Children fall into three categories:1 | Those who will let a tooth become so loose that it falls out on its own, usually when biting into an apple. (Ew.)2 | Those who will wiggle and twist and finally pull their own tooth out. (Ew!)3 | Those who let, or even ask, their parents pull the tooth out for them. (EW.)Parents fall into two categories:1 | Those who let their children deal with the extraction of their own teeth, a.k.a. normal people.
2 | Those who are willing, even eager, to pull their children’s loose teeth out. (I mean, WTF.)
Two nights ago, after spending 90 minutes in the bathroom with my daughter and her most painful loose tooth to date, I morphed from a laissez-faire, let-nature-take-its-course parent into one who was willing to pry the thing right out of her slobbery mouth.
It started at dinner. Something she ate rocked the tooth – her left, lower canine, the one with a two-inch cusp – so it jabbed her gum when she bit down. Never one to play the stoic, she barked in pain, spit out her food, and ran to look in the bathroom mirror at what she was sure was a river of blood gushing from her gums. (Again, ew.) I followed her dutifully with a Kleenex. At first, I was sympathetic and tried to comfort her as she knelt on the bathroom counter and studied her mouth from an inch away. Then, I tried reasoning with her like some hostage negotiator: All was not lost, I told her. She still had options. “Like WHAT???” she blubbered. “Live like this forever? In pain?”I told her she had three choices:1 | Leave it alone.2 | Pull it out.I stopped there, thinking she’d pick the first option as she’s done for every prior loose tooth. “Or…? What’s the third?”3 | She could let me pull it out. (TOTALLY bluffing.)“Ok,” she said.“Ok, what?” I said. “Ok, you can pull it out.” (EEWWW!)If you’ve never tried to grab a saliva-covered wedge (ugh, saliva) situated between two other saliva-covered wedges (yeck, wedges), I can promise you it’s harder than you imagine. Compounding things were my daughter’s crabbiness from not having eaten much that day, my crabbiness from not having eaten much that day, and my brain replaying the scene from “Marathon Man” where Laurence Olivier tortures Dustin Hoffman using dental instruments. My first attempt was thwarted by my daughter’s reflexive terror. As I reached into her mouth, she looked at me like was like I was trying to kill her, so I withdrew. I steeled myself: I’m not a madwoman. She’s in pain, and I’m helping her. The second try was better – I actually half-gripped the thing – but, again, she got spooked and reared back, shoving my hand away. I could see that her tooth was dangling by a ghastly tendon (BARF, tendon) when my phone rang. Caller ID said it was work. Miss Tooth was sniveling at herself in the mirror with three tissues wadded in her mouth. She clearly needed a moment, so I walked out of the bathroom and answered the call.Sixty seconds later, I was handed a tiny wedge-shaped kernel spotted with beads of blood and ligaments still attached (EESH, ligaments).
Teeth are weird, and gross. Our affection for them is even weirder and grosser. Kids outgrow their first set, but instead of getting rid of them like we do with old underwear or toenails, we insist our children put them UNDER THEIR PILLOWS so we can pretend a fairy with a thing for teeth steals them while they’re sleeping.
Comforting. If that’s not bad enough, we then wash the remaining flesh off (blech, flesh) and keep them like some sort of voodoo artifact.
I have all my daughter’s baby teeth in a pill bottle tucked away at the bottom of my sock drawer. What will I ever do with them? Save them for her wedding day? No. Unless we’re burgled and some thief mistakes them for painkillers, they will slowly yellow and age amidst my socks, disintegrating like memories in amberoid captivity. Baby teeth are like souvenirs from the greatest trip of our lives. That’s why we can’t part with them, no matter how disgusting. They’ve smiled at us, nibbled on us, formed first words, and tasted snow. They’ve gnawed corn off the cob and taken bites of birthday cake. They’ve left marks on the corner of books and chewed our key chains. They are the pearly proof of babyhood, evidence that our children were indeed young once and, for a short time, belonged to us.