Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Tooth Fairy on Being a Grown-Up

It can be a pretty tragic thing for a kid to loose a tooth at summer camp. There is a ritual to tooth-losing that is disrupted by not being at home, sleeping in his/her/its own bed upon his/her/its own pillow. Feelings can range from pride ("Hey, cool! I lost a tooth at camp! I'm specialler than all the other kids!") to annoyance ("Dang, I wanted my five dollars. Lousy timing.") to trepidation ("What if I lose it before I go home? What if I never see it again? What if somebody steals it?" ("Who would want to steal your tooth?")) to outright meltdown ("It wasn't supposed to happen this way!!!") Tooth-losing is a rite of passage, an important moment of transformation, that can get lost in the chaos of lots of kids and lots of activities (and lots of personal possessions in a very small cabin) that are part of camp life.

Mirabelle, my boss since I became a counselor at sixteen years old, has a gift for getting into kids' heads and understanding the things that can make them freak out. With adults, she can be bossy and brash and terse, but with kids she always knows what to say. She understands the craving for recognition that comes with such a monumental accomplishment as losing a tooth, and has made it her personal mission to make sure that every tooth-loser receives that recognition. Five dollars is out of the question—budgets are tight—but she keeps an account at the camp store for tooth-fairy gifts and has become adept at creating fun hand-made cards of congratulations.

Her great dread, however, is that someday a child will wake up as she sneaks into the cabin and put two and two together. As traumatic as losing a tooth is, it pales in comparison to the trauma of realizing that the Tooth Fairy is only grown-ups telling lies. Mirabelle does not want the shattering of some child's innocent faith on her conscience, to haunt her to her dying day. So she dresses up in a dirty twenty-year-old negligee and a pair of fairy wings for all Tooth-Fairy-related activities.

So when I was sixteen years old, still a brand new junior counselor with lots of enthusiasm and not a clue to my name, I walked into the staff house one fateful evening and this is what I found: in addition to the general hubbub of people planning activities, grading papers, telling stories, and eating contraband snacks, there was Mirabelle, kneeling on the sandy floor in front of the coffee table (a single board bolted to three milk crates), intently engaged in her work with construction paper, glue sticks, and glitter, looking like Tinkerbell's older, crabbier cousin who had recently been splatted against the windshield of a semi.

The art project was not cooperating. (Of course it wasn't. Have you ever known any project involving glitter to go smoothly?) Finally, in frustration, Mirabelle threw down her art supplies and demanded of the company at large: "WHO let me use big people scissors?!?"

I'm not sure why this has stuck with me for almost ten years, but it has. And it's still funny. To this day, whenever some adult endeavor goes horribly, horribly wrong, it springs to mind again. Every time I get lost driving by myself, accidentally set something on fire, destroy a garment on which I spent a lot of money, put my foot in my mouth in front of people who are never going to let me forget it, or generally cause any kind of chaos in my mature, self-sufficient existence, the question pops back into my head: "WHO let me use big people scissors?"

Really, who did? There was no training course for this adulthood thing. I don't have any kind of certification declaring me competent to function in society. I get this feeling that the universe is grossly understaffed, if the only person available to be in charge of my life is me.

When I'm the only one in charge of my life, every catastrophe-free day is a victory. And so this morning, a chilly Sunday morning, I decided to start a blog. The blog is for the stories of my adventures as I go careening through adulthood, sometimes strewing mayhem in my wake, other times making it all look easy. I plan for it to contain gloating about my triumphs and humor about my almost-triumphs, as well as a healthy dose of the immature, the infantile, and the innocent. Because adulthood without some childhood in it can't possibly be any fun.


  1. Fantastic beginning! I'm going to enjoy this immensely.

  2. "Because adulthood without some childhood in it can't possibly be any fun."

    Adulthood is just childhood with height (so you can reach the pedals) and a credit card.
    I myself am only 16, and have been for 36 years.


  3. It is all about "Faking it." Some people do it transparently and some opaquely. And some of us have to be reminded by our children's psychologists that faking it is part of the job of adults. We are there to create the stability that is their world so we need to put the crumb layer on the cake before they come to frost it.