My son Aaron, six, was already a formidable negotiator, but even by his standards this was exceptional. On waking one morning, he’d discovered with great excitement his first dislodged tooth—later replacing the toilet paper in which I’d wrapped it with a sealed Ziploc bag. A CSI retrieving bullet casings from a crime scene couldn’t have shown greater reverence.
Now there was an endearingly misspelled note, in which the indefatigable founder and chief counsel of Aaron Inc. set forth his terms. “DONT TACE MY TOOTH,” it began. There followed an expression of affection for the Tooth Fairy (I LOVE YOU DEERLEE) coupled with his insistence that in addition to forgoing her traditional haul, said fairy should also kindly leave him a dollar and some candy.
I was still absorbing all this when he asked: “What does the Tooth Fairy do with the tooth?” Wham! One of those moments of Certified Adulthood when your kid forces you to navigate, on the spot, the shoals of myth and reality. The first threshold is the pronoun. How long can you persist with labored, gender-neutral constructions like “The Tooth Fairy has a place where the Tooth Fairy does X, Y, and Z”? So I blurted the first thing that came to me: “She”—there, I’ve done it, the Tooth Fairy is a she—“has an enormous collection of teeth up in Fairyland.” For an instant, as he processed this, Aaron had me in terror. It was partly my fault, as the image of an enormous pile of teeth put me in mind of Cambodia. But I also feared a prolonged dialogue aimed at defining the full contours of Fairyland, as though it had its own entry in the CIA’s World Factbook: population, chief exports, dissident groups . . . .
So I refocused the boy on placing his Ziploc and note under the pillow—no, this pillow. “And you probably want to sleep over here,” I said, directing him to the bed’s far end. “You don’t want the Tooth Fairy to have to fight past you.” But later that night, Aaron reaffirmed his terms: “Can you please ask the Tooth Fairy not to take my tooth?”
Did he think she and I had a longstanding relationship? Or was I simply expected to be up, and coherent, when she swung by? “What are you going to do with the tooth?” I asked.
“She always keeps the tooth,” I said. “It’s a tradition.”
He half-yawned: “Let’s just see what happens, Dad.”
Around midnight, I rose in a start (thank God I remembered!) and tiptoed downstairs to retrieve a dollar. Now I held the wrinkled bill as I stood in the darkness over Aaron’s slumbering body. I lifted the pillow and there it was: his pitiable note—DONT TACE MY TOOTH—and the Ziploc with its minuscule cargo. Mind racing, I pondered my options: (1) honor Aaron’s wish by leaving the tooth and the dollar, (2) partially honor his wish by leaving the tooth but not the dollar, or (3) deny his wish by taking the tooth and leaving the dollar: the traditional transaction. (Candy was out of the question.) What would send the right message?
At 6:30 am, Aaron woke: “The Tooth Fairy left me a dollar!” Absolution! No mention of the confiscated tooth! “What are you going to do with it?” his mom asked.
He spoke of a trip to CVS, which sells toy cars prized by him and his younger brother. I didn’t have the heart to point out they’re $6. Nor did I say anything when a houseguest, visiting us the next weekend and assigned to Aaron’s room, mentioned finding under her pillow a wrinkled dollar bill.
James Rosen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief Washington correspondent for Fox News.
This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.