When Baba Comes Instead of the Tooth Fairy
All of us can remember the times when we were little and our milk teeth started to fall out. In some cases, our parents would say that if we put the tooth under our pillow, the Tooth Fairy might come during the night, take the tooth and leave money for it.
My nephew has just started losing his teeth. I had thought that the old nursery rhyme from my childhood had been forgotten, and how glad I was to find out that it is still alive among the Roma, at least in eastern Slovakia.
But someone else visited my nephew and it was not a Tooth Fairy. It was “Baba”, the old woman.
Every time I lost a milk tooth, my father would place me close to the slow combustion stove, give me my tooth and told me to repeat three times: “Baba, Baba, here is my milk tooth. Give me an iron one for it.” After doing that I would close my eyes and throw my milk tooth in the dark corner behind the slow combustion stove. It was a very magical ritual given that I had to wait very long until the new “iron” tooth grew in my mouth.
This was a widespread belief among Roma during my childhood. I have no idea where this custom comes from. It was a smart practice readily available to the poor Roma parents who wanted to offer a nice childhood experience to their offspring. Better-off Roma could afford a Fairy who would exchange the milk tooth for a coin, but the poorer ones could only ask Baba to bring an iron tooth. The child thus learned that while money can be earned, they can get a very precious reward instead. I consider that clever and beautiful
It never occurred to me that I could get money for my milk teeth. Only later I learned about the “Tooth Fairy” who collects teeth and gives money in return. However, if I could have this experience once again, I would still choose Baba. My nephew will also meet the Baba who will take his milk tooth and exchange it for an iron one. It is a lovely habit full of wisdom and I hope it will live long, and not only among Roma people.