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The Tooth the Fairy Forgot

He jumped out of our bed, where he had been curled up like a tired Weimaraner for most of the night, and went running for his bed. My husband sat straight up like a sprung Jack-in-the-box. "I forgot about the tooth! Did you get it?!" he frantically whispered. Now it was my turn for Jack-in-the-box duty. "No! Dang it!" I sank back into bed, while my husband went into try to do some damage control. I lay there quietly, with another little boy who had just woken up, ready to nurse, and listened. In the quiet of my room, the voice in my head was deafening: I had failed.

Yes, Saturday morning started with a very disappointed boy whom the tooth fairy had forgotten. "Maybe she has the throw-up germ," I offered. "It's going around. I mean, just look at us. Poor baby brother was up all night throwing up. Maybe she didn't want to catch it. I mean, she's a fairy. Germs are probably as big as she is, right?" But he didn't buy it. I wanted to sink into the floor. Then he looked up and said, "Maybe because I had a bad dream and came to your bed, she got confused. Maybe she looked under my head and didn't find it and left. Do you think she'll come back tonight if I stay in my bed?" "I'm sure she will," I responded. And she did. Maybe I hadn't failed after all.

Later that night, I held that tiny tooth in my hand. What a weird thing. Its jagged little edge, tinged with blood where it had wiggled out. The rest of it, smooth and white. How many times had I brushed this tiny tooth? And how we had celebrated it when we first discovered it, peeking through the gums of our precious, first-born boy! Oh, yes! The appearance of each tooth was lovingly documented in his baby book, a record of dental health.

Holding that tiny tooth in my hand, I'm reminded of all the puréed baby food, and those first Cheerios, snapped in half, so he didn't choke. That tiny tooth that was there when I was learning how to be a mother to a toddler, picking him up after falling down over and over again. That tiny tooth that was there on the first day of Kindergarten, when I kissed him goodbye, crying and scared in a new classroom. That tiny tooth that was there when he won his first trophy, glistening with gleeful surprise in the picture on my phone. Yes, that tiny tooth has been a part of every success and every disappointment of his young life.

And now that tiny tooth is moving on. And so is he. And, I suppose, so am I. I see the "big kid" permanent teeth coming in. They look too big for his mouth. He's looking too big for my eyes. Now, at six-and-a-half, he's saying things like, "Mom, it was so epic!" I try to explain the origin of the word. When I get to Homer, he stops me. "Mom, it's just an expression. It just means really cool, okay?" "Okay. Got it," I say.

I know that, at this point next year, I'l look back at this moment and say, "He was so little! Remember that snaggletoothed smile?" But, for now, I want to hang onto this not-so-little boy for a little while longer. This not-so-little boy who will still let me snuggle him at storytime, who still wants me to sing songs as he drifts off to sleep, who still wears his heart on his sleeve, even as I see the grown-up boy starting to steal that away.

I know these days are numbered. I already hear him starting to say that he wants "alone time." I know it's just a matter of time until he doesn't want to be in the middle of my lap for a story. Already, I have to peek over his shoulder to see the words on the page. He's grown too big to see over his head. Already, he's reading to the rest of us, pretending that he's the teacher and we're all students in his class. He doesn't have to tell me that. I am learning every day from him. Already, I hear him working out how to cope with social pressures at school. I overhear him telling his little sister how to stand up for what's right, even when it's hard. I pop into the room to ask him about it and he's silent to me. Already, he's part of a world that's shutting me out.

But, for now, he still believes in the tooth fairy. And, for that, I'm grateful. How marvelous to be a tooth fairy! To float over the heads of sweetly sleeping children, who smell clean from nighttime baths. To take the tiny teeth of childhood and leave behind something that brings with it the promise of something yet-to-come. Yes, to be a tooth fairy is a wondrous thing! For fairies are magical, after all. But, perhaps not as magical as the children they visit.

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