The next morning, she placed the tiny tin box with her tooth on the kitchen table. "The tooth fairy didn't come," she said.
I'd just read an article that said by the end of elementary school, kids should no longer believe in such things. So, I decided to fish. "Why do you think she didn't come?"
"I don' t know."
"Do you think you're too old for the tooth fairy?"
"Hmm." I ate my breakfast and soon noticed tears streaming down her cheeks. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"I'm mad that the tooth fairy didn't come."
Part of me had hoped this would be the end, but the tears changed my mind. She was a true believer and that was OK. "You know the tooth fairy forgot me once, too. I just had to put the tooth back under my pillow the next night."
I went to brush my teeth and when I returned she announced, "I thought I saw something in my room last night."
"A-ha! If you saw the tooth fairy, that's why she didn't stay. No one's supposed to see the tooth fairy."
"It kinda looked like Dad."
I thought about saying her dad was probably just checking in on her like he always does, but I was torn. I didn't want to keep pushing her to believe if she was old enough to know better. So, I just left for work. All day I thought about her tears and my heart ached. The end of the tooth fairy felt like the end of childhood to me. If she didn't believe in this, wasn't this the end of Santa and the Easter bunny too? I tried to remember how old I was when I figured it out. I remember placing a tooth under my pillow and purposely not telling my parents as a test. The next morning I knew. I was sad, but I never said a word to anyone. I certainly hadn't cried. Guilt set in. I'm pretty sure the test had come with one of my very last baby teeth, while my daughter still had plenty left. My husband called and said our daughter had pointed at him and announced, "You're the tooth fairy!" So, she wasn't crushed after all? I was confused.
That night she started talking about how she hoped the tooth fairy would come. I didn't know whether she was still a true believer or if she was playing me. If there was any chance her childhood innocence could be prolonged, I decided I wanted it to last.
Fearful that she would wake up again in the middle of the night, I snuck into her room after dinner. I put a dollar inside her tin box, removed the tooth, and feeling like a genius, put a tiny piece of plastic inside to rattle around. At bedtime, she started shaking the tin with eager anticipation. I should've told her to stop, but I didn't. Before I knew it, she opened the box and said, "Hey!" I played dumb. "Dad must've put this in here," she said.
"I don't know. Why did you open it?"
"Because it stopped rattling." She ran to confront her dad, who had no idea what I had done. Finally, she went back to bed. I wasn't sure what to say, but my heart was heavy at what I'd done. I'd removed all doubt and ended the tooth fairy's reign.
"Well, at least I got a dollar," my daughter said with a smile.
Days later, I'm still thinking about this debacle. For some reason, the end of the tooth fairy hit me harder as an adult than it ever did when I was a child. I suspect the same will be true for my daughter.
Do you remember how old you were when you found out about the tooth fairy?
How old do you think is too old to still believe?