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Monday, January 29, 2007

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth

First of all, let me say that I'm a library patron who LOVES deep cuts.

That is: library books that I loved as a kid and haven't thought about in years (Elizabeth Levy's Something Queer Is Going On series was such a treat to rediscover at my beloved DC Public Library - home of the "NO fines for the entire juvenile collection" policy, hooray!).

One such deep cut, I thought, was Johanna Hurwitz's Nora books, including Nora and Mrs. Mind-Your-Own-Business.

In fact, I don't think I did read it as a child, but it reminded me of a certain kind of New York City-centric children's books (e.g. The House on East 88th Street, From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) that I devoured as the child of New-York-Jews-Who-Moved-Elsewhere-To-Deprive-Their-Children-Of-Decent-Bagels. Lore Segal's fabulous Tell Me a Mitzi is another fine example of the genre.

Anyway, I checked several Nora books out and brought them home, and immediately began to read them aloud to my bookivore audience of rapt listeners. All went well through several fun chapters of resourceful urban kiddos. All went well, in fact, until the part when Nora, who has lost a tooth, wakes up in the middle of the night to find Mommy and Daddy hunting under her pillow (spoiler alert: if you are under the age of, oh, I dunno, eight, STOP READING THIS BLOG ENTRY!). Nora proceeds to sit up in bed and discover that, as her father jokingly puts it, she's actually related to the tooth fairy.

Well, faster than you can say "Yikes, self-edit! Self-edit!" I finished the page and Franny stared at me, the implications sinking in.

"Her mom... is the... tooth fairy?" For a second, I considered trying to pass this off as a novel situation concerning the character's mom's lineage in fairy terms (even though she is clearly depicted as a regular mom of the wingless variety).

"Uh, I, uh. Wow, I dunno." I'm really a terrible liar. Especially when put on the spot.

"Are YOU the tooth fairy?"

By now, I had recovered my composure. I tried my best weapon: silliness. "How in the world would I do that? Do you think I can fly all over the world?"

"Yeah, but ARE you?"

Truly, dear reader, I did not know what to do. What did she want, exactly? The truth? Or reinforcement of what she believed? And what did I want? A co-conspirator (and, thus, a potential security breech, seeing as our second child has a mouth full of 20 secure baby teeth, as of this writing)? Or a CHILD, still on the right side of the line of that separates boring old truth from magic.

"No, I'm not." Given a little time to prepare, my limited lying skills kick in. I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering if I've given the right answer. I mean, she'd simply have to check with an older child and I'd be unmasked as a total fraud. A humbug, in the 1899 parlance of L. Frank Baum. But she seemed satisfied by my answer, so I dropped it.

Verification that my response was, quite likely, the one she sought came at bedtime.

"Mom?" she asked, gesturing to a large reference volume on fairies (the regular, non-tooth-specific kind) that lay spread open on her floor.

"Can you close that book up? I don't want the fairies to get out."

I love the tooth fairy story, especially dear to me as I know some of the people involved. What magic! MSS
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