On Sunday afternoon T. asked for some computer time, so I set her up in the office with her favorite site, and busied myself peeling potatoes for dinner. Not even ten minutes later T. came out with her hand in her mouth, and an awed, almost frightened look on her face.
“What is it, T.?” I asked her.
“I have a loose tooth!”
Her first loose tooth EVER. She wiggled it for me, back and forth, back and forth. She was amazed, and a little scared, and a little worried, but mainly she felt big. Really big.
One of the milestones etched into my maternal mind, for both my children, is the appearance of that first tooth. In each case, the first tooth they lost was the tooth that had first appeared, and both kids were four months old each time. With L., I remember sitting on the couch by the window in our apartment in New York, jiggling him up and down on my knee. He opened his mouth to laugh and I saw it: an almost opaque white line on his lower gum. I ran my finger over it and it was, in fact, a tooth. I remember feeling a rush of emotion so powerful it took me by surprise.
I caught a glimpse of T.'s first tooth when we were waiting at the doctor's office. She yawned and there it was, a spot on her gum, that relentless first tooth, pushing through. I had always imagined I would be in awe of those bigger milestones—rolling over, crawling, pulling up, the first words. But I had never imagined feeling that choking, teary feeling over the eruption of a first tooth.
L. lost that first tooth over a bag of goldfish crackers in first grade. He ran to me at walk-up, face glowing with pride, and carrying the First Tooth Certificate his teacher had printed out for him, and the precious tiny tooth, smaller than a pebble, in a plastic Ziploc baggie. Later that night, after I had checked on him before bed, I dug the tooth out from under his pillow and weighed it in my palm. That tiny tooth, the one that had made me cry with joy and pride that morning years before in New York, was out. In its place a new tooth was already pushing through, larger and stronger, made for different, bigger things.
I cried again. I couldn't help it.
At bedtime Sunday night T. brushed her teeth carefully, and wiggled the loose one with her tongue. Back and forth, and back and forth.
“Will it fall out tonight?” she asked, afraid.
“No, I’m sure it won’t,” I told her.
Much later I felt her crawl into our bed at 5:00 a.m., and squeeze her shivery body near my warm back.
“Mama, my tooth is still there!” she whispered in my ear.
And sleepy though I was, I half-awoke and willed that tooth to stay put just a little longer—just another day or two, please, before it too is filed away, before it too makes room for larger, stronger, bigger things.
I'm not ready yet.