Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Ghost of Childhood Past...

Did you ever have one of those moments when someone you've known for years, who you think you understand pretty darn well...suddenly does something totally surprising and completely mystifies you? Yeah, of course it happens...but it's just a little disconcerting when the unfamiliar behavior in question is exhibited by your child.

This week's Tales of the Unexpected comes courtesy of Riley. Last Saturday, when he was wrestling with his older sibling (no, that's not the unusual part) he got bonked in the face by Derek's hard head (nope, not yet...very commonplace events, so far). I'm not sure whether it was directly related to the occurrence--or just a coincidence that he noticed it for the first time when checking his mouth for injuries afterwards--but he immediately reported to me that he had a loose tooth. Okay, he still has several of his baby set to replace yet, so this was not worrisome. However, he became a bit obsessive about it, trying everything in his power to wiggle the thing free--twisting with his fingers, chomping down extra-hard on apple slices, banging it against his brother. (Just kidding about that last one, he had luckily already learned his lesson regarding the pain Derek's bony body parts can cause...)

But on Sunday night, out of the blue he asked me, "Do you think the Tooth Fairy will come?" I'm sorry, the who, now? Let me first explain that not once, in all the 13 years I've been a mother, has that particular creature EVER visited our house. It's not that I believe there's anything wrong with the mythology...of a sprite who collects...bits of hardened calcium...that fall from youngsters' mouths. I've just never promoted the story, or participated in the secret program of exchanging-coinage-for-castoff-chompers. I mean really, what's up with this legend, anyway? What brilliant soul came up with the idea that parents should pay their kids for used baby teeth that are going to fall out anyway, through absolutely no heroic effort or special actions on their part? And by the way, what does this chick DO with the little nuggets, anyway? Ewww...on second thought, I'm starting to get creeped out...and I'm kind of glad we never supported this sketchy collaboration between a...shady tooth-hoarding lady and...the money-grubbing masses...of tots.

Anyway, my point is, this particular subject had never even popped up before, and I was flabbergasted at having to deal with it after all this time. And Riley seemed completely earnest, too, like he was honestly expecting some...magical nocturnal trade...to happen while he slumbered. Sigh. Then he came home from school on Monday with a tiny container he'd gotten from the Health Room--you guessed it--which held the tooth that had finally shaken itself out at lunchtime. He excitedly planned exactly what he'd do that night, "Should I leave it under my pillow? How will the Tooth Fairy know to come?" Before I even thought about it for a second, I automatically invoked the sacred power of...um..."Allowable Parental Fibbing" and blithely replied, "Oh, she gets memos about this stuff. But maybe you should leave it on your desk, instead, so she doesn't have to root around and disturb you to find it." What the WHAT? Where did that come from? In the next instant, when my brain caught up with my mouth, I had to stifle the hysterical giggles that threatened to bubble up and expose me for a despicable...Fraud Mom. Fortunately Riley swallowed this fishy story with nary a suspicion...and I got away with it. (Mwah hah hah!)

So, after he'd been tucked snugly under his blankets and ushered off to dreamland, it was time to execute the next phase of the...Great Dental Deception. Practically his last words before I kissed him goodnight had been a wistful, "I hope I get a quarter...that's all I want." Aww, how cute...but then again, this sweetly-innocent wish required that I instigate a house-wide search for a 25-cent-piece to bestow upon my child...lest I tragically shatter one of the last remaining parts of his rapidly-retreating childhood...or something. I located the required payment in the stash that Husband collects to use in the vending-machine at work. ("Sorry, dear, it's for a good cause...or blame your youngest son, whichever works better for you...") When a few hours had passed and I was reasonably certain Riley would be fast asleep, I snuck into his room to make the switch. Wouldn't you know--when I opened the door, he sat right up and swiveled his head around, blinking against the light from the hallway as though trying to figure out what was happening. Knowing that he wasn't truly awake and most likely wouldn't remember any of this, I just completed my mission and skedaddled as quickly as possible.

The next morning when I went in once more to roust him for school, these were his very first words, delivered in that soft, sleepy voice of one who's not quite fully conscious yet: "The Tooth Fairy came!" Ay yi yi--I mean, "Oh, that's wonderful, sweetie!" Later in the day, he mused, "I wonder where my tooth is now?" Ha! That's an easy one--it's in my desk drawer, buried underneath a bunch of stuff so you'll never see it! (Yeah, that was obviously the response in my head...) I quickly formulated some suitably noncommittal reply and changed the subject. I suppose, for whatever reason, we're going to continue this little game until the rest of his original teeth come out...or he gets wise to the scam, whichever comes first. Memo to me: start a stockpile of quarters for emergency situations...and next time, go in Tooth Fairy Commando style, with the lights off!

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