Goodbye, Tooth Fairy: The Bittersweet Joy of Watching Children Grow

December 4, 2014 by V.R.M. - No Comments

J’s artist rendering of how she lost her tooth at school.

Last week, J came home with a tooth she lost at school. “This time I was ready,” she said, pulling out a little plastic box with a miniature cartoon tooth on it. Inside was her prize – a little white stone, still bloody. “That’s disgusting!” exclaimed her sister and my husband in chorus, but I held the little box close. “There is nothing disgusting about this,” I defended adoringly. As J mused about whether she should ask the tooth fairy for something more useful than the usual $1, she and her sister argued about whether the tooth fairy was real and whether asking for a specific reward was greedy. I am not sure what came of the discussion, but that night, J forgot to put the tooth out for the fairy, and the next night she forgot again, and after that, she forgot about the tooth altogether.
This omission would have never happened a year or two ago, when every tooth loss was celebrated at our house, taking center stage (and resulting in my developing ninja-like skills to complete the cash-for-tooth exchange in the dark room of two light sleepers).
I looked at the little white box the other day and thought, this is how childhood is left behind: slowly, heartbreakingly, one small change at a time.
Lately, I’ve become keenly aware that my girls are growing up, and that today’s visit by the tooth fairy or letter to Santa may be the last one. The signs are everywhere: while shopping for pajamas to give the girls for Christmas, I noticed most of the brands I have bought in the past are only made to size 8-10. Shoes, coats, dresses – my daughters are quickly aging out of little girl clothes, leaving me to find new places to clothe their rapidly growing bodies. The books that held their attention for nearly two years are suddenly “too easy.” V has gone from loving the time I spent reading to her every night to asking if she can read to me. At nine, she is reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to me, and her reading is confident and full of expression. We can now talk about subtleties in literature and life, and it is magical. The relationship she already has with literature will serve her well and it is yet one more mark of her independence and the road into her own life, internal and otherwise.
All of these changes are wonderful – my girls are growing and becoming more competent women each day. They handle homework like pros, manage their friendships well, and play sports with commitment and team spirit. Yet all of these wonderful changes mean I feel their childhood becoming shorter and shorter, and this is approaching end is bittersweet. I love the people they are becoming, but some days I wish I could slow time down. There are days when I wonder how much longer they will let me give them massages at bedtime, or ask me to sing them bedtime songs. When I am annoyed by one more request to “LOOK, MOM!” I remind myself that it may not be too much longer before they don’t call me, or prefer that I don’t look at all. I feel the changes coming; they are no longer “one day.”
Parenthood is such a contradiction, isn’t it? On one hand, we are doing all we can to raise our children as independent, competent and healthy people. On the other, we mourn their growing independence and fear the day they will inevitably leave to make their own way in the world. And at the same time, we hope they do go, going proudly and far. We love them with needy, visceral and desperate love, no matter how rational we are.
Yesterday, V and I spent some time decorating the Christmas tree; J opted out because she wanted to work on the comics she likes to create. As we unpacked and hung ornaments, V and I laughed about the various pieces she and her sister have made over the last six years. “I can’t believe I couldn’t even write my name, Mom!” she said when we held up an ornament upon which she had written her name in crooked, unsure letters. “And now you can write science reports!” I added, proudly.
It was then I realized that my daughters and I have been changing since the moment they came to be, and that this change is indeed inevitable. Neither they nor I are the same person we were a decade ago. There have been good days and bad days, and there have been great and challenging aspects to each year they we lived. Leaving their childhood behind is no different from me leaving my thirties behind – it is just a moment in a journey that is unpredictable, magical and ever-changing. There is no sadness in the outgrowing clothes, the exit of the tooth fairy and the new chosen books, because as they leave, they make room for new adventures and dreams.
I still have the tooth box, secretly hoping that she will ask me for it, but she probably won’t. It’s tucked away in a drawer along with a motley collection of physical reminders of fleeting moments in this lucky parent’s life.