Not squashing a child’s creativity is a basic challenge in parenting. It seems easy to guide a small child, but the task becomes more challening as a child grows older. At seven years old, my son was showing more than his usual enthusiasm at losing a tooth. In addition to tugging at the tooth until it loosened, he asked me if I thought that the Tooth Fairy might increase her normal gift of a silver dollar because he was getting older. In fact, he envisioned the possibility of more money or even some Yu-gi-oh trading cards, a serious subject of conversation with his friends at school and a sure item for connection with the guys at hockey.
In spite of Anthony’s earnest wishes, the Tooth Fairy remained steadfast, and her mysterious visit to retrieve his tooth earned him the same silver dollar it had earned in the past. Though he appeared appreciative, the next evening, after our other children had gone to bed, Anthony came into the living room and asked to speak with me for a few moments: “Dad, I wanted to run something by you: I was thinking about writing a letter to the Tooth Fairy.” Continuing to spell out his calculated plan, he explained, “I thought that I’d thank her for her visit but I’d leave the silver dollar under the pillow with a note, saying that she could leave $1,000,000 and not have to come back ever again, so she could have more time to visit other kids. Another possibility is that she could leave 5,000 valuable Yu-gi-oh cards, or $500,000 and 2,500 cards. What do you think?”
At first astonished by his proposition, I felt at the same time disturbed by his expectations, albeit bewilded by his strategizing and ingenuity: As I tried to collect myself from this curve ball, I first replied, “It sounds like you think your teeth are pretty valuable,” and went on to say that it sounded “like you’re not satisfied and are asking for a lot,” suggesting that we think more about this, so as not to appear ungrateful.
While I thought that my firm yet gentle nudge would be sufficient and he’d let the idea pass and get off to bed, he responded, “Well, did you ever even ask her for something when you were a little boy? Have you ever talked with her about other choices?” Now more surprised by his perseverance, I repeated my suggestion, anticipating that this would end of the conversation.
As the one who turns in last every night, and thus the Tooth Fairy’s envoy, I thought to check to reassure myself that my counsel had beene effextive. So I looked under Anthony’s pillow before turning out the lights. Shocked and rather saddened, I found beside the new silver dollar coin left the night before, a letter from Anthony:
To the Tooth Fairy:
Because you’re very busy I wanted to ask to trade your silver dollar for one last trip to my house. This way we’ll both be happy and you’ll have more time to see other kids. Please select one for my silver dollar and your last trip here for me ¾
1. Give me a $1,000,000 check.
2. Give me 5000 valuable Yu-gi-oh cards
3. Give me a $500,000 check and 2500 Yu-gi-oh cards.
Thank you for reading. I know you are busy.
P.S. I’m sorry for this late notice.
I simply replaced the letter with his original tooth and went to bed.
After some more thought, the next day, I realized that Anthony was exploring his limits and, in fact, had used ingenuity which shouldn’t be squashed. He simply said, “I took my chances and lost.” Hoever, not quite comfotable with the outcome, I thought to write the following letter on behalf of the infamous caretaker of teeth and left it under his pillow:
I never bring BIG MONEY when I come when you or others lose teeth ¾ just a token or two of JOY. The kind of money that you want, you can only earn correctly by using your very special mind, heart, and soul, and you will in due time. Let me know if you want me to visit when you lose teeth again. You are a special boy. I know that you will understand how to use your gifts and find JOY.
The next morning, Anthony was amazed by the letter. He said that he understood what she was saying, and he “really like[d] that she signed it, ‘Your Angel.’” This made him feel connected to her and reassured him that he still had this special friend who cared about him.
Sometimes we feel a need to protect our sense of Truth, Goodness, and Love; however, when feeling indignation because someone else does not think like us, we may be called to an even deeper level of experiencing righteousness.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of True Coming of Age: A Dynamic Process That Leads to Emotional Stability, Spiritual Growth, and Meaningful Relationships. For more information please visit www.dr.chirban.com and www.sexualproblems.com.