The Tooth Fairy exited our home before she even made it out the gate, but there are lots of parents still thinking about how to handle her potential visits.
To share the truth or to share the myth: that is the question.
While Santa Claus gets all the attention this time of year, however, my thoughts are presently focused on another mythical character present in the lives of our children: the Tooth Fairy. After all, kids don’t stop losing teeth just because there are stockings hanging over the fireplace!
So, what’s a Catholic family to do with the Tooth Fairy?
As I child, I had a hard time losing teeth. Most of my baby chompers had to be extracted by the local dentist, and the teeth that replaced them ended up as crooked as a politician.
It was out of sympathy, then, that I believe my parents allowed the Tooth Fairy into our home.
Each time I lost a tooth, I excitedly slipped it under my pillow, and laid down to sleep filled with anticipation about what I would find when I woke up. And each time I woke up, I was happy to find a beautiful (and what I believed to be quite rare) silver dollar waiting for me.
My parents, obviously recognizing the value and rarity of the silver dollar, had me keep it in the family safe, as a collector’s item of course.
It was only after I had lost about six teeth that I finally decided the time had come to pull all the silver dollars out of the safe so I could gaze upon my beautiful collection in all its glory.
That’s when the whole thing fell apart.
Upon asking for all six silver dollars, my dreams were shattered as my parents gently informed me there was actually only one silver dollar in the family safe — the one silver dollar that had been repeatedly placed under my pillow each time a new tooth was lost … and thus, the Tooth Fairy myth (and my childhood innocence, for that matter) was abruptly crushed.
For my children, despite my plan to allow them to enjoy the Tooth Fairy as long as possible, things didn’t make it even that far.
Our 5-year-old came home from Kindergarten one afternoon with a wiggly tooth he’d been working on for weeks, and excitedly declared, “My friend at school got $20 from the Tooth Fairy!”
I reacted to this ridiculous amount of money without thinking and suddenly it was too late: “The Tooth Fairy isn’t real!” I howled.
The shock of the $20 handout was just too much for me to process, and my brain decided on its own to put an end to things right then and there.
While the Tooth Fairy may have exited our home before she even made it out the gate, there are lots of Catholic parents who are still left thinking about how to handle her potential visits.
It’s interesting to note that while most cultures have some tradition associated with the loss of baby teeth (everything from burying them, to throwing them on the roof, to swallowing them whole), the Tooth Fairy appears to be a modern American invention. Her first documented appearance seems to have come in a short children’s play by Esther Watkins Arnold in 1927.
Less than 100 years later, we find that the Tooth Fairy has a 97 percent approval rating (based on research done by Rosemary Wells at Northwestern University Dental School), and researchers at Visa recently found that the Tooth Fairy is now leaving an average of $3.70 per tooth around American homes.
As Catholics, we can take or leave the Tooth Fairy. As with Santa, there isn’t any official Church guidance on endorsing popular childhood myths or kicking them to the curb.
But also as Catholics, wouldn’t it be fun to upgrade the traditional and secular Tooth Fairy with a bit of a Catholic spin?
St. Apollonia may be the perfect fit.
Apollonia was a virgin and martyr who suffered persecution in Alexandria during a 3rd-century uprising against Christians. She’s the patron saint of dentists, dental pain, and losing teeth, thanks to enduring torture that included the violent removal and shattering of all her teeth.
If that isn’t a good Catholic replacement for the Tooth Fairy, I don’t know what is.
Mix in a prayer before bed asking for St. Apollonia’s intercession for the child with the lost tooth, a little Catholic gift under their pillow instead of cash, and you are well on your way to keeping the fun, keeping the faith, and keeping your kids interested in all the Communion of Saints has to offer … even when it comes to losing teeth.
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