There are two types of kids: those who eagerly rip out each loose tooth, even before its time, and those who let loose teeth live in their mouth until the skin attaching them to the gums mostly shrivels up. The crown is left spinning on its axis with each thrust of the tongue or even the slightest breath, and every father everywhere is compelled to ask, “Want me to tie a string around that thing?”
My first son, Ford, was the former. He ripped out his teeth with a gusto usually reserved for SkiBall at Chuck-E-Cheese’s. If Ford thought a tooth moved even a millimeter, he ran into the bathroom, grabbed ahold of it, and tore it from his gums. This usually ended with blood streaming down his chin and dripping onto the front of his shirt.
The first time Ford did this, he came out of the bathroom with a bloodied mouth and the smile of someone who had just wrestled an alligator — and won.
“Take a picture, Mom,” he said, as the blood pooled and gurgled in his mouth. “Take a picture for my baby book.”
This wasn’t how I envisioned my first loose-tooth experience as a parent. I had a satin pillow ready for Ford’s inaugural visit from the Tooth Fairy. It had blue ribbon woven around the edges and a nice poem stitched in the middle. I had not planned to put a bloodied tooth in the delicate pillow, nor had I planned on wrapping my baby’s tooth in a Ziplock bag first, and then stuffing it into the sweet little baby-tooth-sized pocket on the front.
No, this wasn’t how I thought it would go. But I took a picture of Ford anyway. Then I tried to send it to my brother, Will, who was the only person not already present in the room who would find humor in the situation. Autocorrect, however, changed “Will” into the first name of one of my editors who also has a name that begins with “W.” And before I realized what I’d done, a picture of my son’s bloody smile with the text “And how is your morning going?” was on its way to my boss.
Over the next few years, Ford ripped out all of his teeth by himself. He did it in the snow, at the lake, in the car on the way to school. And each time he brought me a bloodied crown, I wept for the delicate pillow collecting dust in the attic.
I have to imagine Ford took some pleasure out of doing this, which I can understand. Yanking a carrot out of the ground, for instance, and hearing the “snap” as the roots break apart is weirdly satisfying. So is plucking a rogue hair or snapping a price tag from a new shirt. But a carrot can be eaten, and a shirt can be worn; Ford was only getting fifty cents for each tooth. Was it really worth it?
My youngest son, Lindell, is the latter kind of kid. He lets the skin attaching his loose tooth to the gum rot in his mouth until the crown dangles upside down and the adult teeth rise up behind it. He actually has rows of teeth like a shark due to all the loose teeth begging to be pulled and the adult teeth taking their seats and saying, “Why did we get here so early? This is going to be really painful to watch.”
And this is why we are currently in week three of Tooth Watch.
Dustin and I began our campaign against the loose tooth with subtle threats:
“I hope that tooth doesn’t make your breath smell bad.”
“It’s going to be hard to eat with that thing dangling there.”
“What if the tooth falls out when you don’t realize, and then you can’t find it to put under your pillow?”
“You want 50 cents, right?”
Apparently Lindell did not.
We stepped up our game in week two. When Lindell asked Dustin how he should cross the street (Hop? Skip? Gallop? Run?), Dustin said, “How about you let that tooth pull you across?”
I gave the kids ice cream and warned Lindell that the cold might hurt when it got beneath the loose tooth.
Still, Lindell didn’t care.
Sometime in week three, Owen set down his fork on the dinner table with a thud. “I can’t eat like this, Mom,” he said. “Lindell’s tooth is actually pointing at me. I mean, the thing is horizontal now.”
Still, Lindell wouldn’t pull it.
Soon after, Dustin brought out the nuclear option: “We should get that out so you don’t choke on it in the night.”
I had only one option left — guilt.
“I’m writing about your tooth and need an ending,” I said. “Let’s pull it out.”
Lindell looked at my computer screen. “Nope, you already have 800 words,” he said, the tooth bouncing off his gum with each breath. “So just write, ‘The End.’ “
Follow columnist Sarah Smiley on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sarah.is.smiley.