Armaan Ahmad, 9, had some suspicions about the Tooth Fairy, so he set up a sting operation.
When he recently lost a tooth, he hid it under his pillow for a few days to see if she would make the usual currency exchange. (Going rate in the Ahmad household is $1 per tooth.) When he discovered the tooth still under his pillow after three days of silence, he casually mentioned to his dad that he had lost a tooth at school.
His father walked right into the trap.
“Put it under your pillow and see if anything happens,” Fahd Ahmad, a Washington University pediatric emergency room doctor, told him. Normally, his son excitedly shares his dollar after such a visit, but Armaan was quiet for the next few days.
He was mulling over his original hypothesis. Could it be true? There was only one logical conclusion.
A few days later, he confronted his mother, Emily, a pediatric nurse practitioner.
“I know the Tooth Fairy isn’t real because I hid the tooth for three days and no money came,” he told her. The cash showed up after he informed his dad.
He demanded the truth about other mystical figures, too. “Is Santa real?” he asked her. She told him she definitely believes in the spirit of Santa.
His investigation had been sparked by a report in his school newspaper months ago. A classmate had submitted a picture of the Tooth Fairy, left by the fairy herself, according to the friend’s mom. The paper ran the photo.
Armaan suspected fake news.
“I got confused,” he said. “I didn’t think the Tooth Fairy would leave a picture of herself.” So, he decided that when he lost his next tooth, he would devise a plan to find out the truth. He said he left the tooth under his pillow for a few days because he wanted to give the alleged fairy more time and collect more evidence to support his case.
The Ahmads, who live in the St. Louis suburbs and celebrate both Muslim and Christian holiday traditions, want to keep the magic alive for their younger sons, ages 4 and 1, for as long as possible. When Ahmad heard the account from his wife, he was amazed by his son’s ingenuity and posted a tweet on a personal Twitter account.
It quickly went viral, with more than 500,000 likes. Predictably, people started arguing -- about their parenting choices, the validity of mythical childhood creatures and even questioning Armaan’s experiment design. Some argued that parents shouldn’t lie to their children about these sorts of things, saying that it affected their trust when they discovered certain myths were untrue.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said in a late-night television interview in 2016 that he and his wife did not try to convince their daughter that the Tooth Fairy was real. He argued that children use their imagination in pretend play where it’s appropriate, and adults shouldn’t perpetuate an elaborate hoax on their kids in the name of fun.
Ahmad, who is Muslim, didn’t grow up with imaginary gift-giving figures. “I don’t know if there are any long-term effects” from such traditions, he said. “Some people said, ‘It made me turn away from God and made me an atheist. Some have said it reaffirmed their faith.” His wife’s childhood did include those mythical figures, and she says she wasn’t upset when she learned the truth. It was simply part of the fun and magic of the holidays.
She wants to carry on the same traditions for her younger sons, as well. But when Armaan asked her directly and demanded the truth, she said she didn’t want to lie directly.
Ahmad, shocked by the viral reaction to his story, has enjoyed responding to as many tweets as he can and debating the merits of magical creatures like the Tooth Fairy. He admits he’s a bit embarrassed by how easily he was taken by his son’s investigation.
“I’m a clinical researcher,” Ahmad said. He should have noticed the change in behavior and reaction to the missing tooth. But, he’s impressed that his son was able to design and run an experiment and sit on the results until he was ready to test his conclusion.
“As a dad, I’m pretty blown away that he did this entirely on his own.”
Emily said she has asked her son not to share his experiment results with his younger brothers, who haven’t even started to lose their teeth yet, or with any of his classmates.
“Don’t take away their fun,” she said. “I think it’s part of the magic of childhood.”
Armaan told his mother that he wants to run a test on Santa and the Easter bunny next.