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GENERATIONS: Sue Bruns: Losing it? A substi-Tooth Fairy's experience

Recently my 9-year-old great niece Libby spent a few days with us. It's been 18 years since I've lived with a 9-year-old, so I was a little rusty.

Libby's mom had left a Ziploc bag with three glitter-coated dollar bills. "Libby lost a tooth today," she explained. "She knows only the sparkly bills are authentic Tooth Fairy (TF) currency. I put in extras in case she loses another tooth while she's here."

She assured Libby that she would get a message to the Tooth Fairy to let her know to come to Bemidji, not Minneapolis. "If she can't make it to Bemidji while you're here, she'll catch up with you when you get home," she said. I appreciated her attempt to lessen the pressure on me. I tried to remember how I had dealt with TF issues when my kids were young. My kids' TF was not nearly so enchanting as Libby's. She was pretty basic and usually left a well-used, glitter-less bill. I don't remember specific TF experiences, except for the time Eric came home from school and, pointing at the gap in his smile, said, "I lost my tooth on the bus," (which sounded more like "I loft my toof on a buth.")

"Where is it?" I asked.

Sue Bruns

"Mom, I lost it on the bus. I couldn't find it." I could tell he was stressed about not having the tooth to leave under his pillow.

"Don't worry about it," I said. "I'm sure this happens a lot. Just write a note to the Tooth Fairy explaining what happened. Here's a note card."

I handed him a pencil and he composed his message.

Later that night when he was sleeping soundly, I sneaked into his room, reached under the pillow, slid out his note and left an ordinary dollar bill in its place. In the light of the hallway, I read his note: "Dear Tooth Fairy, I lost my tooth on the bus. Please leave me five bucks."

Ah, yes. My son. Right to the point. But $5! The Tooth Fairy had never left more than a buck. The next morning Eric came to the breakfast table, clutching his dollar and a note from the TF that read, "Five bucks for a missing tooth—and no tooth? You must be kidding. Here's a dollar. Be happy."

As I said, our TF wasn't nearly as magical as Libby's. Anyway, I planted the fairy-dusted dollar under Libby's pillow that night, but in the morning she didn't report finding it. Finally the suspense was too great. "Did the Tooth Fairy find you last night?" I asked. Her eyes popped open and she ran back into the bedroom but came out shaking her head. No money.

Now I knew the TF had been there and had planted the magical dollar, but I waited until she was in the bathroom with the door closed before I entered the spare room. The sparkly bill had slipped out from under the pillow and lay on the floor below the headboard. I picked it up and stuck it into the pillowcase with about a fourth of the bill showing.

Later that day, Libby and her friend next door decided to camp out in our backyard. "Run into the house and grab your pillow," I said, certain that she would finally discover the TF currency in the pillowcase. She came running back a few seconds later, swinging the pillow. I walked toward the house to get the sleeping bag and found the sparkly dollar lying in the grass. No use hiding it again. I held it up and said, "Look what I found on the lawn!" Libby ran by, snatched the sparkly dollar and ran into the house to check again.

"Sometimes she leaves two dollars," she explained later, "and she usually takes the tooth." The little tooth was still in a Ziploc bag on the nightstand. "Sometimes she forgets, though," she said, and smiled.

All right, so I'm a little rusty. I couldn't help but share the incident with my daughter. I had never pushed the myths of Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy to my kids with much elaboration. I didn't want to build up a story that could shatter as they wised up. Was I wrong to have denied them the excitement of glitter-coated bills?

"Oh, Mom," my daughter assured me, "we always knew you were doing those things, but Eric and I thought it seemed to make you happy, so we went along with it as long as you were willing to do it. But you were a pretty lousy Tooth Fairy. Remember that time you left a Beanie Baby under my pillow instead of money? And you did it when you tucked me in. I remember you gave me a big hug as you slid your hand under the pillow, left the Beanie, and took the tooth. I felt under the pillow as soon as you left and thought, 'What the heck! A Beanie!'"

Maybe I haven't lost my touch. Maybe I never had it.