There are a few cardinal rules in parenting that you won’t find in any book. That’s because they are so obvious that to say them out loud would be an affront to the entire parenting community, a blow to our ego and offense to our intelligence.
So, I broke one of them the other day. It goes like this: When your child puts his tooth/teeth under his pillow, exchange it for money when he falls asleep. Except I accidentally fell asleep not too long after he did. And woke up to the sound of his heart breaking at 6am. If you ever wondered what that sounds like, it sounds like this:
“The tooth fairy didn’t COME! SHE DIDN’T COME!!!! How awful. How rude. HOW ABSURD. I HATE THE TOOTH FAIRY. I HATE HER. I want to PUT FIRE ON HER AND THROW HER AWAY. (Please don’t report him to some agency. Or me.) She doesn’t even care about me. Forget it. I’m not gonna give any teeth to her anymore. She’s the S word and the B word and SHE’S NOT EVEN REEAAL!!!!!”
Just to clarify, he thinks the S word = stupid and the B word = bad. Which, I guess with that kind of vitriol, is just as bad as the grown-up S word and B word. So as you can probably guess, no amount of guilt-ridden solace could comfort him. I seriously considered for a brief moment exposing the entire lie, but, admittedly, did not want his anger turned on me like some ravenous mountain cat. So instead, I pulled out a positive parenting trick: don’t rush to solve the problem, but rather empathize. And empathize I did, using a lot of reflective phrases such as “I see”, “you sound upset”, and “That must have been disappointing” to allow him to release his emotions and sort through his feelings to the point of calm.
It totally worked. I don’t remember how it ended, but it was probably with us laughing at the mental image of the tooth fairy in a garbage can. The great thing about kids is this: that they are so forgiving, and that in the end, all they really want is some money.
So the next night, armed with a few crisp dollars, I redeemed myself. The logistics of him having tossed his teeth somewhere else is beside the point. All that mattered in the morning is that my five-year-old found cold hard cash peeking out from under his pillow, no one got set on fire and disposed of, and all was right with the world again.