For years now my son has been asking, with some trepidation, about losing his first baby tooth. "Will it happen soon? Will it hurt much? Will I bleed? Will I get sick? What if I swallow it by accident? Has anyone ever choked on their own tooth?" he worries. "What if the new tooth doesn't come in right? What if the place where my tooth was stays empty forever?"
I lost my first tooth at age five, biting into an apple. (I did swallow it, actually, much to my chagrin. I did not choke. I did not even notice the tooth was gone, in fact, until several minutes later, when a teacher pointed the fact out to me. It's a good thing my mother happened to know that the Tooth Fairy decorates her house with pictures of teeth drawn by those unfortunate children who have lost their lost tooth, or I would have considered the incident a much more serious injury to both piggy bank and pride.)
I assumed, in that casual way parents tend to assume that our children will be just like us, that my son would probably lose his first tooth at five, or thereabouts. But he didn't lose a tooth at five. He didn't at six and a half, either. My son is nearly seven, but all twenty of his original pearly whites still stand in neat rows.
At school, one after another his friends have lost teeth. Some have lost several, now bearing adorably jagged half-grown-in grins.
Witnessing in his classmates this repeated proof of his mother's assertion that baby tooth-deprivation is not, in fact, commonly deadly to children has, I think, made my son somewhat less anxious about the potential for some personal tooth-loss related disaster.
But he is now the only one in his class who has yet to lose a tooth. He sees himself missing some bloody badge of maturity. His difference irks him. When we last went to the dentist, he asked her, nervously, "Are you sure I really have grown-up teeth waiting in my gums? What if there aren't any?"
This drawn out drama of the teeth has made me wish hard, for months, that he would just lose a tooth already and get over it. So he can see it's not that big of a deal. So he can be like everyone else in his class. So the Tooth Fairy can leave him two quarters, or a dollar, or whatever the inflated price of first lost teeth is these days, and he can start calculating the value of his remaining teeth with a gleam in his eye.
When I help him floss I surreptitiously tap his front teeth, hoping for a wiggle. I've never felt one. Not even the slightest wobble. Until three days ago.
His right front bottom tooth budged. I tapped it again to be sure. It moved again, unmistakably.
The boy officially had a loose tooth.
Again and again, I've imagined how proudly and cheerfully I would tell him. I've imagined how I would stave off any frightened tears with visions of the respect of his peers, the admiration of younger children, and cash.
Instead, I found myself turning my head and furiously blinking against a sudden vivid vision: my first glimpse, more than six years ago, of the top of my baby's first tooth, pushing in a sharp gleaming white arc through the gum. His first tooth. This same tooth. The loose one.
"What is it Mommy?" he asked.
"Oh," I said. "Oh. Your tooth. Your tooth is loose! You finally have a loose tooth. See? It wiggles. I bet you'll lose it pretty soon. Your first tooth. Your very first one. That's good news! You're growing. You'll get grown-up teeth soon."
"Oh, that's cool," he said. "It won't hurt too much, when it comes out will it?"
"No. I've told you already," I said. "I mean it. It won't hurt much at all."
I lied. It won't hurt him.