M. Peevie lost one of her front teeth recently. Finally. That thing had been hanging on like a Chicago winter.
With the confident innocence of a seven-year-old, M. Peevie put her tooth under her pillow that night. The next morning she was disconsolate.
“The tooth fairy didn’t come last night,” she said. Oh crap, I thought.
“I’m sorry, honey,” I said. “Maybe you got to sleep too late. Or maybe she just had too many pick-ups last night.” She soon smiled again.
The next morning, M. Peevie checked optimistically under her pillow. Again she found the tooth and no dollars.
“I don’t know, honey,” I said guiltily. “Maybe she took a day or two off. Maybe she went out of town to visit relatives.” She smiled again, eventually.
The next morning I remembered that the tooth fairy had still not visited my daughter’s room. (What is the matter with me?!) I hurried downstairs.
“C. Peevie,” I said, “Can I borrow a couple of bucks?”
“Sure,” he said generously, “What for?”
“The tooth fairy. I don’t want M. Peevie to be disappointed again.” He just looked at me knowingly, and shook his head. “Uh, huh,” he said. He gave me two dollars. (Why do children always have better cash flow than their parents?)
I crept into M. Peevie’s pink room and felt around under her pillow. I removed the envelope containing the tiny tooth, slipped the money in its place, and crept back out.
Later, I went in to wake up my morning sleepy-head. When she found the money, she smiled a wide, gap-toothed smile. But seconds later, she frowned.
“Mommy,” she said, with a serious expression on her face, “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”
“What do you think?” I hedged.
“I think you are. I think you come in here at night and take my tooths and put dollars under my pillow. Fairies aren’t real, so I don’t think the tooth fairy is real.”
“Ahhh,” I said, avoiding giving an actual answer. Of course, she noticed. Girlfriend should be a lawyer.
“You didn’t answer my question, Mommy,” she cross-examined. “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”
“Do you really want to know the truth, M. Peevie?” I asked, because I did not care to be the shatterer of sweet childhood dreams.
“Yes, I want to know the truth,” she insisted.
I really didn’t have a choice, now, did I? “Yes, M. Peevie,” I said reluctantly. “I am the tooth fairy.”
Her face fell. “I thought so,” she said glumly. She was quiet for a few seconds, and then she said, “You’re probably Santa Claus, too.”
I did NOT want to go down that road, so I tried to distract her. “M.P.,” I said, “It’s time to get ready for school.”
“Wait just a minute, Mommy,” said the future District Attorney. “Are you Santa Claus, too? When there are presents under the tree and they say, ‘Love, Santa’—that’s really you and Daddy, isn’t it?”
“The truth?” I asked.
“The truth,” she said.
I hated to do it, but I didn’t see a way out. “Yes,” I admitted. “Daddy and I play Santa.” I could see that this was really hard to take, even though she already knew the truth. Her beautiful brown eyes filled with tears.
“But M.,” I said, “I still love to pretend that there really is a tooth fairy! I love the idea of Santa Claus! I love to pretend to hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh at Christmas!”
Not good enough, when pretty much all your best childhood fantasies have been crushed into oblivion. M. Peevie, at age seven, already knew the truth about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. What was the point of going on?
She was still melancholy when she came down for breakfast. Nothing could break through cloud of woe. Nothing, except possibly the delicious sweetness of a cheese streusel muffin.
“M. Peevie,” I said, “Do you think a muffin might help you feel better?”
She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, and looked up at me mournfully. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ll try it.”
It was only later that I realized that offering food to help with emotional pain was not an excellent parenting technique. Great. Not only did I crush her childhood innocence, but I have started her on the road of lifelong eating disorders.