March 18, 2013
The Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth
“Mom, I lost my tooth!” my youngest son cries with wonder, a shout coupled with excitement and tinged with a bit of disgust. I run over to the kitchen table and respond “Let me see!”, and indeed, when he carefully unfurls his fingers, it appears the tiny white object nestled in his palm is one that formerly resided in his mouth.
He smiles up at me with his new toothless grin, which I know I’ll come to adore as long as it lasts, and asks me if we can put it under the pillow tonight. I respond with an emphatic yes, and ask him what he’d like the tooth fairy to bring to him. He looks me straight in the eye and answers he wants to go to China.
That’s my boy. No pedestrian quarters for him.
I tell him that although the tooth fairy is quite efficient in her prize dispensing that unfortunately travel agent is not part of her job description, and he begrudgingly knocks his request down to a Phineas and Ferb book, a desire his mother actually can fulfill. He then runs to the bathroom to see the gap where his tooth once resided, touches it gingerly with his finger to see if it hurts.
It doesn’t. Satisfied, he runs back to his seat for lunch, already asking me if we can go somewhere today as his mother simultaneously figures out how she’ll escape to Barnes and Noble before nightfall. Soon he is focused entirely on consuming his lunch, tooth loss forgotten as he regales me with his day in the fast-paced world of kindergarten.
We’ve entered the arena of lost body parts. My little boy is growing up.
There are signs of it everywhere. I see his growth in the way he’d rather struggle to put on his gloves by himself than deign to ask for help. I witness his independence when he pushes his father and me out of the room at bedtime so he can read his last story alone. I acknowledge his progress when he clamors for privacy in the bathroom, an enclave which previously required adult attendance for him at all times. My not-so-little one is intent on figuring it all out for himself, and that’s as it should be.
He’s fine with it all. It’s just his mother who has to learn to adjust.
It’s not that Justin doesn’t strive for independence too. In the past year my eldest son has acquired so many new and important milestones, from completely dressing and undressing himself without prompts, to helping clean up at dinner which requires a number of prompts (I can’t blame him, I don’t like to do it either).
He no longer shadows us constantly, prefers to be with us but not on top of us in a room unless he’s hungry, then all bets are off. Justin’s making his way in the world too, at a different pace and trajectory than the rest of us, but his way nonetheless.
It’s simply hit me that while on some level my firstborn will always need our care, his little brother will not.
I realize that relief is welling in me, threatening to make this an emotional rather than a triumphant moment, and I push it back for later contemplation so I can be here, in the now, with Zach. I can’t stop my mind however from briefly returning to those dark days when he stopped speaking, playing with toys, or interacting with those he loved in any comprehensible way.
He has come so far from that painful abyss, the one in which he resided for such a seemingly endless time. My boy will have choices, although I no longer feel his life will necessarily be more fulfilling than his brother’s.
Zach is forging his own path, one that won’t always include us. To the core of my soul, I am eternally grateful.
He finishes his lunch with zeal and asks to go upstairs and place his tooth next to his brother’s, in the small silver receptacle I received at Justin’s birth. I take it down from its resting place and note that it needs a good polishing (and also note that this probably won’t happen). Zach takes off the lid dramatically, declaring with wide-eyed wonder that his deposit is bloodier than his brother’s, a fact which apparently is quite cool. He places his treasure inside and bounds from the room, already on to his next quest, to best me in yet another light saber duel.
I bet you can guess who will win.
On tippy-toe I replace the tiny teddy bear in its sacred spot, then prepare myself for a battle which will invariably include several stung knuckles. I realize I will have to practice this slow attrition of need, of always being central to his life. It is both a glorious and difficult path.
And one I will gladly walk with him.