Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tooth Loss

Son Number Two lost his first tooth the other night. He is six and a half years old, and he had been wiggling one of his lower front teeth for over a month trying to get it loose enough to come out, because the way he figured it, he was behind. His older brother started losing his teeth at age five, and being a naturally competitive middle child, it was not sitting well with Number Two that none of his had fallen out yet.

I pulled Son Number One’s first loose tooth out of his mouth with my fingers, and all three boys thought that was pretty cool, so ever since then, that has been the only acceptable way to lose teeth in our family. Other kids wait until they fall out in an apple or a sandwich, but not my kids. Number One pulled two of his own teeth out at school while sitting in class. My kids are kind of weird.

I knew Son Number Two’s first tooth was getting really close to coming out, because he could bend it back and forth almost 90 degrees. He was sitting in the back seat of the car attempting to pull it out of his head as we were driving to his soccer team pictures, so I had to beg him not to mess with it until later that night, or at least until after the team photo was taken. Luckily, he listened to me and I won’t have to have this future conversation:
“Great team photo. Which one is your kid?”
“The one with the missing tooth and the blood dripping down his chin. It was a rough league.”

After he had brushed his teeth that night, he was continuing to play with the very wiggly central incisor, so I reached in there and wrenched it from his jaw. This is one of the things that I just don’t get about kids and losing teeth. I ripped the tooth out of his mouth, and handed it to him. Instead of being upset about that, like any normal adult would be, he was beaming with pride and joy. He was smiling a newly-toothless grin from ear to ear, holding his own tooth in his hand, bleeding profusely all over the bathroom counter and sink, and joyously admiring his gruesome countenance in the mirror. He exclaimed, in a cheerful and blood-spattered voice, "I've been waiting for this for six and a half years!" Like I said, my kids are kind of weird.

Because Son Number One began losing his baby teeth when he was five, I have been thinking about this subject for a while now. My January, 2011 column, “The Tooth Fairy,” asked many questions that still go unanswered today. Namely, why don’t kids ask more questions about the Tooth Fairy and his or her motives? I also discussed the need for a universally adopted fee schedule, as well as solicited advice for what to do with all the teeth I am collecting.

While no one had any good advice for my wife and me on these pressing issues, one of our good friends did give us a book entitled Throw Your Tooth on the Roof. It’s about all the different tooth traditions around the world. While it was interesting and funny, all it really served to do was add to the list of questions I have about kids losing teeth.

Apparently, saving your kid’s baby teeth and doing weird things with them is not a uniquely American phenomenon. We even stole the Tooth Fairy from another culture. Why? Why would we have done that??? Why? Couldn’t the early Americans see that the end result of parents having to be the Tooth Fairy would be very, very annoying and expensive? They were visionaries in so many respects. How could they have been so short-sighted on this issue?

Were there just not enough good opportunities to give your kids money in the olden days, so they decided to pay them for their teeth? Why did we feel the need to complicate childhood tooth loss? At the very least, couldn’t we have adopted one of the other tooth-related traditions?

As the title of the book would suggest, a lot of cultures feel that throwing the baby teeth up on the roof is the way to go. The mythical end result varies from country to country, but basically, the overriding theme is good luck. I like it because no money is involved, and there is no need to remember to make the money/tooth switch at the hopelessly inconvenient drop location of directly under the sleeping child’s head.

Besides having an imaginary flying nymph pay for them, or throwing them into the rain gutters, the next most popular tradition was planting them in the garden. Again, I like it from the standpoint of no money and no time-critical, potentially emotionally devastating situation where the child wakes up to find his or her tooth still under the pillow, caused by tired parents going to sleep on the job. What I didn’t really understand is what is supposed to be accomplished. Since losing teeth seems like a really big event in any kid’s life, I would expect the planting them in the garden thing to backfire more often than not. I know if that was our family’s tradition, our kids would be at the garden every day, examining the exact spot where the tooth was planted, waiting for the magic beanstalk.

Maybe the parents sneak out to the garden after the planting, and replace the tooth with an actual seed. If that’s the case, I am less excited about that one, because based on my lack of green thumb, my children would be convinced that they had a mouthful of defective teeth.

The book outlined all the crazy tooth traditions around the world, but never answered the one burning question: Why? Why do we do anything with kids’ teeth? Why don’t we just high-five the kid and throw the tooth in the trash? Doesn’t that seem simpler to everyone?

And why do the kids get so excited about it? Why is it such a universally anticipated event for the world’s children? Things are falling out of your mouth! Trust me, kid, that is not a good thing when you get older.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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