The tooth is leaning forward, a tiny spear pointing directly at his bottom lip. Push against the outside of his lip and the little tooth might pierce it, poke all the way through like a drill. If it weren’t loose it would be standing up, in its socket, like the rest of his teeth. But it won’t go back into formation. It leans forward, a miniature drawbridge across the moat that is the space between his lip and gums. He can twist it side to side, make the bridge swing to and fro, but it won’t stand back up. A new tooth is creeping up behind it, blocking the path, a pebble in the gears. The drawbridge cannot be closed.
It’s been like this for weeks. Every morning and every evening I ask Snags to wiggle the tooth. “Harder,” I say. “Can you twist it? Try twisting it all the way around.” It twists some, but it won’t spin. I won’t touch it because loose teeth make me shiver in an uncomfortable kind of way, remind me of the various failed efforts to extract my own loose teeth so many years ago. Snags won’t wiggle or twist too hard because he doesn’t want to hurt himself.
But I am tired of looking at the hanging tooth. It looks painful, although I know it’s not. I am beginning to wonder if I will have to haul him to the dentist and have her pull it. How many weeks can a tooth hang on? How can he eat with such a wiggly tooth? How can he talk with the tiny white spear scraping against his lip with each syllable he utters? Thinking about it too much leaves me covered in goose bumps.
I’m desperate for the tooth to fall out. It disturbs me. I want him to yank it out. “Snags,” I say, “Did you know that if you loose a tooth on the night before a holiday that the Tooth Fairy will give you FIVE dollars for the tooth?” Surely, this, the promise of bonus money, will be enough to get him to tug a little harder.
“Really? Wow,” he says, and he reaches into his mouth to wiggle the tooth some more. But at bedtime the tooth is still hanging on and Snags is upset. He really wants to earn that five dollars, but he just can’t bring himself to snap that hanging tooth free of the vine that holds it. He worries over it and wants to know if it’s only the night before a holiday or if the promise of five dollars extends into the day of the holiday and the day after. I hedge, saying I’m not sure, but that I think it probably extends to those days as well. The tooth’s remaining days of hanging out in Snags’ mouth are numbered. So is the five in my wallet.
Morning comes and the holiday, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is official. And the tooth remains.
Schools are closed so we visit a neighbor. Snags and his friend go down to the basement to build with LEGOs. I’m in the kitchen, talking to my friend when Snags comes up the stairs, a look of utter horror on his face. His mouth is agape, his hand extends toward me. “Mom!,” he whispers. I am taking stock, trying to figure out what the problem is, why he looks so ill. I start to reach for the EpiPen in my pocket. Maybe he is having an allergic reaction to food found in my neighbor’s basement. I ask what is wrong, but Snags isn’t talking. He looks like he’s hardly breathing. A frightened ghost shuffling towards me.
My friend figures it out first. “You lost a tooth!” she exclaims.
“My mouth is bleeding,” he replies.
I begin to relax. It’s not an allergic reaction. He can talk. He looks stunned and ill and pale because his mouth is bleeding. This is nothing. I uncurl my fingers from the Epi Pen in my pocket.
The Tooth Fairy comes that night as expected. Snags calls to me in the middle of the night. I glance at the clock as soon as I hear him yell, “MOM!” I go to him. “What is it? What’s wrong?” In the dark he shows me the five dollar bill that he found under his pillow.
“The Tooth Fairy came? That’s nice,” I mumble. “Now go back to sleep. It’s 3:00 a.m.!” I cannot believe he woke me up for this.
He is six years old. I have a small collection of his baby teeth hidden away. Teeth he lost, teeth the Tooth Fairy left me.
The first tooth was a great event, and of course, you always keep the very first tooth. It marks something special, the official beginning of growing up, the loss of the baby teeth, the appearance of the adult teeth. The second tooth, I have that one too. And now, I have this third tooth, and I realize it’s a collection. Of teeth. Not unlike Kevin the mail clerks’ collection of owl beaks from the television show Just Shoot Me!
So I search the internet. I am looking for wisdom and advice from other mothers. What do they do with all of these baby teeth? Many, it appears, keep them. They say their children, once they were past the tooth fairy stage, enjoyed looking at all of their lost baby teeth. Other people, I read, keep the teeth on the hope that scientists might one day extract stem cells from them. They might one day use them to cure age related diseases. But in order to do that, the parents have to specially prepare the teeth and send them off to a tooth bank for safe keeping. All I have are three dried out little teeth, sitting in the back of a dresser drawer.
I just finished reading Alice Sebold’s book, The Lovely Bones, and I can’t stop picturing Mr. Harvey sitting in his basement amongst the bones as I realize that I sleep in my room at night, amongst the teeth. And I get chills all over again.