Thursday, March 18, 2010

"T" is for Toothfairy

On the top shelf of the dish cupboard in my kitchen is where I keep the crystal champagne flutes that my parents gave us for our wedding toast. There is also a crystal replica of the university that my husband used to work at in Osaka. Next to it there's a beautiful Japanese tea set given to my husband by his best friend from his home town. Another beautiful tea set (this one painted pottery) given to me by my mother. The rest of the top shelf is crowded with wine glasses, beer mugs, anything breakable and valuable--and a lot of stray baby teeth. There are a lot of tiny, pearl white teeth--front teeth, bottom teeth, molars--all of them are baby teeth. My children's teeth specifically.

They are on the top shelf of the dish cupboard because neither one of my children has ever shown any interest in finding out what I keep up there. When I get up there to dust, I always experience a little recoil of shock. It's like an episode of Fox's T.V. show, "Bones." The white glint of the teeth always catches my eye first. Then I remember, our family believes in the Tooth fairy, and I go about my dusting or wine goblet fetching or whatever my reason for getting up there was.

The teeth are not supposed to technically be in our house anymore. They are supposed to be at the Tooth fairy's place. They were wriggled, pulled and coaxed from my children's mouths (by my children themselves) to be carefully positioned under their pillows for collection. These baby teeth are offered hopefully at dusk in trade for a shinning 100 yen coin in the morning. Each of my daughters has a special "Tooth Fairy Pillow", with a little pocket sewn on it to hold the lost tooth and the shinny 100 yen coin the good fairy will leave when she flutters in and discovers the tooth--her treasure.

I grew up in America where children believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. When my family moved from Illinois to California when I was in the second grade the most traumatic part of the move for me was that I lost a baby tooth just after we arrived at our new home in California. Only one thought dominated my mind, "WHAT IF THE TOOTH FAIRY DIDN'T REALIZE I HAD MOVED? WHAT IF SHE HAD NO IDEA WHERE ME AND MY LOST, READY TO BE CONVERTED TO COIN, BABY TOOTH WAS?"

I drew huge maps and signs and forced my father to climb up a ladder and tape them to our roof.

I have no idea when my belief in the tooth fairy ended. Did I loose all my baby teeth and get too busy perfecting teenage angst to even ponder the true fate of all those baby whites? Did someone pull me aside and tell me, "hey, it's your folks that are slipping you the quarters at night. There ain't no little winged tooth fairy." If it was the later, even though I have no memory of it, I am sure it was my older brother. I do remember him destroying the myth of the Easter Bunny for me and even more traumatic--his slaying of Santa.

I have to confess though, that not remembering when my faith was broken I also don't recall how it was instilled in me in the first place. And really, what a story to swallow: a little magical winged creature flying into my bedroom, after I was asleep, and taking my baby teeth from under my pillow. Granted, I was only five or so when they started talking about the Tooth fairy. At five-years-of age I also believed my brother when he told me that keeping a suitcase full of rotting food under my bed would keep the Bogey man away. I also recall believing that if I just got up enough speed running, I would be able to fly. I was positive that I could do it. Which is why I believed my brother when he told me that jumping off the jungle gym would also get me airborne. The blue paint from the bottom bar of the jungle gym was still on my front tooth when the Tooth fairy came to take it. I remember because I was worried that it would lessen the value of the tooth and she might "mark it down."

Because the Tooth Fairy can do that you know. Mark 'em down. Especially if they have cavities. Those baby teeth fetch only half of what cavity free baby teeth go for.

Which is probably why I decided to tell my kids about the Tooth Fairy. Even though here in Japan she is not a custom. I've been told that the Japanese throw their children's baby teeth away. Lower baby teeth get thrown up on the roof of the house (or up high) and upper baby teeth get thrown down under the house (or off a balcony or from an upper story window). Yet the Japanese keep their baby's umbilical stumps in a special ceremonial little box for life--something that Americans throw out. What the heck. My kids are doubles after all--both American and Japanese. They get the Japanese Kappa and the American Bogey Man. The Oga Peninsula's Namahage with the American Headless Horseman. And of course the Tooth Fairy.

I think it was when I was having trouble getting my eldest to brush her teeth that I remembered the Tooth Fairy. You have to brush regularly to keep the teeth sparkling white for the Tooth Fairy!

However, believing in the Tooth Fairy and being the Tooth fairy are two completely different things. Believing in the Tooth fairy lessens the pain and fear of losing something that you've grown quite used to--your teeth. Being the tooth fairy means having to stay awake until your child is deep, deep asleep so you can wrest the little Tooth fairy pillow from underneath their slumbering little head and fish out the lost baby tooth and replace it with a shiny 100 yen coin.

I have been known to blame the Tooth fairy's failure to retrieve a baby tooth on the forever-coming-home-late Daddy.

Should one of my daughters wail, bright and early in the morning, "MOMMY! My tooth is still under my pillow!" I reply sleepily, "Oh honey. I'm sorry. Daddy came home so late last night that I believe he scared the Tooth Fairy away. She doesn't like anyone to see her you know."

The tooth fairy is also sensitive to weather conditions, undue noise from the T.V. (should Daddy stay up too late watching it) and she loathes being exposed to germs so stays away if anyone is contagious. Especially Mommy.

For the most part though, I keep some shiny coins on hand whenever I see a tooth starting to go wiggly and I get the job done. Part way. I take the baby teeth from under their pillows. I leave the shiny 100 yen under their pillows. Then I go downstairs, climb up on a chair and stow the baby teeth up on the top shelf of the cupboard.

I don't know what my own mother did with my baby teeth. Did she keep them? Has she got them stored somewhere? I doubt it. She did everything but gut my childhood bedroom when I left for college. My Mom isn't big on keepsakes. Which may explain why I am. Why I hoard Reno and Saki's baby teeth up on the top shelf of my dish cupboard.

I have no idea what I am going to do with two full sets of baby teeth someday. No one wants jewelry made from teeth--aside from serial killers. No one really wants a small bottle filled with their baby teeth. But throw them away? Toss them out? I can't bring myself to throw them up or down, much less out.

It wasn't hard to throw out Reno's tonsils, which she had removed when she was seven years old. The hospital gave those to us. They were floating around inside a clear glass jar. We kept them for about a week and then Reno and I agreed together to throw them out. I think I put them out with the regular burnable garbage. The baby teeth are different somehow though. I remember their little pink toothless gums as babies and how they cried and fussed when their first teeth came in. I remember the joy and relief of seeing a white tooth finally push through the gums. I remember watching them learn how to bite and chew with these amazing new things called "teeth".

How can I simply throw them out? They are what their childhood smiles were made of.

I suspect that it will be one of many weird and bizarre discoveries my children will make about me in the future after I have passed away. They'll be sorting through my belongings, deciding what to keep and what to throw. They will get up on a chair, and reaching up onto that top shelf in the cupboard they'll find them--their baby teeth. They are all mixed up, so they won't really know which are Saki's and which are Reno's, but they'll find them all up there.

"She kept our baby teeth."

I wonder, will they?