Why Can’t You Be More Like the Tooth Fairy?

By j. Snodgrass

I wake up to see a little elven face hovering above me. Wide pixie eyes staring. Riley, awake with some deep question. I know she's been there a while. “Mommy, why can't you be more like the Tooth Fairy?” 

            Don't say it, deep breath, don't say it.

            “Mommy needs some coffee.”

            That's our time-out code. She asks a question, I get four minutes to think about it. Not what the answer is, but what's the right answer for an infinitely inquisitive seven-year-old. Plus her teachers and friends' moms who'll hear it slightly distorted in a telephone game and then call me for a grown-up telephone game of “Riley told Geraldine that Unicorns don't cry” or whatever. 

            How do fairies and unicorns stabilize Riley's universe? Can these weightless wisps counter-balance the heavy concrete facts of life? How much insanity does it take to raise a sane child?

            Get out of bed, remember the mirrors. Every time Riley gets sad about Daddy being gone she wants a new mirror. Ever since her fifth birthday party, when she cried because he wasn't there to see her blow out the candles and I whispered, “Daddy lives on in you. If you want to see him, just look in the mirror.” Her smile saved the day, but now we've got mirrors hanging everywhere, a new one every couple months, and I have to remember all of them as I make my way from the bed to the coffee-maker. I need at least two strong cups before I can handle a mirror in the morning. 

            I definitely need to avoid them today because all the morning-Medusas in these mirrors want to smirk and ask how last night's date went. Well, do I look happily-ever-after to you?

            I knew I wasn't going home with Larry. Actually he did invite me over. “So, you wanna come up for some Netflix?” What ever happened to a drink? Come up for a two minute drink and ten minutes of sex. Not a four-hour Netflix binge – how does binge-couching get anybody in the mood? And no way was I paying the babysitter an extra forty bucks, I've got my own couch and the same Netflix at home.

            The coffee is ready, and so is Riley. She leans in, wide-eyed, holding her breath, watching me take one sip and then, “Mommy, why can't you be more like the Tooth Fairy?”

            Don't say it, deep breath, don't say it. Think!

            “Well, um... You see the Tooth Fairy does one thing for a million kids, right? And I do a million things for one kid. And that one thing she does-- I mean she doesn't have to sniff your breath at bedtime to make sure you brushed. She doesn't have to explain in an aisle of the store that fifty cents won't buy a pony, or a deluxe doll dream-house, or even a doll. She just takes the tooth and flutters off.”

            Riley's big front teeth sink into her bottom lip. This isn't going precisely right.

            “What I mean is... She's got a lot of kids to keep track of, but she doesn't know each little girl's favorite shade of purple paint. Or remember just the right balance of butter and marmalade on your English muffin. And she's only seen you when you're asleep, so she's never seen you dance.”

            “Yeah, she's got a busy life. You think she gets lonely?”

            “We'll talk about it when you're older.” Pour her some Apple Jacks and take a quick shower. 

            One night out a month. Get invited to a man-cave for Netflix. Larry got antsy, waiting for a response. I was already thinking through paying the babysitter, checking to make sure all the lights and appliances were off, one other thing – what was it? Oh! Riley's lost tooth! 

            “Thanks for the invite, Larry, maybe next time. Um...have you got any quarters?”

            “What, for like a parking meter? Oh! Like right here in the car, on my street? Hang on, I'll-- But there's no meters here.”

            “No, not for that, um. Riley lost a tooth, I forgot to pick up Tooth-Fairy money.”

            Larry got quiet. “No, I don't have any quarters.”

            “Could you at least check?”

            “I'm um... I'm not that comfortable... I don't know how I feel about the Tooth Fairy.”

            “What difference does it make?”

            Larry launched into a speech about illusions and childhood and I realized he's not ready for the commitment. Indirectly giving Riley tooth-money, that's way too close to parental accountability. “Larry, I'm dropping you off at your mother's house because your car is 'in the shop,' which I happen to know means you haven't bought it yet. So forget the Tooth Fairy – gimme fifty cents for gas money.” 

            I wonder if that's what it's like when the Tooth Fairy is on a date with Big Foot - “Oh!  I just remembered, a little girl in Alaska - do you have a quarter?” “Me no sure about responsibility.” “Screw yourself, Sasquatch, I don't care what they say about guys with big feet, I'm outa' here.” Who does the Tooth Fairy date? Like after she realizes that Santa's lying when he keeps saying he's “practically broken up” with Mrs. Claus.

            Out of the shower, time to-- Oh! Right. There she is, hard at work, learning to whistle through the new gap where her side tooth was. “I learned something new today,” she states, “because I'm older now. So. Why can't you be more like the Tooth Fairy?”

            Don't say it, deep breath, don't say it.  If you're going to lose a popularity contest with a mythical figure (a little slacker-sprite whose job falls on you!), at least don't get catty about it.  Look at Riley.  What does she want from the Tooth Fairy?

            “Well, I thought about applying for the job. So I could travel the world in a glamorous gown. But when they told me how much I'd be gone, that I wouldn't be here to help with your homework, push you on the swings, cheer at your soccer games? Everything I want to tell you every day, there's no way all that could ever fit into fifty cents under a pillow.”

            Riley flashes her crossword-puzzle smile. “She also couldn't make it fit into fifty cents. I know, because she gave me twenty bucks!”

            “Twenty bucks?” I think back. Oh, screw you, Larry, you loser. You only had three nickels. It's over. Not only did I have to pay for dinner, I had to put a twenty under Riley's pillow! Now she's really gonna think she can get a pony!

            Riley's deep in thought. “But yeah, you're right. She always lets her job get in the way of what's really important. Why can't the Tooth Fairy be more like you?”

            Don't say it. Smile.     

            “Hey,” she asks, “Will twenty bucks buy a Pony?”

            “Aw, gimme a hug. Not even close. Now go brush your teeth and get ready for school. I'll help you tie your shoes. Oh, and it's probably best not to tell your friends how much the Tooth Fairy gave you. You don't want them to be sad that she thinks you're the coolest.”

            Riley scampers off.