Breaking news. This is not a catastrophic world event, but it might as well be in my household. The Chatterbox has lost her first tooth tonight. This milestone in a child’s life had been building for about a week, with my five-year-old paranoid that she would swallow it while I was washing her hair in the bath. I tried my best to reassure her that swallowing it was very unlikely, but I felt like a liar because I’d read on the internet that this is apparently quite common. It presented me with one of those parental dilemmas that only get harder with age: when should you lie and when would it be kinder to tell the truth?
My brother’s tactic is to be brutally honest so, rather predictably, he had already scared the Chatterbox half to death with tales of swallowing his own teeth. I’m not even sure he actually remembers this, but he claims he does. Today, in the bath, I asked the Chatterbox to wiggle her tooth again, and I could tell it was hanging by the proverbial thread. I then took the decision to just take it out myself and it was surprisingly easy. That’s not to say my child was brave – the screams could probably be heard by our neighbors.
My initial reaction was one of surprise – I couldn’t believe how small it was. The second surprise is how hard it is to photograph a tooth. I tried several times, but it just looked like a tiny white blur against a myriad of different backgrounds. I finally settled on giving it some perspective against our Christmas tablecloth. I think it came out rather well.
Some facts you can sink your teeth into
Like any good hypochondriac , I immediately starting searching the internet for information about the average age for losing your teeth and where the tradition of the tooth fairy comes from. I guess you can reliably predict that a child will lose their first baby tooth between the ages of 5 to 7. Babies get 20 teeth in total and they will lose every single one; this is something I didn’t know, since I assumed the molars stayed (they don’t). I’ve also read that the first teeth to come in at about 8 to 12 months (usually the two bottom central incisors) are also the ones that tend to come out first. The Chatterbox’s tooth was one of these.
Tales about the tooth fairy are harder to pin down and there are many cultural variations, although I’m hardly an expert, and all of this was found on the internet – so, you know, it can be as reliable as bus timetables after midnight. In Mexico and Spain, it’s not a fairy which collects the teeth but a mouse called Ratoncito Perez. In Japan and Korea, they apparently throw the bottom teeth onto the roof of the house and the upper teeth underneath the home. In Vietnam, upper and lower teeth get thrown over the house. These traditions are derived from superstitions about growing healthy roots. In England there was a tradition of burning teeth, perhaps to ward off evil. If you burn your tooth, it’s impossible for a witch to get hold of it. Those Middle Ages – from which the tooth fairy might have her origins – were not great times for children, it would seem.
Visa conducts survey about tooth fairy
But perhaps the biggest surprise is that only a few months ago, Visa – yes, that would be the credit card company – conducted a survey about how much money the average American leaves for their children after they’ve lost a tooth. Just over 1000 American adults were surveyed and the average comes out at $2.60 per tooth, down from $3 last year. I guess the recession has even hit the tooth fairy. There are some regional variations, with people on the East Coast ‘marking the biggest decrease in per-tooth payouts’.
I’m still trying to understand why Visa would conduct this survey in the first place, but the creditor has very conveniently written a press release about when parents should have the ‘money conversation’ with their children – and this is apparently it. I’ve decided not to have the money conversation just yet. I’d prefer my child to believe in the tooth fairy for as long as possible. Some of the mystique disappears when you start talking about money and bank accounts.
PS I’m leaving $5, mostly at the urging of my mother. I think this is far too much but inflation is crazy these days. I fear the Raging Bull, my second child, might eventually get less when my spendthrift tendencies kick in.