Simcha Fisher: Baby teeth

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On life, lost teeth and loose floorboards

My daughter finally lost her tooth. It was a relief, that it came out just before the first day of school.

The tooth was hanging on by the merest hinge, and as long as she was home, she delighted in flipping it back and forth gruesomely; but the prospect of losing it at school presented some problems. She’s a bit of a bleeder.

What if she wore her favourite mask with the parakeet on it for the first day of school, and she ended up bleeding on it? She could bring a second mask as a back-up, I suggested. But does blood come out of masks? I assured her that it does. Still, we were all relieved that the tooth fell out the night before. So much better to deal with these things at home.

So then of course she lost the tooth anyway — lost it after losing it, I mean. She had put it in a sandwich bag and set it by her plate while she ate dinner, and her older brother cleared the table and mistook this fragment of her for trash, and threw it out.

Understandable all around. A sympathetic hug, and she was mostly over it. She probably has another baby tooth in her head to lose, still, so I don’t think this was her last chance to slip a tooth under her pillow and hope someone, magical or otherwise, would come and collect it in the night.

It’s a strange thing to work around, the idea that part of our skeletal system might fall out during the day, and we have to decide what to do with it. It’s hard to shake the idea that the system of growing and losing teeth isn’t halfway magical — not in an airy, sparkly way, but in a murkier, more occult vein, where biology bleeds into grisly existentialism, and hidden things come to light only to be lost again, leaving a half-healed wound. Strange that we just live with this system, as if it’s normal.

Although I tell my children the bald truth about almost everything, I lie and tell them that yes, there is a small, overworked fairy who spirits away their teeth at night for reasons of her own. She leaves cash and arcane, rumpled letters (written by my husband, who cares less but is able to keep track of more), and sometimes she has to pay up for six or seven teeth at a time, because she’s so bad at her job. But she exists. Stranger things have happened than that she exists. I guess I just like the idea of someone being in charge, even though we all know it’s really me.

I sometimes wonder how many teeth have been lost and then lost again in this house. I suppose they get carried away by mice, or rattled by the vibrations of everyday living into the cracks and corners of the floorboards, and then they work their way down through the layers of where we live until you can’t tell the difference between them and any pebble, any bit of refuse. But it is an awful lot of teeth.

Say each child loses twenty teeth — can that be right? And we moved into this house fourteen years ago, and I already had five children then, all already losing or growing teeth, and then I had five more children, and say they each swallowed one or two teeth accidentally, and lost two at school, and then one kid had those crazy shark teeth that had to be pulled.

And let’s say that in those fourteen years, I did maybe four violent whole-house purges, and decided it was time to get rid of all those foolish clutter, and I threw out a dozen useless little envelopes that someone had written “TOTH FARYE” on in green crayon . . . no, I can’t do the math. I don’t want to do it.

Strange thing to work around, that all these children came into my house and now they are starting to go again. Most of them don’t ask me what to do when they have a problem, anymore.

They have their own ideas about how to solve things, and they don’t need my explanations about how the world works, or my sympathy. It’s all just biology, all natural, all part of the plan. Happens to everybody. Magical, really, if you want to see it that way. It leaves a little wound, but I imagine it will heal.

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