about your experience with Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and stuff like that? Did your parents tell you the truth, or did some shitty kid at school (me, I was that kid) tell you?
Somer's on Twitter @somersherwood