The other day, my sister and I were discussing the fact that I am the tooth fairy, and her daughter asked how it came about that I was the tooth fairy, so I told her the story, and now I am telling it here.
The Halloween when I was fifteen, I dressed up as a tooth fairy. I had a kind-of-fancy greenish-hued dress, and I happened to have a piece of matching tulle (tulle is a kind of gauzy fabric) and I decided to make a little gold-foil-covered box labeled "teeth". And I did. That was fun, but like the vast majority of Halloween costumes, it really was just a joke.
A few days after Halloween, however, my younger brother, who was five, woke up in the morning, and said, "Cornelia, the tooth fairy didn't come!" I told him to go back to sleep, and once he had gone back in his room, I looked all around our small house in search of a quarter (which was the going rate for teeth in those days). I think I finally got one from my dad. Anyway, I went in L's room, and slipped the quarter under his pillow, and took the tooth, and thought everything had gone just fine. But then, not long afterward, he came in the living room and announced, "That wasn't the tooth fairy, that was you!"
To which I replied, "How do you know I'm not the tooth fairy?" and he got a mystified look on his face, as though he were seriously considering it.
I loved this story and told it fairly often in the next few years.
My older sister had her oldest child five years later, when I was twenty. When I was twenty-five, her family moved to Australia.
A short time after that, her oldest (if you count, he was five by then) started losing his teeth. In a phone conversation with my sister, she mentioned casually that I was the tooth fairy for her children. I said: What? She repeated herself. She said that she tells her children that every family has a tooth fairy, and every family has a Santa Claus, and every family has an Easter Bunny. In their family, the tooth fairy is Aunite Cornelia, and the rest is a mystery for them (the children) to figure out.
I went with the flow. When my sister's next child got old enough to start asking such questions as, "Does Auntie Cornelia come here by magic to get our teeth?" I told her that I could deputize people. It's only in hindsight that I realize that I never explained what "deputize" means, but maybe that's all for the best. She (having never seen me at work, and perhaps only having a hazy idea of exactly what a tooth fairy does) drew me wearing a dress made of teeth. Just for the record, the teeth themselves are not my favorite part of the job. I was a little weirded out by the thought of that picture, but I let it ride.
So, I was just a theoretical tooth fairy, but then my other sister who has children started telling them that I am the tooth fairy, and then I started having to go through with it. I decided that one golden dollar is sufficient, per tooth (the price is double, as it was when I was a child, for teeth with roots-- roots normally mean that the tooth in question has been pulled). I dressed up in the shiniest clothing I could find. My younger sister made me a wand.
So this is how it works. I get a call that goes something like this: "Miss Young Person's loose tooth just came out today at lunch. Can you come down on Friday or Saturday?"
And I say, "I think Friday will be fine." And I pack an overnight bag on Friday, and I take my "Tooth-Fairy Kit," which has two fancy dresses (I let the child who has lost the tooth pick which one I wear) and a wand and, of course, gold dollars. I used to get the gold dollars at the post office vending machine, but then I figured out that I could get them at the bank, so that is where I get them now. The kit also has a light-up tiara, because one time when I was going on a Tooth-Fairy run (as I call them), one of my roommates gave it to me-- a friend had given it to her-- because, in her words, she couldn't think of anyone more fitting than the Tooth Fairy to own such a treasure. The last Tooth-Fairy run I made, I discovered that that particular niece has a light-up tiara almost exactly like mine, only with slightly different colors. She won hers at the library's mother-and-daughter-book-club party, where she won a frog-kissing contest (the game is sort of like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, only it's pin-the-lips-on-the-frog).
I used to make the children go to sleep first, but now I just make them pretend to be asleep, because it is funner for all involved, and I am here to tell you that there is absolutely no other point to this game than having fun.
Here are some advantages to being the tooth fairy: I always win my round of "liar's club" (a popular game around here wherein a person tells two truths and a lie about themselves, and the others have to guess which is which. As long as I tell a reasonably truthful-sounding lie, no one is likely to believe that I really am the tooth fairy). Being able to announce that I am the tooth fairy gives me immediate cachet with the under-twelve set, in particular, though now that I think about it, it really has a certain cachet with all age groups. I hadn't realized until recently that the coolness factor also extends to the parents of my fairy-ees, as well; my younger sister says that other parents are always impressed that she has an outside tooth fairy. She also appreciates that she doesn't have to do it. The last and best advantage to being the Tooth Fairy, though, is that I get to spend time with my nephlings (word copyrighted by my youngest sister, being gender-neutral term for children of one's siblings) on a regular, if unpredictable, basis.
It makes them happy, and it makes me happy. I can't think of a better reason to perpetuate mythological creatures than for the perpetuation of happiness.