My son didn’t lose his teeth.
Nearly all of Tech’s chompers came in all “fakakta,” a Yiddish word meaning completely crazy. They just never got wiggly, so each one needed to be pulled by the dentist.
It seemed like such a chore. Why couldn’t my son just loose his teeth the way other children did? Swallow them accidentally while eating cake or donuts? Why did everything have to be such a production?
I always anticipated a fight on the way to the dentist’s chair. And yet, Tech never complained. Sitting on hard black waiting room chairs, he wasn’t nervous. Not even the first time. He just waited for his name to be called, and after the first time, he was a pro. He knew there would be a shot of Novocain, followed by numbness, followed by pressure. But he had faith in the adults around him. And he always appeared, chewing on a wad of bloody gauze, to hand me a tiny plastic container that held his tooth, or – in one instance – four teeth.
Last Friday, Tech informed me that he had a loose tooth. I didn’t think much of it; I figured eventually I’d call the dentist and make an appointment to have it extracted.
But that night, Tech took one bite into a slice of pizza and spat his mouthful of half-chewed food onto his plate and started mining. It only took a moment for him to find the tiny sauce-covered nugget.
Holding it in his hands, Tech slurred his words. “Dat’s la lass wun.”
And then I realized what he was saying.
My son had just lost his last baby tooth.
I stopped chewing and looked across the table at my husband.
TechSupport is our only child. At thirteen years old, he is in no hurry to grow up. He tells us stories of classmates who have girlfriends or boyfriends, kids who drink and smoke after school or on weekends at parties he doesn’t attend. He isn’t interested in any of this at the moment. He has only just recently become a little teenagerishy.
And while he may not realize it, at thirteen years old, my son has crossed over. Lately, it feels like he is more on the grown up side of things than on the boy side. He’s tall. And with his longer hair, he looks older than he is – especially when he stands next to some of his friends who are shorter and stubbier than he is.
The Tooth Fairy has always left a little to be desired on our house. Tech figured out I was The Fairy at age 7, when his $2 bill came accompanied by a note typed in my favorite font. When questioned, I could not deny it. He had the evidence. A common-sense kind of guy, Tech has never been interested in magic — except to figure out how the tricks really worked.
That Friday night, after the dishes were done, I found my purse and tried to give my son a few bucks.
He shook his head, refusing. He’d seen the news by then. And even though the story was just unfolding, I think he felt the weight of what had happened in Connecticut.
I moved closer to him. We stand eye to eye these days, and I was surprised to see that night his eyes were light brown, the color of cream soda. I pressed a few single dollar bills against his chest. “It’s the last one! And it fell out all by itself.”
“It just knew to stop holding on.” Tech shrugged. “Kind of like you need to stop holding on, Mom.”
I reached out a hand to touch Tech’s shoulder, but he is squirmy these days, and he moved away. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like being touched.
“Will you just put my tooth in with the others?” he asked.
I raised an eyebrow. How did he know about the purple box in the corner of my husband’s closet?
“Dad showed me,” Tech answered, reading my mind. “I used to think it was weird that you guys kept my teeth. But now… I get it.”
I walked upstairs and sat on the floor inside the quiet closet. As I removed the top to the old blue shoebox, I was surprised by the oddities the box held: an old watch, an ancient skull (a gift given from my father-in-law to my husband, before he went off to medical school), and the purple jewelry box with the psychedelic rectangular pattern on the cover. I opened the purple clamshell and plopped the last of Tech’s baby teeth inside before snapping it shut.
I know that most people do not save teeth. I know plenty of people who think saving teeth is pretty disgusting. I suppose I saved Tech’s teeth because the wonky, misshapen bits are little perfectly-imperfect pieces-parts of a person I love, something that I can hold in my hands. I suppose, one day, those little nubs will serve as a reminder of a simpler, sweeter time: a time when my boy wanted cuddles and Goldfish crackers and not much else.
I shook the purple box.
It sounded like diamonds rattling around in there.
And then I thought about all those kids from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I thought of their teeth.
I know it’s weird, but grief isn’t logical.
I thought of all those baby teeth that hadn’t yet fallen out.
Of all those permanent teeth that hadn’t yet come in.
How nothing is permanent.
And I wept, alone in the closet.
Because the sky isn’t up there; it is between us.
I have never been a hovercraft parent, but right now, I’m holding on like one of my son’s stubborn teeth: not ready to let go.
What personal mementos of your children are most precious to you?
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I’m unplugging until December 27th, but I want to wish those of you who celebrate a Merry Christmas. And to everyone else, I hope you enjoy the time off with family and friends. Let’s get ready to ring in 2013.