“Look me in the eye mummy. Tell me the truth. The tooth fairy is you, isn’t it?”
The world seemed to momentarily stop spinning. I felt the weight of parental responsibility bear down on me, its hot sticky breath with just a trace of day-old gin making me hold my breath. This, I knew, was a pivotal moment, one of those moments when you can triumph as a parent, showing your mettle in the face of a six year old boy who had somehow got wind of the fact that the tooth fairy, with her habit of carrying enough pound coins about her person to drown a small kitten and her ability to pass through closed windows, may not be real.
I did a lot of thinking in those few silent seconds that followed my son’s question, consisting mainly of other questions to which I had no answer. Should I lie? We all know lying is wrong, but in this instance, involving fairies and a tooth, is it actually okay to lie? If I tell the truth, will I be robbing him of the magic of childhood? Is the tooth fairy really part of the magic of childhood, or is getting a pound from your parents to put towards the new Lego Mixel actually significantly more magical? Am I just perpetuating a load of nonsense because my parents did to me, and their parents before them? If my son stops believing, does the Tooth Fairy die? Actually, I knew the answer to that one, I’m not that bloody thick.
The rational side of my brain shouts at me: “Tell him the bloody truth! Fairies? What a load of sodding twaddle.”
The single brain cell that represents the romantic side just tutted, and muttered “I never get my own way round here. I would kill you all in cold blood if only I could stop running gaily through this sunny meadow of buttercups.”
Finally, I opened my mouth and some words came out. “Yes. You’re right, the tooth fairy is me and daddy.” So let’s face it. I didn’t so much triumph as crash and burn under the laser-beam stare of a boy who got a sniff of the fact that he had been labouring under a well crafted conspiracy theory with wings for many years.
My son looks back at me, silent, with eyes wide. “Really?”
“Err… no, of course the tooth fairy is real.” Even I am embarrassed at my shameless attempt to swiftly back pedal into the fairy kingdom.
“No it isn’t,” he replies defiantly. I have given him a glimpse of the truth, and he is not letting it go now.
“No, Okay, it isn’t.”
E ponders for a bit. “So you’ve been lying to me?”
Bloody hell, this is really turning into a conversation to remember.
“Well, things like telling children about the tooth fairy isn’t technically lying. And anyway, it’s more fun to believe it is a fairy who takes your tooth and leaves a pound.” He looks sceptical under the weight of more lies.
“Of course,” I continue unwisely, “I might be wrong. The tooth fairy may be real after all.”
My son looks a little confused. To be honest, there is so much double-bluffing and counter-briefing going on, I am a little confused myself. It is at this point that I make a mental note never to pursue a career in MI5.
E wanders off. I can’t tell if he is crestfallen at the confirmation that the tooth fairy is a great big scam cooked up by evil lying parents, or he needs a poo.
I wonder if I have done the right thing. It just felt that I had to tell the truth at the moment my son was boring holes into my face with his big, blue, innocent eyes (okay, okay, I am laying it on with a trowel in a pathetic attempt to justify myself, I know). But perhaps I have done him a disservice. I hatch a cunning plan. I decide to leave a note from the tooth fairy under his pillow. It’s a high risk strategy, given that it could either convince him the tooth fairy is alive and well or will totally confuse the hell out of him.
Just before I go to bed, I sneak into his room and slide my hand slowly under his pillow to retrieve the tooth. No tooth. Bugger, I whisper quietly, and delve further. E stirs and I freeze. I could really be doing something more useful at eleven o’ clock in the evening than this. Like going to bed. E settles, and I push my hand further in. His head lolls to one side as I am now practically lying on the bed, my entire arm engulfed by a Star Wars pillow. I roll my eyes at Chewbacca and retreat.
I call for reinforcements, but M cannot locate the sodding tooth either. Bugger this, I am knackered. I shove a quid under his pillow, dismiss all thoughts of a fairy note, and piss off to bed.
I feel a tap on my arm and I slowly open my eyes. The luminescent figures of 4:23 swim in front of my eyes. Bloody hell.
“Mummy!” E looms over me. In the grainy half- light of my bedroom, I can see him brandishing a pound coin, holding it up between his fingers in victory.
“Oh good,” I mumbled. “The tooth fairy came them.”
I could almost hear his eyes rolling as a response. “I tricked you! I put another pillow at the other end of the bed and put my tooth under that. If there was a tooth fairy, she would have known. And you didn’t. I knew there was no such thing as the tooth fairy!”
And that, dear reader, is why I shall always strive to tell my son the truth about those cultural lies we peddle simply to confuse our children and make them resort to the sort of underhand trickery that means you are completely outwitted by a six year old and that makes you look like an utter idiot
Watch out Santa. I’m coming for you…