Oct 5, 2015

Tooth Fairy in a tutu

Just before Christmas, the Gingerbread man shaped box had called out "Stocking stuffer!" from the grocery store end-cap and slipped into my grocery cart. It then proceeded to lounge idly at the bottom of the kitchen drawer and mock me for months after. It had after all, only space to hold about 3 Jelly Beans. Find me a kid who'll settle for that few and I'll give you mine in exchange. The kid, not the box.
So when I handed it to Oyon to store his first dropped tooth, I thought I had vindicated the buying of more plastic while also celebrating a momentous occasion.

Who knew the havoc this would cause?

That first tooth was a doozy too. It hung stubbornly, in full wobbly splendor right in the middle of Oyon's upper jaw. Poor kid walked around in a distracted daze, obsessively worrying it with his tongue and demanding mushy, spoon-able sustenance since his key biter was out of commission.

The evening finally came when life became unbearable and Oyon took to yelling at it: "Just! Fall! Out!"
A childhood full of stories about string-tied-to-slammed-door prodded me into confused action. But children of Gandhi, are we (Oyon makes me relocate, not squish, house ants) so violently yanking out a part of his body, though it be inanimate, did not come easily. Compounding my uneasiness was my incompetence: flustered by my child's discomfort, I reached for the first string-like thing on hand.

Dental floss.

It's obvious in hindsight, of course, that a slippery string designed to glide smoothly over tooth was not the ideal tool for the job. Each yank (by hand, I simply couldn't get myself to do the door thing) only brought forth squeals. Not all of them were his. The floss would slither off, leaving Oyon hopping around, clutching his bleeding gums and me, cursing with increasing desperation. The penny eventually dropped and I scrambled for some cotton thread. Within a minute, the little devil was swinging from the end of it, pendulum-like, in front of our flushed faces.

We placed it ceremoniously into the special Gingerbread Man box, Oyon wrote out a note to the Tooth Fairy in his best Kindergarten handwriting and everything got carefully stowed under his pillow as he placed his relieved and adorably gap-toothed head to rest that night.

After dinner, my husband Shouvik and I started deliberations over our family Tooth Policy. A quick recap of our friends' lives (or at least the FB versions) revealed that some people pay more for a first tooth as the symbolic start of big-kidhood. Others place a premium on the LAST tooth to fall, signalling a total end to childhood. A few even pay incrementally more or less with each successive tooth. These are very critical decisions to weigh, you understand, so we poured each other more (and more) Single Malt whisky until it all became clear.

In a manner of speaking.

We concurred that in the Ganguli-Lahiri household, it was to be a flat rate with no discrimination against tooth order, position or potential symbolism. We can't influence American foreign policy or tax laws but under our roof, there would be dental liberty, equality and fraternity, dammit! Also, we were tipsy from all the whiskey and simply couldn't be bothered anymore.

ASIDE: The root (ha!) of all this fuss of course, is the purported Tooth Fairy who deserves to be outlawed or exorcised or whatever it is you do to a fictitious cultural entity plaguing society when Batman is otherwise engaged. 'Elf on a shelf' victims will empathize. At the least, baby showers should include a piggy bank labelled "Tooth Fairy fund: big bills to a 529 plan, small ones in here". Until that day comes, I derive catharsis and satisfaction from visualizing the Tooth Fairy as shiny headed, muscle-bound Vin Diesel (in the movie of that name) wearing a ruffled tutu, gossamer wings and a mean scowl.

In our home, all proceeded well with the drop that night. Shouvik placed 3 crisp dollar bills under the pillow and appropriated the Gingerbread Man box and it's precious content. The next morning Oyon strutted around delightedly with his first earning, eventually stuffing his first paper currency into his piggy bank.

I wouldn't even be writing this blog post if Shouvik had hidden the darn box instead of tossing it on his home office desk. I'm sure he figured Oyon had no interest in that room, as indeed, he never had before.

Sometime shortly after, Oyon came running to me in round-eyed surprise...
Oyon (breathlessly): Mummum!!!! BABA'S the tooth Fairy!!!
Me (with only partly feigned surprise): No!!
Oyon: He is! He is! I saw my Gingerbread man tooth box on his desk! Right there...look!!
Me (yelling through clenched teeth): Shouvik! Do you know anything about Oyon's first tooth lying around on your desk? Didn't the Tooth Fairy take it? AWAY?
Shouvik (looking panicked, playing for time): She did, yes, but didn't I tell you what happened that night?
Oyon: What? What?
Shouvik: I got up to visit the bathroom at night. I heard a noise and saw her creeping out of your room! I really wanted to keep your first tooth as a memento so I bought it from her.
Oyon (skeptically): Really? How much did you pay her?
Shouvik: $5
Oyon (suspicious look lingering): She only gave me $3.
Shouvik: Well, she paid for a tooth she didn't have anymore. She needed SOMEthing in place of it!

Nothing more was said for a long while after this brilliantly creative, if not watertight, resolution.

More teeth fell.
More dollar bills were swapped.

Until one day in first grade, when one of the pearly whites found freedom during the school day. The director of his YMCA after-care program, Kelly, let me in that afternoon at pick-up time wearing an uncharacteristically grim expression. She pulled me aside for a word, setting my heart thumping as I imagined some grave misdemeanor by my deceptively cute (but secretly evil) first grader.

My appreciation of after-care providers is already immense but that day, Kelly rose many notches in my eyes.

Kelly: I really hate to break Oyon's confidence but I thought you might want to know that he's planning an 'experiment' on you guys tonight.
Me (still tense): Experiment?
Kelly: He lost a tooth today and told me that he thinks Shouvik's really the Tooth Fairy. So tonight, he's going to place his tooth under the pillow but NOT TELL you guys.
Me (confused now): How will that....?
Kelly: He thinks that if he still gets money tomorrow, the Fairy's real. If not...
Me (starting to laugh now): The little brat!
Kelly (smiling faintly, still upset): I really hate that I told you though. He was so excited that he was going to be running such a solid experiment and I'm so pleased he shared his secret with me. But I just wasn't sure you wanted the Tooth Fairy to be outed just yet.

Truly...early childhood and after-care providers have not only co-parented my child, but curated his childhood with the kind of loving care that is difficult to quantify or articulate, leave demand. Kelly is the latest in a line of such stars that we have had the fortune of encountering. My gratitude is immense.

Anyway, our little Einstein had overlooked one tiny detail in this diabolical scheme: that large, unmistakable gap in his smile where his top incisor used to be. He grinned slyly at me all the way home, hugging his plan to himself as I feigned ignorance that his breathe now whistled through his smile. I simply could not maintain a straight face though when he spoke and spittle from the gap misted up my glasses. I  had to comment and he in turn, broke into excited little hops as he inadvertently spilled his secret plans. The boy has absolutely NO future as a spy or a professional poker player, this much is for sure.

He begged to know if the Tooth Fairy was real and I kept repeating my stock answer (dual-purpose for the Santa question too): "I really don't know. It's up to you to decide."

He swore he didn't mind if it was us...he just wanted to know the truth. My sticking to the Tooth Fairy story morphed in front of my eyes, from 'feeding an innocent childhood fantasy' to 'outright lying and deception'.

So I told him.
We exchanged promises: he'd collude with the myth for his friends' sake and we'd keep the money flowing. He's one of us now. A Secret Keeper.

When I'm occasionally out of cash for a dropped tooth, he'll even extend me credit. He seems to be growing business sense along with new choppers: once when my tab had reached $9, he threatened me with a late fine.

I dutifully paid him an extra dollar when I settled my bill. After all, Fair Trade costs more because it skips over the middle man and we had certainly sent ours packing.

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