Pillow talk: priceless investments

Some women are not meant to be mothers. Providence, in its goodness, compensates me for this denial by providing grandmotherhood. The accomplices in our conspiracy are two small brothers: This One, barely six, blond hair, blue, teasing eyes and a wide smile, recently transformed into a jack-o-lantern grin, and That One, four, with black hair, dark brown eyes, a contagious smile and dimples.

Recently, our joint games are accompanied by parental advice to This One: ''Be careful: don't swallow your loose tooth.''

Inevitably, the night comes when the tooth must go. This One agrees to pull the string Daddy ties to it. With one yank, string and tooth fall to the carpet. That One opens mouth and eyes in horror. This One tucks the tooth under his pillow and announces: ''Bedtime, everybody.''

A week later his second loose tooth dangles by its tiny thread. As he plays with his friend next door, his mother warns: ''Take care; don't lose your loose tooth.''

That One is coming out from his nap when his brother runs across the yard, shouting: ''My tooth is gone! Chuckie wanted to see it waggle, and it isn't there. It's lost! Oh, Mother, will the Tooth Fairy come?''

''She might not, dear. She won't know it's out if it isn't under your pillow, '' his mother answers.

This One's face is streaked with instant tears. That One suggests, logically: ''Maybe you could sleep with your mouth open, then she could see it's not there, 'specially if we leave the light burning.''

That night dinner is eaten, baths taken, teeth brushed, stories read, prayers said and the light is left burning. That One sleeps. This One, mouth wide open, twists and turns.

Suddenly, he appears at my side. ''I need to write some words for the Tooth Fairy. Will you help me, please, T.?'' He prints the words as I spell them. Folding the note, which concisely declares, TOotH iS LosT, he tiptoes back to bed.

About two o'clock, I am awakened by a small figure patting my cheek and whispering: ''May I get in bed with you, T.? The Tooth Fairy might not come if I'm still awake.''

In he climbs. Soon, I think he is asleep. But not so, This One. I feel the gentle pats again. ''I have to go to the bathroom,'' he says. I know what he has in mind, so I acquiesce.

Immediately he returns, gorged with glee. ''She came! The Tooth Fairy can read! Here's my quarter. I forgot to see if she took my note.''

''Put your money on the bookshelf and come to bed,'' I say, sleepily. He consents and we both sleep, at least I do.

The patting resumes at four o'clock. ''Now I really do have to go to the bathroom,'' he says. Afterward he lies very still. I am almost asleep when I feel him climbing out for a third time.

''What now?'' I ask.

''I want to see if the Tooth Fairy took my note,'' he explains, collecting the quarter.

Seconds later, the door bursts open. ''It's gone,'' he reports proudly, depositing the quarter which somehow misses the bookshelf and skitters under the bed. He is heartbroken. By the time I turn on the lamp he is on his hands and knees.

''It's not anywhere,'' he sobs.

''I see it on the chest,'' I call. ''Leave it there till morning.'' Indeed it is already the dawn of a new day. ''Please come to bed, now.''

Reluctantly, he lies beside me and whispers, sadly: ''That's my first tooth's quarter on the chest. I need my flashlight to find tonight's quarter.

''All right,'' I drowsily concur.

Success! He clutches the quarter. Sighing and snuggling close, he says: ''Thank you, T.''

''Tomorrow,'' I advise, ''you must put both quarters in your bank so you won't lose them again.''

''No, no, T., I can't do that. The money you give me or Mother or Daddy or my granddaddy, in Louisiana, I'll put in my bank, but the money the Tooth Fairy gives me I'm keeping forever and ever.''

I ponder the logic of his philosophy. And I think of the many coins This One and That One slip into the treasury of my heart.

A soft hand touches my face. I simulate sleep. This One inquires, anyway.

''T., do you have any loose teeth?''

I smile, but do not answer.

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