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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Teeth and Tears


                The tooth fairy has been the source of a lot of fun in my home. With eight children many teeth have been lost over the years and we are still losing them. Losing a tooth in this home pretty much follows the same patter.
                “Dad, I have a loose tooth. See!” The child opens his mouth and pushes a tooth forward with his tongue.
                I cringe, because it looks painful to me, and then say, while making a fist in front of their face, “I can help you get that tooth out.”
                “No thanks,” he answers without much worry. I’m not a very scary father. Actually, my making a fist is a kind of joke among the children because they know that I can’t stand the sight of blood. My two attempts at pulling teeth in the past with my finger and a string ended in miserable failure. The stories have been passed down from my older children to my younger children and is still a joke. No, all of the teeth that have been lost in this home have been of the “do-it-yourself” variety. It is always a relief to me to have a child excitedly run in to show me the tooth that is in their hand and the bloody spot where it had been in their mouth—and I didn’t have to do a thing.
                The child will put the tooth in a little ceramic “tooth” container on top of the piano. Then the “wait” begins. The tooth fairy never comes the first night. He might not come the second night. In fact he might not come for three weeks. I think that is the record. When my kids remind me that the tooth fairy hasn’t come I will consult the “tooth fairy blog” (you may have trouble finding that blog) to learn where he has been. He might have gotten caught in hurricane in Mexico. It might be that he was over in Russia at the time of the tooth loss and it just takes time to work his way this direction. Once he was on vacation (even fairies need a break). His GPS has been known to go out and it takes a bit to get repaired.
                Eventually the tooth fairy does arrive. This is usually about the time my child’s patience is running thin. My wife will quietly come out one morning before the kids have arisen and ask, “Has the tooth fairy come yet?” With that little prod I will hurry over to the tooth holder and find that, yes, indeed, the tooth fairy has finally arrived. My child will come and excitedly show me the loot while at the same time giving me the “it’s about time” look.
                Recently my ten-year-old son had been waiting for an especially long time for the tooth fairy to arrive. The big snows on the East Coast had really messed up his schedule. Checking the tooth holder became a daily ritual with him. He would be full of anticipation on his way to the piano and then resigned to the quirkiness of the tooth fairy schedule as he walked away empty handed.
                On the morning the tooth fairy finally arrived my son had not kept his scheduled visit with the tooth holder. His seven-year-old sister, even though it was not her tooth in the holder, was not so remiss. She checked and found the tooth had been replaced by a dollar and immediately ran and told her big brother. Instead of being excited at the news he puzzled us by breaking into tears and running to his room. This son has a record of being a little moody and everyone just rolled their eyes at his behavior. I had inkling that there was something more to his behavior than usual. Could it be that he was unhappy that his long wait had only produced a dollar? I didn’t think it was that because greed and ungraciousness has never been his style. I learned that it was the amount of money at all. It was the disappointment that he hadn’t discovered the exciting arrival of the tooth fairy himself.
                When I told others the reason for his behavior they just rolled their eyes again and thought that he shouldn’t be such a baby. I had to agree that he was acting like a baby, but on the other hand  I could  understand his bitter disappointment. Each morning he had had the delightful anticipation of checking the tooth holder. He knew that on one of these mornings his anticipation would be rewarded with the prize. As the days went on the anticipation of that moment grew. Finally, just when the moment the anticipation was to be rewarded his little sister had let the air out of his balloon with her untimely information. She had basically told him the ending of the mystery he was only half-way through reading. She was the cold-sore on the lip of his girlfriend who he was going to kiss for the first time. She was the one who used up the hot water right before his shower.
                This son will have to grow up and learn to handle disappointment better. There are unpleasant places I can go in my mind where the residue of memories of disappointments in my life remain. I wish I had the right to cry about each and every one of them, but as an adult I no longer have the right. This son is still young. He still has the right so I let him cry it out and pretended he was also crying for me.

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