Type “tooth fairy” into Pinterest. Go on, I dare you. You will find approximately 2 million adorable, “wouldn’t this be fun” ideas, including: printable tooth fairy receipts, printable tooth fairy letters, several hundred templates for tooth-pocket pillows, how to make glittery fairy money, dollar bill origami for the tooth fairy to leave behind, and a tutorial for making a tiny tooth fairy door that opens into a picture of magical tooth fairy land with a place to clip a tiny (handmade) envelope with the tooth waiting to be picked up. Holy moly.

The Tooth Fairy was invited into our home about eight months ago, and as someone who has now dabbled in fairy magic, I strongly advise you to take one look at those adorable Pinterest ideas and multiply them by the number of teeth still to be lost under your roof. Then sneak in to your child’s room, remove their tooth from their pillow, and replace it with a dollar. Paper dollar, four quarters, gold dollar, whatever you got. Now spend the rest of the evening reading a good book—or a trashy book, I’m not here to judge—instead of spraying money with glitter hair spray (probably a federal crime as well as a time-waster) and filling out elaborate tooth receipts that itemize which tooth was lost, the condition it was in, and also include witty dental commentary from the Tooth Fairy. I should clarify that if these tiny, obsessive projects bring you joy, absolutely go for it. I get it—I sometimes find my happy place cleaning windowsills with a Q-tip—but only if it’s for you. It is your job to make sure your children brush their teeth (most of the time); it is not your job to fold the Tooth Fairy dollar into an origami jet plane. For the love, do not keep up with the Joneses on this one.

I had sympathized with the general sentiment that holidays keep getting increasingly overdone for our kids, that Valentine’s Day now yields a Halloween-like stash of candy and trinkets instead of 20 cardstock notes, and children will expect the leprechauns to turn the milk green on St. Patrick’s Day and leave little green footprints across the house. But I pretty much just stuck to the basics—okay, our store-bought valentines now come with little stickers or tattoos, but St. Patrick’s Day is still just a poorly-defined reason to wear green and pick up parade candy on Main Street in the sleeting rain—because that’s what worked for our family. Until the Tooth Fairy.

Now, I remember the Tooth Fairy of my childhood. I had a special pillow with a pocket. When I lost a tooth, I put it in the pocket. The next morning there was a quarter. Or two. That’s it. And I was happy. Trading old body parts for cash was a pretty good deal—what else was I going to do with them? The Keratin Fairy certainly didn’t leave nickels for fingernail clippings, so the idea that teeth had monetary worth was exciting enough in itself.

I’ve re-joined the world of the Tooth Fairy to find that times have changed. Riley was seven when she lost her first tooth. It was even more of a momentous occasion because she had been dying for that moment since kindergarten. For two years, we’d been hearing, “I think my tooth is wiggling! Does this tooth look loose? What about this one?” Two years. It’s a long time to maintain a running conversation on the state of someone’s incisors. So, not thinking about the long-term repercussions, I one-upped the Tooth Fairy of my childhood. Barely, people, barely, but it was enough. I rolled her dollar bill up and tied it with a dental floss bow, then wrote a tiny note from the Tooth Fairy in glitter pen. It said, Congratulations on losing your first tooth! -Tooth Fairy.

And the wheels were in motion.

The next tooth was left with a note:

Tooth Fairy note

Dear Tooth Fairy, can you tell me your name: _______ And if you can give me some fairy dust, please do.

I suppose the Tooth Fairy had left the first note, so writing back seemed like fair play. I went with it, because really, at that point there weren’t a lot of other choices. Along with the heightened expectations, the worst part about the tooth fairy is that it requires forced creativity after 9 p.m., not exactly my finest hour of the day. But with a little help from the Fairy Name Generator, Briar Wonderweb was born. Briar explained to Riley that “my boss said we can’t hand out fairy dust, but I did leave a little sparkle [a.k.a. glitter glue] on your dollar! P.S. Nice job brushing! Your tooth is beautiful.” If I’m going to go all in on this, I at least might layer on a little dental hygiene reinforcement.

Then, about a month ago, another tooth fell out and suddenly the Tooth Fairy had a straight-up pen pal.

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Dear Breann Wonderweb, how old are you? And what is your birthday? And what is your phone number?

 

Seriously. The other thing about the Tooth Fairy is that it’s really easy to forget that the Tooth Fairy is due for a visit. Once I survive the kids’ bedtime, I tend to spend the rest of the evening on one of the 400,000 things in my life that need doing (or, let’s be honest, watching Anthony Bourdain), not reviewing the children’s needs and desires. It’s not usually until I’m brushing my own teeth that I think, Wait. . . teeth. . .there was something I was supposed to do that had something to do with teeth . . . ugh. And double ugh when I go in to find a list of requests in addition to the tooth. Seriously, those of you who do Elf on the Shelf, HOW DO YOU DO IT? Every night for a month? About five days in, I’d end up telling the kids Santa wasn’t real just so I could be done with the elf charade.

And yes, Riley changed her Tooth Fairy’s name to Breann. She was never convinced the note said Briar—when she tried to read it herself, she said, “BRIAN Wonderweb? My Tooth Fairy is a BOY?” I tried to re-interpret it as Briar, like Briar Rose (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty), but apparently that was a crappy Tooth Fairy name. I question how much you can really believe in the Tooth Fairy if you feel licensed to change her name.

In case you’re curious, the answers were: I am as old as the first baby’s first laugh (thank you, Peter Pan); my birthday is when the moon hits the highest peak in winter (no, this makes no sense but it was 9:45 and I wanted to go to bed); and fairies don’t use phones—when necessary, we send messages by thistledown (I am not faking phone calls from the tooth fairy. No. There are limits to playing along, and I know your babysitters taught you what Snapchat is.).

Riley had actually lost two teeth in about a week, but had hoarded them and doled them out one at a time for the tooth fairy to maximize her communication opportunities. I’m not making this up. That is how her mind works.

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Dear Tooth Fairy, Do you have any questions? And if you do, can I answer it on Thursday night. But I have two more questions. One is, do you know any leprechauns’ names? And do you know Alison’s tooth fairy? Oh and could you take a picture of yourself and tape it to my piece of paper?

 

Nothing like texting a girlfriend at 10 p.m. and praying that she’s still awake so you don’t have to make up a reason the Tooth Fairy doesn’t know Riley’s friend’s tooth fairy’s name. Notice the leprechaun question? Somehow the mythology of St. Patrick’s Day was getting assimilated with the Tooth Fairy. Enough of this. Answers, in order: “What is your biggest dream for your life?” Mine is that you would move on to your next obsession and let me go back to a simple teeth=cash exchange. “I can only visit when you leave teeth out.” We are not having a nightly, open-ended exchange of ideas. Nope. “I do not have Leprechaun friends; they tend to stick near Ireland and I like warm, sunny places.” I am not adding to the cast of characters in this fantasy world. Sorry, except I’m not really. “Alison’s tooth fairy works in a different office but I believe her name is Molly.” Obviously the Tooth Fairy needs to know the answer or the whole thing becomes untenable, but too much familiarity and I’ll end up duped into channeling the voices of two fairies. “I’m sorry, but tooth fairies cannot bring cameras to work—the flash wakes the children.” No phone calls, no photos. I’m writing to you; as your wise mother says, you get what you get and you’re happy with it.

This whole tooth fairy thing feels like it’s getting exponentially more complicated and she’s only lost five teeth. We still have fifteen—FIFTEEN—to go. The answer to the next note might just be, The leprechauns said your curiosity is ruining the magic. They told me to tell you NO MORE QUESTIONS or they’ll take me back to Ireland with them and I’ll only be able to collect your teeth on St. Patrick’s Day. P.S. They also said the Elf on the Shelf weakens the magic of Santa Claus, so be sure you don’t ever ask your mom to invite him to your home or you’ll ruin Christmas.

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