I have a confession: I'm a terrible tooth fairy.
My oldest daughter figured out pretty quickly that this whole fairy thing was a scam because unlike the tooth fairy that visited her friends, her tooth fairy consistently forgot to swing by. What can I say? I do a lot of things well, but staying up late isn't one of them.
Thinking about this truth made me wonder how this crazy tradition got started. What sadistic parent decided that in addition to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny — who come once a year on a date set in stone on the calendar — we needed to have a third mystical creature in our children's lives that shows up at sporadic intervals throughout childhood to celebrate the occasion of a lost tooth?
The real story behind the tooth fairy tradition is pretty interesting, although it's not nearly as old as you might have thought.
Kids have been losing baby teeth for as long as humans have been walking on two feet, but it's only recently that they have started getting paid for it. Writer Michael Hingston, in a post for Salon noted “every recorded human culture has some kind of tradition surrounding the disposal of a child’s lost baby teeth.” These traditions run the gamut from throwing the teeth toward the sun to throwing them onto or over the roof to having the mother swallow them.
Hingston makes note of one particular ritual, practiced in many parts of the world, in which the lost tooth is offered up to a mouse in the hopes that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong as the rodent’s. It's thought that the American tradition is a blend of this practice, and the Disney fairies began making their way onto the silver screen in the 1940 and '50s.
"It’s no coincidence that at the same time the tooth fairy was starting to gain traction in the United States, Disney was also releasing animated films like 'Pinocchio' and 'Cinderella' — each of which features a benevolent, maternal fairy with the power to make wishes come true. Pop culture helped solidify the tooth fairy in the mainstream, and she’s been a fixture there ever since," notes Hingston.
Benevolent fairy or not, the tooth fairy has been the bane of my parenting years. With one kid in braces and the other well on her way, I'm looking forward to ushering in what MNN blogger Shea Gunther calls the "Tooth Fairy in the post-belief era."
From his recent Facebook post:
Shea's daughter: "Here's my tooth dad."
Shea: "Thanks, here's your buck."
Now that I could probably handle.