KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
And so, with a wave of her calcium- enriched wand, the tooth fairy has left our home forever. I didn’t even know that this last tooth was THE last tooth, until The Youngest mentioned that the dentist had told her last month that this wobbly, worrisome molar would be her last. Sixty small teeth have now left the building. I counted them in and, I suppose, I must have counted them out again. But they are funny things, baby teeth: not only do we not remember losing our own, but I also honestly cannot account for that many of my children’s either. Sixty! As the young people say, how’d that happen?
I remember the awful ones, of course. The Boy’s first, violently blown out when he fell and smacked his mouth against a railing at the swimming pool. He wasn’t yet three, and there he was: a little solid chunk of a toddler, with a bloody gap in his mouth. Needless to say, the tooth fairy went nuts that night. Not just money, I recall, but toys too... the kitchen sink, if she could have extracted it and placed it under his sodden little pillow.
There was the tooth that was accidentally swallowed — The Boy again — prompting a long and unnecessarily detailed letter of explanation for the fairy. Somehow, that episode resulted in us discovering that it is possible for tooth fairies to dive to the bottom of the sea and extract teeth from, well, you get the idea.
There were the ones the fairies forgot. Inevitably, they fell out on Saturdays, a night on which, coincidentally, wine is usually consumed in this house. Once, a tooth remained uncollected for two nights, prompting another letter and an apologetic and very tiny reply. And although the fairies were not as generous in this house as they were in some others, a lot of money changed hands. The first few teeth were worth €1 apiece, which quickly rose to €2 for trickier, older specimens.
The one that came out in contravention of the laws of nature was worth a small fortune and any that caused significant problems or pain usually merited a full €4. Perhaps because the fairy knew that she was on her last visit to our house, the very last one went for €6. And
‘I might have been immune to dirty nappies – but the whole baby-tooth thing brought fresh horrors every time’
in all that time, I never, ever got used to it. A tooth never fell out that didn’t send a small shiver of revulsion down my spine. That flash of fresh crimson in a perfect little mouth — it did it for me every time. The ones with the bloody pulp still spilling over their jagged edges actually made me gag. I might have become immune to dirty nappies and small pools of vomit, but the whole baby-tooth thing brought fresh horrors every time.
So you might think that I would be glad to see the back of it. You might think that, as I examined the small, semi-decayed tooth in the palm of my hand the other day, I’d wish it and all its fellow offenders godspeed. But there was something about that tooth; something that made me want to hold onto it just a little longer than usual, before wrapping it carefully in a pristine tissue and giving it to The Youngest to place under her pillow.
Maybe it was because the older two never expected their last baby teeth to be collected — or maybe they did, and secure in the knowledge that there was a younger child in the house, I have simply forgotten.
Or maybe it was because we somehow managed to get all the way to 60 teeth without having to have a single awkward conversation about the little people who collect them. It is, I suppose, now not beyond the realm of possibilities that my children will have children of their own before it occurs to them that the business of baby- tooth disposal might be just a shade more complicated than they’d previously believed.
Either way, I stood a long time in The Youngest’s bedroom doorway that night, watching her sleep. I don’t know if I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the tooth fairy or if I was just regretting the fact that there has been magic in this house for more than a decade and I pretty much took it for granted.
Joni Mitchell was right: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. By the following morning, the tooth had vanished. And right there, for the second time in my life, the loss of one of my children’s baby teeth made me cry.