What my son has learnt about the Tooth Fairy
As usual, he spent most of the conversation putting younger son in his place by showing off his superior knowledge of the Tooth Fairy. And that was what interested me, because it was the first time I’d heard him stating anything as fact, rather than asking (possibly completely misguided) questions. Because he’s so bright, strange ideas notwithstanding, and because no one’s been carefully telling him the “right” answers, it’s a fascinating case study in belief and superstition.
None of this is anything to do with me – I’ve very carefully avoided getting involved in conversations on this topic, tending to bounce his statements back at him and ask what he thinks. And some of his ideas may be expressed with an arrogant misplaced confidence that only ever comes from talking to someone he knows won’t be able to contradict him. But it’s interesting to hear how he thinks. So here it is:
No one’s ever seen the Tooth Fairy – I had to put this first, because it puts everything else into an entirely new light. He’s certain that no one’s ever seen her, but that doesn’t stop him from believing all sorts of other things that people have told him, based on – what, exactly? When I gently nudged him to think about this, he just fell back on the fact that lots of people believe it, so it must be true.
There’s only one Tooth Fairy – He’s absolutely adamant about this. I don’t think it can matter either way, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have any reason for believing it, but believe it he does. It would be much easier to reconcile the many problems posed by a Tooth Fairy if there were lots of them, but he’s drawn to this idea of there only being one.
The Tooth Fairy can’t come if you’re awake – Not won’t, very definitely can’t. They’re indistinguishable for practical purposes, but he prefers to define the Tooth Fairy in such a way as to constrain her by nature, rather than by her own choice. His preference – because he has no objective basis for distinguishing between these ideas – is for a benevolent Fairy who can’t do everything, rather than an omnipotent trickster who hides.
If you hide your tooth, you get a letter – This is interesting, because I’m pretty sure it’s the result of badly garbled schoolyard chat. Someone told him something which he interpreted as saying this, but I think the original story was probably that a tooth was lost, possibly swallowed by mistake, so a letter was left in its place and therefore replied to – it’s only polite, after all. But this probable misunderstanding got internalised as confirmed fact.
The Tooth Fairy is basically normal – Following on from this talk of letters, he wrote the Tooth Fairy a letter tonight. Judging by its contents, he either doesn’t believe in or can’t imagine a Tooth Fairy that isn’t basically a small person. He wants to know what she’s like, but the questions are all around mundane ideas like what colour her hair is.
The Tooth Fairy’s like Santa – This is where he got uncertain of his ground, and started speculating instead of pontificating. Despite the obvious parallels between the two concepts, and despite his willingness to state the most outrageous claims as if they were fact, he hesitated over making the connection. Whether that’s because it threatened his beliefs or just because he realised the limits of his knowledge, I have no idea.
I don’t say this to make any particular point, but I found it interesting. Maybe it tells us something about how belief operates, or maybe it’s just the random thoughts of a small boy who isn’t aware of the limits of his knowledge.