The Tooth Fairy stopped by our house last night. She left my son $5 in exchange for his first tooth. I thought I’d tell you, just so you know what the going rate is around here. That, mind you, is for the very first tooth. All subsequent teeth are worth only a dollar, or maybe two. I have to find my glasses and read over the fine print again to be certain.
The tooth had been loose for about 2 weeks. My son mentioned it at breakfast one day. He stuck his index finger in his mouth and wiggled the tooth announcing, “THAT’S what the problem is! My tooth is loose! Hey Belle, look! My tooth is loose! That’s why I can put the other tooth behind it.”
My skin prickled at the pronouncement. Put the other tooth behind it? I was picturing the tooth next to it. The first being so loose that he could lean it far enough forward and to the side that the next tooth over was behind it… “You can put the other tooth behind it?” I choked, while pushing my cereal bowl away, because I’d suddenly lost my appetite.
“Yeah, see?” he said. He smiled, showed me how when he clamped his jaws shut, the top tooth, the one directly above the loose bottom one, sort of nudged the loose one forward a bit so the tip of the top tooth was behind the bottom tooth.
Okay then, I sighed with relief. Not as loose as I thought.
Loose teeth, it turns out, kind of creep me out. Make me chilly; break me out in goose bumps. I didn’t know this about myself until my son said he could “put the other tooth behind it.” Kind of how I didn’t know I had a fear of heights until I was on vacation at the Grand Canyon and got disarmingly dizzy and scared to death. Just as I never knew that ultimately, I’d prefer to catch my child’s vomit in my hands over scrubbing it out of the carpet. Isn’t it amazing how we learn things about ourselves?
I’m okay with teeth being loose; I just don’t want the job of having to help remove them. I remember the days when my mom would offer to help free me of a tooth that just didn’t want to say goodbye. The tooth would be hanging by that one last nerve and she’d try to yank it, only the spit in my mouth would make it slippery, and my mom’s fingers would slide off, the tooth still hanging on. And she’d try again and again and again, until we tired from the failures. Or worse, the time she tried the trick of tying a sting around the tooth, the other end attached to the bedroom door knob. I think it was my idea, actually. I’d heard some friends talk about the method. How fast and painless it was. Once the string was tied at both ends, we were supposed to slam the door shut, and the force would, supposedly, yank the tooth right out of its tiny little socket. But there was that slippery spit again and the string would simply slip down, slide below the edge of the dangling tooth, and it would be a struggle to get the sting out of my mouth, the slip knot having tightened, not loose enough to slide back over the tooth, but too tight to slip, say, a pair of scissors in there. Remembering all of this, I decided then and there to let my son’s baby teeth fall out naturally. I wanted no part of it. Dentist, I’m not.
And so it was that my husband had gone out of town to attend a surprise 40th birthday party for his close friend, Chad. And I was home with my son, having our own party, party weekend with two birthday parties to attend ourselves.
It was at the first party that the tooth fell out. I thought it odd when my son ate only two bites of his birthday cupcake before handing it back to me claiming that he didn’t want anymore. “Are you sure?” I asked, a bit concerned since he’s never been one to turn down a cupcake. “My tooth hurts,” he said. “I just want to get back in the swimming pool.”
“Um… okay then,” I replied, somewhat dubious.
I helped him back into the life vest that he insisted on wearing even though the water in the pool was only 3 ½ feet deep and fell mid-chest level on him when he stood with his feet planted at the bottom. He climbed back into the pool and started wiggling his tooth again. And then he looked down at his life vest, and started messing with the zipper near his neck before moving toward me, where I was standing on the pool deck. His arm was extended, his fingers tight in a pincer grip, holding the prize tooth. The wiggling had knocked out the tooth, but it had fallen, caught on the life jacket. A preserver of things after all.
Still, I was anxious as he moved toward me. What we would do if he dropped it? I wasn’t wearing a swim suit, and he couldn’t swim. Could I, I wondered, convince another swimmer to dive to the bottom and search for the tiny tooth? Or would they think I was crazy, call security on us, and kick us out of the swim club? I wanted that tooth. After all, the first lock of hair and the first tooth, those are things you are supposed to keep, aren’t they? Luckily, he made it out of the pool, tooth in hand.
Before I could stow it safely away in my purse, my son had to show it to the birthday girl and her parents, and all her friends and their parents, and anyone else he could snare into looking at the gaping hole in his mouth and the tiny white tooth with a little bit of blood on it. Thankfully, everyone was as excited as we were (or maybe they just pretend well). It was a big deal, losing this first tooth! It meant, after all, that The Tooth Fairy would come, and bring him money. Money, he said, he could use to buy more fountains.
He talked about it all afternoon. “Pretty cool how I lost a tooth, huh?” my son said, as we headed over to the second party of the day. I wonder how much money The Tooth Fairy will bring me.”
“I don’t know, I replied. But I hope she brings paper money so her bag of coins doesn’t clink around and wake us up in the middle of the night!”
That evening, after the parties and dinner and baths, we put the tooth in a little wooden box. I figured this would be easier for the tooth fairy to find than a lone tooth tucked under the pillows. My son worried though. The box was small and he didn’t think the tooth fairy could fit enough money in the box. I don’t know what he expected, that she’d arrive with a suitcase full of unmarked bills? I assured him that she would be able to fit some money in the box and if not, she’d leave it under his pillow. However she did it, I assured him, she’d leave him money. But, I cautioned him, it’s not like she leaves a lot of money. A few dollars, probably. Certainly not enough to buy a fountain with. But that’s better than when I was a kid, I told him. Back then, she only left you a quarter.
It took two attempts for the tooth fairy to snag the tooth and exchange it for cash. The first time I entered my son’s bedroom, he was fast asleep; only his legs were hanging off the bed as if he were ready to sit up! Now what? I pondered. He’s going to fall out of bed if I don’t move him. But if I do move him, he’ll wake up and want to check the tooth box. If I take the tooth and put the money in there first, he’ll find it and be too excited to go back to sleep… I decided it best to move him and come back later. Of course, when I moved him he sat straight up and peered at me intently with open, yet sleeping, non-seeing eyes. He was staring, squinting, perhaps searching for wings or a wand, or tiny twinkling stars, whatever comes with fairies. “Shh… I whispered. You were falling out of bed. Go back to sleep.” And he dropped backwards, rolled over, and closed his eyes. I pulled the sheet up to cover him, and left his room.
I went back in about half an hour later and was able to make the switch. I folded a $5 dollar bill until it was no bigger than a quarter, took the tooth, and put the $5 in its place.
When I went to bed myself, it was near midnight. My son found his riches at 5:45 this morning. “Belle!” he called, walking into my room and shaking me awake. “Look! The Tooth Fairy came! I got $5, pretty cool, huh?” And like I thought, he was too excited to go back to sleep after that.
This morning I noticed his new tooth has already poked through the gum line. It’s as if he were a baby again, with those pearly white bumps cutting through. Only they’re a good ¼” behind the hole where his baby tooth used to reside. I’d always pictured adult teeth as growing directly under the baby teeth. His baby teeth were nearly perfectly aligned, but this new adult tooth poking through looks like a misfit, suggesting trouble, or at the very least, braces for the future. Then again, I’m not, as I said before, a dentist. Nor am I an orthodontist. Today, I’m simply The Tooth Fairy.