The Ethics of the Tooth Fairy

What you’re about to read happened a while back, but I didn’t have the mental energy necessary to post on it, so it’s just sort of sat in the back of my mind. Writer’s block sort of sucks that way. But, I know that the best way to beat the block is to keep writing, so I’m going to just pound out this story and take heart in just getting something down.

Ella lost her first tooth about two weeks ago. We were at home on a Sunday afternoon, just after the Falcons had blown their opening game, and Ella was wiggling the loose tooth like normal. In fact, I think my daughter had wiggled that tooth almost every waking second of her life since she’d discovered it was slightly moveable. I stood up and left the room to go check on my fantasy football team (Grayson Muses) and heard my wife scream.

Suddenly, there was Ella, holding the tooth out in her hand.

“Look, daddy!” she said. “I lost my tooth!”

Buddy, she didn’t just lose it – it came out at the root like a diseased oak tree in shallow soil during a tornado. The sight of her holding a piece of her own skull made me slightly nauseous; not only was the tooth itself disturbing, but the implications of that tooth really put me ill. It meant my daughter was growing up, that her body was maturing, that soon enough my tiny princess would have the budding of an “adult” tooth in her head. I wasn’t ready for my daughter to have “adult” anything.

But she was ecstatic.

"The Tooth Hurts" indeed...that's why we just lie about the Tooth Fairy.

“This means the Tooth Fairy will come tonight!” she exclaimed as she ran out of my room. “I hope he comes! He’s funny!”

Ella thinks the Tooth Fairy is a he, and is funny, because she saw that awful movie starring Dwayne Johnson. She sincerely believes that The Rock is the the real Tooth Fairy.


Now, on the surface none of this seems like a big deal. We are visited by Santa Claus. He likes to leave our children bags of toys on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t remember if the Easter Bunny visits, or if we just give the kids Easter baskets with candy and little nick-knacks, but either way, it’s not like we’re against a little harmless childhood fun.

However, both Santa and the Easter Rabbit visit the main room of a house. They don’t sneak into the bedroom of the home’s inhabitants and leave things beneath their pillows while they sleep. Nor are they portrayed by movie stars who stand over six-feet tall and have chiseled features. In fact, Santa and the Rabbit are borderline cartoonish, even when seen in the “real” world. All of this makes their antics seem charming and fun.

But the Tooth Fairy is a creeper in tights who sneaks into the rooms of unsuspecting children. I imagine him getting nailed one day on To Catch a Mythological Predator.

Regardless, we were stuck. That blasted movie and one of Ella’s friends had already established that the Tooth Fairy visits kids who lose their teeth , so Rachel and I decided to play along. (Side Note: it sucks when your kid isn’t on the front end of the growth/development curve; you kind of get pulled into what everyone else is doing.)

The first problem we ran into: neither of us had any cash. At least, not bills. I had four quarters, and Ella, God love her, doesn’t know enough about money yet to not get excited when she gets four quarters instead of a five-spot. In her mind, four coins beats a single piece of paper any day; that’s good, because the way our economy is going, it’s not like a dollar will be worth the paper it’s printed on within a year.

The second problem was what to put the quarters in. I was all for just tossing them underneath Ella’s pillow and calling it a night.

“But what if she accidentally knocks one of the quarters off the bed?” Rachel asked. “What then?”

“Then she crawls under the bed and gets it,” I replied.

That did not satisfy my wife. We elected to put the money in an envelope instead.

“Write her name on it,” Rachel said.

I rolled my eyes. “Seriously?”

“Yes,” she said. “But try to disguise your handwriting.”

I wrote Ella’s name on the note in a weird print. Rachel frowned.

“That looks too much like your normal handwriting,” she said, shaking her head.

“Get over it,” I said. “We’re talking about a kid who can’t determine the difference between a fresh Cheerio and one that’s been on the floor for five days. I doubt she’ll pick up on the subtleties of handwriting analysis.”

Now came the biggest problem of all: who would deposit the envelope and make the switch?

“You do it,” Rachel said.

“Why me?”


Wife-logic. It’s tough to beat sometimes.

I snuck into Ella’s room, the envelope carefully folded so as to keep the quarters from jingling, and all I ccould think about was: she’s going to wake up and bust me.

Fortunately, she didn’t wake up. At least, not at first. And in a sane world, that would have been enough time to do the deed. But we’re insane at my house. When I slipped my hand beneath Ella’s pillow to feel for the little plastic tooth case that held her tooth, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

It wasn’t there.

My first thoughts in that moment are not printable.

I dropped to the floor and looked to see if it had fallen between the mattress and the headboard, or possibly all the way to the floor. No dice. Ella stirred and rolled over, and I shot out of her room like a bullet.

Rachel looked up when I came through the bedroom door. “How’d it go?”

“I couldn’t find the tooth.”

“What?” she asked, suddenly pale. “What do you mean?”

“I mean I can’t find the tooth. It’s not under her pillow and it’s not on the floor. I guess it’s somewhere in her bed.”

Rachel shook her head. “It’s under her other pillow.”

Writing this now, I can see how Rachel’s logic was solid: better to put the tooth under the pillow Ella doesn’t sleep on so as to make the money/tooth exchange that much easier. Seems reasonable.

But standing there that night, it seemed less than ideal.

“You did what?”

“I put it under the other pillow. You know, so she wouldn’t knock if off the bed, and you would have an easier time switching things out.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”


“Because! She sleeps on the half of the bed nearest the door, and I’ll have to reach all the way across her to look for that stupid tooth.”

“So?” Rachel said.

At this point, I was not thinking clearly. In fact, I felt horrible for even trying to pull the whole Tooth Fairy thing off, because I knew that if I went back into Ella’s room, she was going to wake up and I was going to be caught red-handed.

“So, I don’t want to have lie to my kid when I accidentally wake her up.”

“We do Santa Claus,” Rachel pointed out.

“But this is different!”

“Get your butt back in her room and get that tooth,” my wife growled.

I obeyed.

Of course, when I went in Ella’s room the second time, Ella had sprawled all over the bed, and I felt like Tom Cruise in that Mission:Impossible scene where he’s dangling above the floor and can’t even let a drop of sweat fall to the ground or else the world will explode. I fumbled around looking for that tooth. Still couldn’t find it.

“Oh,” Rachel said when I explained the failed second attempt. “I put it inside the pillow, between the pillow and the pillow case.”

I wanted to bite my tongue in half. Instead, I turned around and went back in. Third time’s the charm.

I no sooner walked in the door and put my hand into the pillow than Ella woke up, her big blue eyes staring at me.

“What are you doing, daddy?”

And there it was: the scenario I’d been dreading. Caught. Nailed. Busted. What to do?

As a youth minister, and really just as a Christian in general, I’ve spent a lot of my life telling others to live transparently – that is, to be as authentic as possible. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. It’s an absolute must if you’re going to follow and be like Jesus. And yet, here I was, staring at the face of my child, so innocent, so sweet, and my first instinct was to lie. Twelve years of preaching the need to be honest and real, and when the rubber met the road in my own house, I did exactly what I tell others not to do.

“Uh, I’m checking to see if the Tooth Fairy has visited you yet.”

Ella watched me reach my hand into her pillow case and produce the little plastic tooth box. She smiled.

“There’s my tooth!”

“Yep, so that means the Tooth Fairy hasn’t come.”

Ella laid her head down on her pillow. “Think he’ll come by the morning?”

“Oh sure,” I said, cupping the tooth in my right hand and the envelope with the money in the left. I pretended to adjust her pillow, and as I did, I slipped the envelope beneath the other pillow. “You just need to lay really, really still and go to sleep.”

“Why do I need to lay still?” she asked.

“Well, if you’re moving around, the Tooth Fairy might think you’re awake, and he’ll skip you. But if you’re laying real still, he’ll know you’re asleep and he’ll leave you your money.”

Ella nodded, then nodded off. I backed out of her room, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t immediately pop up once I was gone, reach over and check to see if the tooth was still there. I walked back into the bedroom and held the tooth up for Rachel to see.

“Good job, daddy,” she said.

“Ella woke up while I was in there.”

Rachel’s face went white. I told her what I’d done.

“I’m going to Hell, aren’t I?” I asked.

She comforted me and told me that everything would be fine, that Ella would wake up in the morning and discover her money, and most likely never remember that I’d even been in the room.

Sure enough, we were awakened around 6:15 the next morning. Ella stood there with a big, toothless grin on her face.

“The Tooth Fairy came!” she scream-whispered. “And he left me money!”

Rachel and I woke up smiled at her, then at each other. All was right with the world.

Until Ella came home from school.

“Daddy, can I ask you something?” she said, looking at me funny.

“Sure, Ella. What’s up?”

“When you were in my room last night, were you putting money under my pillow?”

Holy. Crap.

“Uh, no. I told…I was just checking to see if the Tooth Fairy had visited.”


“Why do you ask?”

She made a little face. “Well, the envelope with the money looked like it had your writing on it, so I just wondered if the Tooth Fairy was real.”

My daughter makes Sherlock Holmes look like a coke-addled dimwit.

She dropped the topic, though, and we’ve not said anything else about the Tooth Fairy. I imagine we’ll repeat the episode when the next tooth falls out, but if sometime between now and then Ella announces that she doesn’t really believe in the Tooth Fairy, I won’t be crying at the loss of a childhood tradition.

I’ll be rejoicing that I don’t have to live a lie anymore.