Screw The Tooth Fairy
Why do we make up fictional characters who interact with our children? I mean, really, what’s the point? I remember being four years old and wondering who fed the people inside the picture box (TV). And I was a reasonably intelligent child with no developmental issues to speak of (until I got to junior high and was expected to talk to girls).
We took our kids to the movies on Saturday (Madagascar 3; I recommend it) and saw a preview for a film about the secret lives of all the fictitious folk that we conjure up to try and control our kids’ behavior. In this upcoming, animated adventure epic, Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and The Sandman join forces to stop an evil entity that … is trying to do something. I’m not sure what the peril was. It wasn’t a very good trailer, honestly. Whatever the heroes are up against, the preview tried to appeal to our inner child by reminding us of what we held dear about these characters when we were tiny, immature humans.
It got me thinking, as most things do these days, “I wonder how my autistic son Alex sees this.” Before we really knew what was going on with him, we took him to see Santa a few times in his first three years on this planet. He screamed his head off and we got terrible pictures. The Easter Bunny, likewise, scared the shit out of him. All I have to go on are the photo records, because I was working in college athletics at the time and my weekends were monopolized during the periods leading up to both holidays. But the photos tell a powerful story, the gist of which is, “This is creepy, get me the hell out of here. Why would you do this to me?”
So why do we do it? Is it as simple and stupid a reason as tradition? Understand, I’m not against it. I went to see Santa every year until I broke the spell and figured it out. I’m no worse for the wear. But for a kid like mine, who can be uncomfortable with human contact from people he knows, why do we bother with trying to set him on the lap of a stranger in a weird, smelly costume in hopes of a lovely photo? Is it about creating a great childhood memory for him, or, at this point, is it about us?
I think I know the answer. About three weeks ago, we noticed that two of Alex’s front teeth were loose. He was very secretive about the whole thing, not understanding what was going on, or wanting to draw attention to himself. But we began laying the foundation for a tooth extraction. Telling him how important it was that he wiggle the teeth and how, when he finally pulled them, the tooth fairy would visit him and leave a reward under his pillow in exchange for the calcium (or whatever it is that she’s supposed to get from collecting teeth).
He did what he usually does when he knows he must endure some fancy of ours that he doesn’t share. He nodded, smiled and tried to change the subject. Eventually, his mother managed to liberate one of the teeth from its moorings one evening. Alex was initially freaked out by the empty space and the blood, but we had him press a paper towel full of ice into the new vacancy, and all soon returned to normal. He even got a new partitioned plastic, paint-by-numbers-type of thing in trade for the extracted lower incisor. But he still had another dangerously loose tooth, right next to the empty space. And he wouldn’t let us come near this one, despite how kind the tooth fairy had been.
Fast-forward a week or so. I was in the home office this afternoon working on something when I heard Liz shouting from the living room. I ran in to find Alex grinning and running away from her as she tried to get a good look at the inside of his mouth. “His other tooth’s gone,” she said. “Alex, where is your tooth? (To me) What if he swallowed it?”
I looked at her, then him, and said, “Well, I guess he’ll poop it out in a few days.” Then I grabbed him and calmed him down. I applied deep pressure to his upper arms, waited for eye contact and asked him, “Alex, did you pull your tooth?” He said. “Yes.” I said, “Where did you put it?” He said, “In the couch.”
This is not a strange occurrence. We find all kinds of things in there: cars, army men, food, diapers, crayons, soiled underwear … if there’s a reason to hide it, it’s probably been concealed in my couch cushions. This particular night, Alex had eaten dinner picnic style, on a blanket in the living room floor. So if the tooth came out while he was dining, it would be a logical move to shove it under a cushion for safe-keeping.
Only we didn’t find it. We looked all over the place. I pulled all the cushions. I flipped the couch onto its back and looked underneath it. I lifted up all the cushions attached to the back and checked under them. The tooth was nowhere to be found. And I don’t think it was because we didn’t look hard enough, or in the right places. I think it was because he didn’t just tuck it away. He hid it. He didn’t want us to find it. Why?
The idea of a stranger coming into your house to take a recently shed part of your body in exchange for some trinket is pretty creepy, when you really take the time to think about it. And that’s what we told him would happen when he lost teeth. I already know the kid is analytical. Why lay that kind of a story on him in the first place? If he’s as smart as I think he is (smarter than me, when I was his age) he flushed that tooth like a baggie of heroin and pretended that it never existed.
Must be why he’s sleeping soundly, and I’m up typing a stupid blog post about mythological home intruders.
I was very interested to read this perspective because one, I’d just tried to be funny about the tooth fairy, and two, I have a child on the Autism Spectrum too. In her case, it is very important to her to have these imaginary and traditional ideas. In my case, I think it’s important to me to let my children (autistic and otherwise) invest in a world of make believe when most things surrounding their lives are pushing them towards cynicism and disbelief. Not every child wants or needs that: perhaps it’s a need in the parent? I’ll hold my hand up to that one. Thank you for a thought-provoking post.
Thanks for the comment, and that’s an interesting note on your daughter’s take on make-believe. Alex has always just seemed to struggle with abstract concepts. They make him uncomfortable. I agree, it’s critical to give kids every opportunity that we can to just be kids, and we try to do that. We encourage make-believe and role-playing at our house, especially with Alex, as he needs that type of “practice” to help him imagine what it’s like to be other people and, thus, empathize with others. And I’ll definitely cop to putting my own needs and ideas on both my kids from time to time. I think every parent struggles with that. Takes a good strong partner to keep that behavior in check. Thanks for reading.
I totally agree. I have never taken my boys to see the Easter Bunny. That sucker freaks me out. So maybe it’s not so much that I don’t want them to see him as it is that I personally don’t want to see him. As far as Santa – I took Cole to see him the first and second years, but really it was truly more for me than him. Cass got to see him at school, but we didn’t go stand in line at the mall. Mostly because I’m becoming a germaphobe. Children are dirty little people.