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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fog/Mist
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The Tooth Fairy -- more real than Santa?
This year-round coming-of-age ritual is more than just a fairy tale
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Our friend Coleman knows what the tooth fairy looks like."She wears white clothes and she's about the size of a pin."

When pressed, the 7-year-old admits he hasn't actually seen the diminutive nymph. He just woke up one night and knew she was "somewhere around."

The tooth fairy sneaks up on you. Oh, there are warning signs. For us, it was the sudden flash of Coleman's Halloween grin, darkness visible like a candle in a pumpkin on a windy night. What happened to you? I almost asked, before I remembered that kids his age are supposed to have big gaps in their gums. (My own son, a month older than his buddy Coleman, has felt nary a wiggle yet).

I've known Coleman all his life. I remember the painful emergence of his glowing baby teeth ' the slow completion of his beautiful smile. Now, one by one, those teeth are wiggling free. And Coleman is telling stories about a nocturnal visitor who was not entirely welcome at first.

"I didn't want to give my first tooth to the tooth fairy," he recalled. "It was too special."

I understood. Coleman had lost a little part of himself. He'd carried his tooth around on his palm all day, marveling over its grisly authenticity. And then he was supposed to hand it over to a gossamer-winged imp who'd never give it back?

"I read in a book that she makes a piano out of all the teeth," Coleman whispered.

Coleman's mother thought more information might help. She explained how the fairy's reward system worked at their house. She also produced a tooth-shaped felt pocket, perfect for tucking under a pillow. When his second tooth fell out, Coleman was ready. Sort of.

"I gave the tooth fairy my first tooth. I kept the one that had just fallen out. I always like to have one around."

Kids feel better about losing their teeth if you can turn it into a special occasion, says Jenna Hansen, co-owner, along with Peg Schulte, of Capitol Kids (8 S. Carroll St.). The store carries "tooth fairy boxes" with charming Maxwell Parrish-like fairies painted on the sides and white satin pillows under their hinged lids (the $6 boxes are also available at Little Luxuries, 214 State St.). What child could resist placing a precious tooth inside? Boys like Coleman might like a smiling stuffed pirate holding an open-and-shut treasure box (the tooth goes inside), also at Capitol Kids ($9.75). A stuffed "fairy's assistant" in tutu and ballet slippers is an alternative to the pirate; she holds the tooth in a gauzy bag, ready for pickup by her fairy boss.

"Kids love to celebrate," says Hansen. "Getting out your tooth box is fun, like blowing up balloons on your birthday."

At Ginkgo Tree (1919 Monroe St.), miniature satin or velvet pillows feature Velcro-snap pockets with felted appliqués: a smiling tooth, a half-moon and a brown dog are each $4.50. And at Happy Bambino (2045 Atwood Ave.), silk pillows with boy or girl fairies printed on them ($10) smell sweet, too ' there's lavender mixed into the 100% wool filling.

The important thing, of course, is to savor this little ritual. The tooth fairy's nighttime visits can take the sting out of loss, and sweeten the bitter taste of adulthood that creeps in every time a precious baby tooth lets go. As much for us parents as for our kids, the tooth fairy weaves the last magic spell. After that, it's all reason and logic. So enjoy this most evanescent of childhood sprites while you can.

Toothsome favorites

Little Rabbit's Loose Tooth
By Lucy Bate, illustrated by Diane de Groat

The Lost Tooth Club
By Arden Johnson

Dear Tooth Fairy
By Alan Durant, illustrated

by Vanessa Cabban
By Mary Ellen Gabriel

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