JA is a 20-year-old student from Orinda, California. She recalled this story in an interview.
JA: I don’t remember when I first learned of it… but the tooth fairy comes to your house the night after you lose a tooth when you’re a kid. You put your baby tooth under your pillow at night and while you’re asleep, the tooth fairy takes it and replaces it with a gift. So, like, in reality, your parents took your tooth and put something there.
But, anyhow, most people use money as the tooth fairy gift, but my parents always gave us these little toys. I think I got a nice marker once. Little toys like that. And I believed it when I was a little kid but I lost my teeth really slowly so by the time I lost my last baby teeth I was pretty old and had my suspicions (laughs.) And then when I lost my last baby tooth that night I felt my dad’s giant hand putting something under my pillow.
I don’t really know what to make of the whole thing, just that it’s a fun game to play to reward your child for the milestone of getting adult teeth. I remember talking about the tooth fairy with my friends in elementary school.
The tooth fairy is a common legend in America. It is a tradition that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood through the changing of a person’s physiology. As the body changes, the child is rewarded, maybe to allay what Freud calls castration anxiety, or a fear of becoming disincorporated, a fear of alterations in the physical body. The tooth fairy is a way of transitioning kids through that process, celebrating it, and marking it as a significant and positive moment in the life of a child. I remember that my own parents gave me a homemade card for when I had learned how to cut my own nails. This gesture follows the same basic function that the tooth fairy does which is to mark a time of physiological change with a ritual designed to acknowledge mental and spiritual change, to allay the fear of the body being picked apart and to redirect that fear, sublimate it, toward a positive feeling of pride in maturation.