Teresa the five-year-old lost her first tooth yesterday. Jacinta had warned me that the kids were falling apart this week, but really I had no idea things had gone so far.
Tonight Teresa tucked her tooth under her pillow, safely encased in a plastic box, waiting for the tooth fairy to come and replace it for money. “Mama,” she asked, “is there really such a thing as the tooth fairy?”
“What do you think?” Mama evaded.
Regina the all-knowing seven-year-old leaped in to save us from the unpleasant necessity of popping a bubble: “No, I think that Mama or Papa comes in and takes the tooth,” she said. And at that moment, a new way came to me of working past the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy with a single, all-purpose scholastic distinction: an sit versus quid sit, “whether it exists” versus “what sort of thing is it?”
You see, Teresa’s questions was, formally at least, a question of an sit, “whether it exists.” And to that I could honestly reply, “Yes, it exists.” But Regina’s reply jumped to the level of quid sit, “What sort of thing is it?” She was confusing two different questions. Yes, the tooth fairy exists. But no, the tooth fairy is not the sort of thing that shimmers through walls or revives when people clap their hands. As a parent, I could keep answering the first question until they became clever enough to ask the second.
And if my kids said to me later, “You lied to me. You’re a liar,” I could reply: No, I’m a thomist! To which they could reply, “No, St. Thomas was a Dominican, and you’re speaking like a Jesuit.”