Monday, October 10, 2005

...And nothing but the tooth

Owen's first rite into adulthood: He lost his first tooth. Now he is a bit of a late bloomer as far as losing teeth are concerned - but he did not seem to be all that worried, so neither did I. He had a playdate today - being that it's a national holiday and we have been cooped up inside all weekend because it pissed rain for 3 days straight. Is that a complaint? No sir. I had a wonderful weekend, totally away from that post secondary insitution which has been a source of irk and unfathomable contraditions as of late.
So Owen was showing off his wiggly tooth to his friend and she suggested that he just yank it out. I felt like interjecting, since Owen is a real wimp when it comes to blood. He does a little jig and a companion panicky chant whenever he draws the slightest bit of blood. "I'm bleedin' I'm bleeeeeedin', I'm blEEEEEEdin'...ban-daid, ban-daid!!". I was not prepared to convince him that there was little possibility of applying a bandaid to his gums. So, I opted not to push him on the tooth yanking. After that, he pulled and frigged and messed around and low and behold "Hey mommy! It fell out!" And there was a bit of blood, but the excitement totally overshadowed his habitual reaction.

We have a toothfairy pillow. It's small and hangs on the doorknob. Owen fished it out once the tooth was wiggly. So together we put his wee little tooth in the front pocket. I told him the tooth fairy would come, take it and leave him some money. I have to check my wallet. Hopefully there is a twoonie about. If not, a loonie will suffice. "Who is the tooth fairy" He asks. I wonder if this is going to become as complicated as the how much to babies cost question. "She comes after you are a sleep, and trades the tooth for money".
"How does she come here?" Fair question.
"She flies in". Part of me is drawing on our collective understanding of fairies...of the tooth variety and beyond. Another part of me is wondering how much will be improvisaton.
"How does she fly, mommy?"
"She has wings. like a butterfly" I respond.
"Cool! And she takes my tooth?"
"Yes, and she'll leave you some money"
"Why does she take my tooth?"
" To help build her castle"
"Build a castle...?" I can almost hear him process the information
" Yes, she builds a castle with all the teeth she collects"
"that is COOL!" and off he runs.

So, as I finish this little conversation, I wonder, where the hell did we ever come up wth the Tooth Fairy anyway? I wonder how long of a tradition this really is. So I did what any good parent would do. I Googled it. So, from my "research" I've learned a couple of things. Like most folklore, it is a belief that reflects many traditions, both old and new. The Fairy bit, harkens back to English tales about house elves and fairies - which usually take something and leave something in return. There is also an old French tale about a fairy who transforms into a mouse to help a queen. The mouse hides under the mean King's pillow and knocks out all his teeth in the middle of the night. My research did not reveal where the fairymouse conjoured such stregnth as to extract the all the adult teeth from a grown man, grumpy or not. Most of these stories require a certain amount of suspension of belief. There was also the suggestion that part of this tradition developed in the middle ages, when the belief in witchcraft dominated European consciousness. Any aspect of the body - be that hair, nail clippings and teeth were carefully disposed of, since they could be used for ill purposed by the neighbourhood witch. The pillow/money switch was a later development. Most of my research traced the tale from pillow to coin as a mid-twentieth century adaptation. One analysis suggests that the story was told to alleviate the fear and confusion brought about by losing a tooth. This makes very little sense ot me since the thought of a rogue fairy about my pillow at night is far more frightening than the event itself. The story was clearly in our collective consciousness by the 1950's when the first book was published, and it is acknowledged that post-war North America was beginning to experience enough affluence to afford leaving a bit of money to children. We can also trace the rising cost of living with the money deposited - my mother recieved a nickle, I remember collecting 25-50 cents a tooth, and now Owen is getting between 1-2 dollars (depending on what my change purse holds.) Next time, I think I will embellish the story to include Self transforming Machine Elves.
I mean, why not...its just a story?


Eric said...

I'm missing out on Owen's milestones...and finding out about them by reading your blog...hooray for blogging...I guess.

This reminds me about the time I put a tooth under my pillow (having told nary a soul) and finding it there the next morning. I was devastated. My belief in fairies took a fatal blow.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Very interesting history of the tooth fairy mythology.

This is one of the many ways in which we encourage children to view the world as a place of wonder. It's so sad that we inevitably lose our innocence and, with it, our openness to the possibility of magic.

hotboy said...

Never heard of twoonie and loonie before. Well, I've heard of a loonie, as in a mad fellow. Must be a loney, as in an aloney. Maybe a bit like a twosome and being on your ownsome. A loonie must be a Canadian dollar then. No bother! Who said about being separated by a common language? Hotboy

Mary P. said...

For future reference: if a yanked tooth ever does bleed like mad, a dry teabag, put in the right general area and bitten down on, works very well to sop up the mess. (Additional bonus: teabags, unlike gauze pads, are dark and don't show the blood to panicking children!)

I am soooo absent-minded that it took my children maybe two teeth to realize what was afoot. Not wanting to entirely give up the make-believe, they would give me broad reminders before bed, "Oh, mum. Don't let the tooth fairy forget my loonie!!" I think that tooth fairy pillow on the doorknob would have saved a lot of trouble for all of us!

Around here it was a loonie for regular teeth, a twoonie for molars.

($1 and $2 coins, respectively, for those unfamiliar with the currency...)

Anonymous said...

very, very funny! I especially appreciate how you put "research" in quotes! I google everything too but share your skepticism

And hooray for Owen! A has both front teeth out, such a special look

McSwain said...

I wondered about the tooth fairy. My son just asked what she looks like yesterday. Thanks for the look into history.