Elliott came home Tuesday night proudly holding a little green box. I'm not a dentist, but when he opened it up I immediately identified a tooth inside. I would have eventually determined on my own that it was the same tooth Elliott had been wiggling and staring at in the mirror for over a month now, but he saved me the trouble. He broke into a big grin, revealing a small hole in his mouth. The non-mystery of the green box was solved.
Later in the evening, Katie asked me if I had any cash. I wondered when the last time was anyone in this card-sliding world had cash.
"No. I don't."
"Not even a couple of ones?", she asked.
"I forget what ones look like," I told her. "What do you need cash for?"
"The tooth fairy is coming tonight."
"Maybe she'll have some ones"
I got in my truck and drove to the nearest ATM and withdrew cash. I returned, gave it to Katie and went to bed, leaving her in charge of any imminent financial transactions.
The next morning Elliott woke me holding that same purple box. The tooth was still in it. But his smile was gone. "The tooth fairy didn't come," he said.
I got up and went to his room. I lifted his pillow and swept my arm across the bed hoping to rake in the cash he had overlooked, but I came up as empty as he had. I assured Elliott the tooth fairy had a rush on kids with missing teeth and just couldn't make it to our house, but would definitely show up the next night. He went on his way, seemingly satisfied with my explanation.
Then Katie got up. She did not look satisfied. "I can't believe I did that." she said.
By "did that" she meant that she had slept through the night. No stepping into a phone booth and re-emerging as the tooth fairy. I asked her to give me a five dollar bill. I went into Elliott's room and hung it on a rail behind his bed, and then called him to the scene to share in the good news. I told him we had failed to consider the possibility he had knocked his reward out of bed in the tossing and turning of his sleep. He reached behind the bed and snagged the five. He kicked himself for not figuring this out on his own, and then ran off mumbling something about being rich.
I know Katie felt awful. There is no more awful feeling than the one you get when you think you are personally responsible for disappointing your child. Katie shared her experience on Facebook that night, and I was amazed by the number of people who responded with their own stories. Or nightmares. Her post turned into a flash mob of former delinquent tooth fairies who welcomed the opportunity for overdue therapy.
I read a blog post this week by Don Miller (Great Kids Have Parents Who Seem To Do This Well) in which he stated that he thinks well adjusted kids have parents who are real about their shortcomings. Conversely, he thinks kids struggle who have parents who have a hard time admitting they are wrong; parents who feel a need to spin the truth about their mistakes in order to look good for their kids.
Since having kids I've come to regard the reality that I've made a lot of mistakes in my life as a blessing. They are the foundation of my unwritten "how to be a dad" book. I wouldn't know where to begin if I had to re-write my life's story as one of perfection. So I'm actually relieved that I have no anxieties when I think of the day I may need to share those mistakes with my boys, and more importantly, the lessons learned.
Miller's blog is why I smiled so big when I read the tooth fairy confessions. Granted, forgetting to show the tooth fairy to your child's room is insignificant on the list of potential parenting errors, but it was clear that all of those sharing were quite comfortable being imperfect parents. I imagine that's the secret to getting comfortable with having imperfect kids.