Tuesday, February 2, 2010

False Tooth

Last week Charlie knocked out his front tooth while playing on the alligator teeter-totter at school. Now, he looks a little like the guy from The Hangover. I'm trying to like his new look, but seeing a scabbed-over gum where his perfect little tooth used to be is just not doing it for me. The whole tooth came out, root and all. It looks like a little shark tooth is sitting on my breakfast bar right now. I'm saving the freakishly long thing for posterity, along with the accident report his teacher wrote. Weird? Maybe.

I remember my mom pulling out a big jar of my hair from the top of her closet one time. I thought that was really strange at the time, but now I sort of get it. I cried over Charlie's crazy long shark tooth the day it got knocked out. What a weird thing to mourn. Baby teeth are supposed to fall out. Big enormous ones come back in their place. Wasn't I just singing the praises of this process in my last post? But this baby tooth wasn't supposed to come out yet. I feel like Charlie's mouth was robbed. It wasn't this tooth's time yet.

I googled "knocked out tooth with root." Apparently this happens quite a bit. I read about babies getting two, sometimes four of their brand new teeth knocked out after an especially bad fall. That would be too much for me to bear, I think. I would be online purchasing those dentures that little girls in beauty pageants wear if that happened to my baby.

I'm thinking about getting Charlie a false tooth. According to the dentist, he won't get a permanent tooth until he's seven, maybe eight....that's three, maybe four years. He's already starting to lisp. On the plus side, he can now whistle.

When we picked up Emma from school on the day of the alligator teeter-totter incident, I told Emma to look back at Charlie, that he had a surprise for her. I'm sure she was expecting candy or a balloon or something. I was doing my best to act like Charlie's new "big boy mouth" was an exciting right of passage, rather than the desecration of my sweet boy's smile that I secretly saw it as.

Emma congratulated Charlie and was excited for his impending visit from the tooth fairy (she has not yet lost any teeth, so it took a lot of maturity for her to be excited for him to be the first). But then she looked worried and said, "Mommy, I feel like it's my fault. I feel like I did something wrong."

Even though it didn't make any sense for her to feel this way, I understood completely. That was exactly how I felt. I told her I knew exactly what she meant--that it wasn't our fault that Charlie lost a tooth, but it felt like somehow we should've kept it from happening. I look at that hole in his mouth and see my own deficiencies as a mother. I see what I lack, rather than what Charlie's gums lack. I see what I should have prevented from happening. Maybe a false tooth would give me a false sense of security, but that would be better than staring at a gaping hole.

I do know that it wasn't my fault or Charlie's fault or Emma's fault. Stuff just happens. Alligator teeter-totters can be unpredictable. You never know when you drop your child off at preschool, if he will come back to you with all his teeth in his head. What if it had been a finger...or an arm? I would not be saving either of those in a Ziploc bag on my breakfast bar, you'll be glad to know. A tooth is insignificant enough, bloodless enough, to be saved in a scrapbook (or a jar). But that doesn't mean I didn't mourn it, and wish I could stick it back in Charlie's mouth with my glue gun.

I love every hair on my children's head. Every tooth in their mouths is my favorite one and will be missed when it is gone. I'm thankful that Charlie is otherwise unharmed. I'm thankful that I have seen his big teeth on the x rays and they are waiting to make their grand appearance eventually. I'm thankful that my children are safe and healthy and that the most they have to fear is an alligator teeter-totter.

While we drove home from Emma's school, NPR was playing in the background. They were describing pulling people out from under collapsed buildings in Haiti. One man had been looking for his fiance for eleven days and hadn't given up hope. And I'm worried about a little tooth? I did cry about the tooth, but then I soon realized that it is nothing, a little sliver of bone. It changes nothing essential about the Charlie I love. There is real loss in this world and the tooth that sits behind me on the breakfast bar is like a cartoon version of it, not the real thing at all.


Pamela Ehrenberg said...

Hi, Elizabeth--

This makes me cry, in a good way. I've already quoted from it once so far, to a friend who was having some anxiety b/c her daughter may need glasses. We will always love Charlie no matter how many teeth, homegrown or false, he has or doesn't have in his mouth. And for whatever it's worth, I think the courage that got him to do whatever he was doing on the alligator teeter-totter, I think that'll carry him further in life than this particular baby tooth would've carried him anyway. As a younger Charlie would've said: "Oh wow."

Robin said...

So sweet, Elizabeth. I think these little sorrows of ours do, in some way, help us relate to the really big ones of others.

Hugs to your little big man,