All year she anticipated loss. “Mommy, will I lose my tooth soon?” my daughter asked me as last summer came to an end and the school year began.
Once she started kindergarten, tales of classmates losing teeth became part of our everyday conversation. Claire lost her tooth eating an apple at lunch, while Allison’s popped out during the middle of reading time. Georgia lost her first tooth after school in our playroom as the girls watched Strawberry Shortcake. My daughter developed a case of tooth fairy envy as she heard her friends talk about the magical fairy and the gifts she bestowed for lost teeth: chocolate bunnies, silver dollars and special coins that looked like money, but weren’t.
While I embraced her enthusiasm, my heart sank each time I thought of her losing that first tooth. I could remember a time when that tooth had not yet appeared. I recalled waking in the middle of the night, cradling my baby, and placing an ice pack on her swollen gums as the first tiny buds of teeth fought to break through. Her first tooth was a momentous occasion arriving two months before her first birthday, just in time for cupcakes. As I think of those same teeth falling out, I feel a pang of grief in my heart as I witness the first pieces of her childhood breaking away.
As my daughter reaches these milestones, I’m reminded how quickly childhood zooms by. I feel my own loss as she separates from me in small ways. As a mother to an only child, these losses feel especially profound, because I don’t have a younger child whom I can relive these experiences with.
I tuck my feelings inside so I won’t disappoint my daughter, who is eager to grow up like her peers. As her mother, I also want to protect her from the pain that comes with getting older. I know that reaching these childhood landmarks means facing other growing pains, too. I can still recall losing my first tooth, and the childhood conflicts that arose as I climbed the ladder of elementary school—girl cliques, fights with friends and bruised feelings.
Like any child, my daughter is eager to step up the ladder. She is excited about her first camping trip, sleepover birthday parties, and riding her bike without training wheels. Her spirit seems to deflate every time she witnesses one of her classmates embarking upon these changes before she does.
This past school year, we waited for her magical day. Finally, just last month, as the school year neared its end, she proudly said, “Mommy, feel how loose my tooth is!”
I touched her tooth and felt it moving back and forth like a rocking chair. Two weeks later, at her scheduled dental appointment, the tooth was hanging by a thread.
“Dr. Jay, you told me I would lose a tooth by the time I turned six and a half,” my daughter reminded him.
“I guess I better keep my promise,” he replied. He placed a small piece of dental floss on her front tooth and tugged on it gently, and suddenly the tooth popped out.
“I lost my tooth!” my daughter exclaimed.
We cheered for her big moment. Dr. Jay gave her a small wooden box to carry the tooth home in. I felt nostalgic as I saw that small baby tooth resting in its new home.
That night I took the tooth out and studied it, now a piece of my child’s history. I wondered if teeth are like fingerprints, each one unique to its owner. Then I put the tooth back inside of the box and set a $5 bill under her pillow.
The next morning she ran into our room, waving the money wildly. “Mommy, Daddy, the tooth fairy came and she brought me five dollars!”
While she was enthusiastic about her first tooth fairy visit, what made her happiest was joining her peers. She was eager to go to school and tell them about her first lost tooth. She was no longer an outsider.
As she smiled, I noticed the vacant space where her tooth once lived. I felt the same pang in my heart, my own grief bittersweet over what had been lost. Each new turning point bears a reminder that no matter how hard I hold on, my daughter is becoming an older, more independent child.
I took her hand as we walked to school. “Allison, I lost a tooth!” my daughter shouted from the sidewalk. Her friend turned around and gave her a high-five, and then I turned and high-fived her too.