“Say cheese!” I took my 5-year-old’s picture and zoomed in on her big, beautiful smile. It was then that I noticed a crooked little bottom tooth. I asked her to let me check on it, and sure enough, it was loose. She was so excited: “The tooth fairy is coming!” I smiled softly as she ran off, and then — I cried.
The tears surprised no one more than me. You see, I hate mouths and teeth and tongues. Hats off to you dentists and dental hygienists. All the drool, bad breath, plaque — I do not have the stomach for it. I have been around my fair share of children with loose teeth — I’ve worked as a nanny and in elementary schools. Each time a child has proudly shown me how they can wiggle their tooth, my stomach turns as I force out an, “Oh, cool!” while trying not to gag. It sounds dramatic, but I just cannot handle loose teeth.
I told my husband for years, even before we had kids of our own, that he would be in charge of the loose teeth in our family. Loose tooth? Dad wants to see! Tooth needs to be pulled? Go find Daddy!
However, like many things I thought I knew before I became a parent, my own child’s loose tooth did not totally disgust me. It still wasn’t my favorite, but it did not make me nauseous when we checked to see how loose her tooth was every morning.
The tooth came out one day as she was eating lunch. She raced to show me and we celebrated her dental milestone. I tried to hide the emotions I felt rising up as we talked about the tooth fairy’s visit to our house. I held the tooth while she rinsed her mouth out. Looking down at it in my hand, I understood why I felt so much nostalgia toward this particular little incisor.
It was the first tooth she cut as a baby.
My husband and I worked so hard to help her as that sharp tooth cut through her baby gums. We lost sleep. We bought every imaginable teething toy — gel, refrigerated, wooden, silicone, famous giraffes. When she ran a teething fever, we were ridiculed for missing a family Christmas get-together in favor of keeping her home where she was comfortable and could sleep. We gave her baby Motrin. We soothed, snuggled, and changed shirts five times a day from relentless drool.
The tooth I was holding now had already been celebrated five years ago for its first milestone. The week it finally broke through, we took so many pictures of this pearly white surrounded by baby gums. The baby who had been so uncomfortable now smiled again, each smile showing off her new, shiny accomplishment. One by one, we would work together for each new baby tooth that grew in.
The fact that I was now holding this same tooth was yet another sign that my baby was growing up. And it hurt. From the minute we welcome our children into this world, we are practicing the art of letting them go. Have you noticed it?
Baby teeth aren’t meant to last forever. Just as our babies aren’t meant to stay little forever. They grow, and they hit milestones. They change, and they become their own people. Stages come, and stages go. And all the while, we cheer them through their growth, providing a stable foundation for an ever-evolving child.
If you find yourself crying over a loose tooth, remember this: The emotions might just be deeper than a tooth.