The Unprepared Tooth Fairy


The day had been coming for a while. My daughter’s tooth had been holding on by a gossamer-thin thread for days, and it was just a matter of time. Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my mind was a to-do list titled, “Prepare Tooth Fairy Items.” And yet, I was still unprepared when she nonchalantly pulled out her very first tooth and grinned at me.

That night we tucked her tooth under her pillow, and I kissed her good night. Her face was glowing with the excitement of reaching another milestone. It was cute. It was heart-warming. It was so. much. pressure. 

tooth fairy

While she slept peacefully, dreaming of the riches she’d find under her pillow in the morning, I searched every nook and cranny of our house for enough spare change to make a good impression. Crumpled receipts and lint flew out of my wallet as I shook it upside down and tried to rationalize what a kid really expects for their first tooth. I figured out that what I knew of the tooth fairy and what my daughter knew were two different things.

Every television show or book that talks about the tooth fairy shows her leaving a coin. As I was justifying how much I should leave or even what I should leave (cash or a toy?), I recalled our latest exposure to the tooth fairy through a Sophie Mouse book. Spoiler alert: she left a shiny gold coin under Sophie’s pillow. I actually considered sneaking a shiny quarter under her pillow for a split second before realizing that that was being too miserly for even my standards. But it made me feel better about the $1 bill my husband was able to dig out of his wallet. 

I also realized that she has absolutely no concept of money yet. Unless I am really delinquent in money education, most 5 and 6-year-olds don’t have a great grasp of currency. When I asked my daughter what she hoped the tooth fairy would bring her, she said, “70 hundred dollars!” I then explained that one dollar was worth four quarters, and her eyes lit up: four whole quarters! That’s when I knew that she would be perfectly happy with $1 vs. the $5 or even $10 that I wanted to give for her first tooth. 

But even more than the actual gift, my child delights in the details. I recalled every birthday and holiday and noticed that what was most memorable for my daughter were the special touches that were just for her: the birthday scavenger hunt, a homemade mystery surprise box, a hand-written letter from Santa, etc. It didn’t matter how much money was involved, if I just unceremoniously stuffed it under her pillow, she’d be ever-so-slightly disappointed. And so, I bribed my husband to engineer our dollar bill into an origami cat while I hand-wrote a colorful note and signed the tooth fairy’s name. 

The end result was good, and I’m pretty sure she won’t be bringing this moment up 20 years from now in a therapist’s office. Every family has a different tradition with their tooth fairy; what’s yours?