I love my husband. He's funny, completely trustworthy, and after almost ten years together I still look at him across a room and think: "Hey, that guy is handsome." But when he pulled away in his car last Thursday for a weekend trip, I danced a jig. See, he's also neater and more organized than I am, and living with him can make me feel alternately like a rebellious teenager or an inept homemaker. Sometimes I just want to kick back, pop some corn, and troll Facebook for ex-boyfriends, instead of cleaning crushed Cheerios out of my car and planning fun, wholesome activities for my older son so he doesn't have the time or energy to teach his 2-year-old brother how to Google "boobies."
My husband Tod's excursion wasn't for fun. He had to go to Indiana for the funeral of an aunt. No big deal -- a family reunion for him, a mini stay-cay for me. Yet the night before Tod left, as he was folding his funeral suit like an origami master, it dawned on me that I had never been alone in our house with the two children overnight before. Sure I had taken them away where it was just the three of us, so it wasn't like I'd never been alone with them, but I'd never been a single parent in our home, responsible for maintaining our day-to-day life without my better half (in my case, not a figure of speech). I'm a lot of fun and I give great hugs, but affection doesn't get kids to school on time, or teeth brushed and lights out by 8. These are Daddy's duties.
On the morning of his flight, however, my anxiety departed. When I kissed Tod goodbye in our driveway, my toes began tapping with excitement. I mean, how much could I possibly screw up my kids in one weekend?
"Mom, Maaahm, my tooth, my tooth, Mom, it hurts!" my 7-year-old, Gabriel, wailed at 5 o'clock the next morning. "It hurts so much, please pull it out, pleeease!"
Just the thought of a wiggling, bloody tooth makes me want to heave. "Honey, I can't do that. I don't do that... you know I can't do that." I said, wiping a tear off his cheek.
"But Mom, that's what Daddy would do. If Daddy were here he'd pull it out and make me feel better!" Gabriel whined.
"Oh, sweetie, I don't think he would. He'd say he was going to, but I'd stop him because it's disgusting. Besides, your tooth doesn't have to be pulled out; when it's ready it'll come out naturally."
"Okay, fine, Mom," he said, annoyed, as if he wanted to say, "I can't believe I have to spend my weekend with this wimp and her lame ideas about nature."
Five minutes later I was in the kitchen making coffee.
"I got it!" The bathroom door went flying open. "Mom!" Gabriel yelled, "I did it! I did it! I got it out."
I ran to him in the hallway with a wad of wet paper towels anticipating a geyser of blood spewing out of his mouth. Thankfully, there was only a hole where the tooth used to be. Gabriel's hand flew up to my face, and there, held between two of his fingers, was the tiny human tusk. I immediately put it in a zip-top bag.
"Congratulations!" Tod shouted from his cell phone. "Don't forget to put it under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy!" I made a mental note that I would be in charge of this tonight and casually checked the billfold of my wallet. Singles in place, the Tooth Fairy was locked and loaded.
A lot was riding on this. I was not going to be the one to mess with Gabriel's belief in the Tooth Fairy, especially without Tod home to blame if anything went wrong.
We read stories, sang "You and Me Against the World" like we do every night, and put the baggie with the tooth in it under Gabriel's pillow. Everything was set. Or so I thought. I didn't anticipate how distraught my 2-year-old would be without Daddy there to put him to bed. Not wanting the sobbing toddler to keep Gabriel awake, I brought Gideon to bed with me. I was exhausted. Which is exactly why I felt the need to eat a bag of semisweet chocolate chips while watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians, something I would never have done if Tod had been home.
At some point, I passed out cold in front of the TV, my mouth pasted shut with chocolate.
I was awakened by a loud cry from Gabriel's bedroom. My eyes were barely open when he shuffled in to my room sobbing, holding his baggie with the tiny tooth.
"Mom... Mom... the Tooth Fairy forgot, Mom! There is no Tooth Fairy... Mom... waaah waaah..."
I pushed past the headache that I'd gotten from my chocolate binge and started thinking hard and fast. "Don't you have to pee?" I asked matter-of-factly.
"Okay then, you'd better go!"
Gabriel left. I leapt out of bed, raced to my purse, grabbed two singles, ran back, and shoved them under the pillow where Gideon's head was resting in my bed.
"Okay, Mom," Gabriel said, walking back to the room, sadly staring at the floor.
"Come here, honey," I said, hoisting him next to me. "Why don't you check in here? Maybe the poor Tooth Fairy got lost or confused."
He stuck his hand under all the pillows. Nothing. Then Gideon sat up abruptly. "Hi, Momma!"
"Hi, Bubby!" I said and stage-whispered: "Gabriel, quick! Now check under that pillow!"
Gabriel stuck his hand in and pulled out a dollar. He smiled at first, but then quickly narrowed his eyes at me. Uh-oh. I couldn't be busted. I just couldn't.
"I know who the Tooth Fairy is, Mommy. It's your parents!" he said, triumphantly.
No, no, too young, too young! Too young to lose faith in the unknown!
"What?" I blurted. "Your parents? I don't think so. I wouldn't want that job. That job is too big. You know how many kids lose their teeth every day?"
"Yes, a lot. Parents are way too busy to take care of that. And I just remembered your brother kept yelling 'No! No!' in his sleep and I couldn't figure out why. He was obviously trying to redirect the Tooth Fairy to your room. Go put that in your piggy bank for safekeeping!"
Gabriel scurried off, almost believing me.
Five minutes later he and his brother were entrenched in a full-scale pillow fight back on my bed. Suddenly out of nowhere the other dollar appeared. How shocking. We both gasped.
"See! That's how big a rush she was in!" I said. "Not only did she go to the wrong room, but she dropped an extra dollar on her way out."
"Can I keep it?" Gabriel asked. "Dad would let me keep it, Mom. Dad would, I know he would!"
The dad card again, huh? First he's Braveheart, who could extract a bloody tooth with his bare hands, and now he's Mr. Generous too? Not that it's a competition, but would Daddy have been quick enough to save you from the jaws of cynicism? I think to myself, but dare not ask.
"Sure, honey," I say instead of any of the not awesome things I am thinking . "And let's go make you some vanilla French toast too, you know, to celebrate!"
"Really, Mom? Yay! On a weekday? Oh wow! You're the best!" He was totally serious.
And for just a moment, I believe him.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Parents magazine.