What my son has learnt about the Tooth Fairy

ToothElder son lost tooth number three today, which was a hot topic of conversation chez nous. Yes, those long winter evenings really do fly by.

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.

FairyThe 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.

Images courtesy of kunisawa and cassie_g, used with permission

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

5 responses to “What my son has learnt about the Tooth Fairy”

  1. chialphagirl says :

    That is an interesting study. We ran into something similar with Santa. I never wanted my kids to believe in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny or Santa but especially Santa because I believe that gratitude is an important part of Christmas and if Santa gets all of credit for presents then it takes away from the real situation: people who love you gave you a gift and you should be grateful.

    But my in-laws are big on Santa. My father in law even dressed up like him to bring presents. So I told my the three year old ahead of time that Santa was pretend, just like Dora. Something fun, but just pretend.

    And she said, “I know. I already saw a Santa at the store. I knew he wasn’t Santa”. Which made me wonder if she knew all Santa’s were pretend or just the people dressing up like them were pretending. But I did not really push it past that.

    I think it will be a more interesting study when she is older.

  2. jasonjshaw says :

    Reblogged this on Christianity Simplified and commented:
    A great little anecdote involving the nature of belief.

  3. skaty says :

    Interesting post about the nature of belief:) When my kid brother was five, he woke up when my mother was putting the coins under his pillow. He cried, “Mom! YOU’RE the Tooth Fairy!” My mother, thinking she’d been caught and the ruse was up, was relieved when he continued…”Wait until I tell all the kids in school that MY MOM IS THE TOOTH FAIRY!”

  4. Paul Ross says :

    Just as an observation, and on the subject of subtleties of scrutiny in the face of fantastical belief, why is the tooth fairy necessarily a she? 0_o

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  1. Guest Interview! Denise Barry and Tooth Fairy Tales! | alexcordnews - November 22, 2013

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