"Daddy? Can you get me a Zippy-Bag for this?"
The whisper startles me awake. My 6 year old son is at my bedside.
It is 2:22 in the morning. In the dim glow of the alarm clock radio I can see that he is holding one of his tiny baby teeth.
My right arm has fallen asleep. I am numb from the elbow down.
I shake it to get some feeling back.
It's strange. My son has lived for nearly seven years without losing a single tooth. His friends and classmates look like walking Jack-O-Lanterns, like they've gone 12 rounds with Evander Holyfield, like they've all spent their weekends leaping off scooters head first onto blacktop—but Sebastian did not lose a single tooth until he was practically seven years old.
Now he seems to be losing them every five minutes.
"What is it that you want?" I say still half-asleep.
I never thought I’d be a father. When I was young, I could barely keep track of a pencil. Wherever I went, I left a trail of valuables in my wake.
It's no wonder my mother smiled and said, "Good luck!" when I told her the amazing news seven years ago.
My wife and I were expecting our first child.
"They're a little tougher to keep track of than a Star Wars notebook, honey."
This was not the reaction I had expected.
It was all so sudden, this pregnancy thing.
I mean, was I ready for all of the responsibility that came along with raising a child? Was being a dad really what I had always wanted? Would I have to figure this all out on my own??
Doubt crept in like water into a sinking pirate ship.
"I need my tooth to go in a baggie so the Tooth Fairy can find it and leave me a present.” My son’s voice is hushed, his eyes bright.
I do not respond right away and instead throw the covers off of my legs, swinging my bare feet heavily to the carpeted floor.
It is cold outside the comfort of my cover cocoon. I shiver, rub my forehead with both hands.
“Give me the tooth,” I say after a long pause and a deep sigh.
My son drops it delicately into my outstretched hand.
“You go back to bed. I’ll go get something for this.”
Without a sound, he follows me downstairs.
“Last time, she gave me 3 dollars and wrapped the money in a little red bow,” my son whispers.
“She did, did she?”
I curse a little under my breath and stealthily grab my wallet. I sneak a peek inside, only to discover that it is empty.
I had not been planning on a trip to the ATM this morning.
Rolling my eyes, I surrender the bagged tooth. My son holds the tiny specimen before him bringing it close to his face so it is touching his nose. His eyes cross.
“All right,” I say, “upstairs with you.”
Back in bed, my son fluffs his pillow under which now rests the tooth. It is 2:35 AM, and I know that I have miles to go before I sleep. I make a face in the darkness.
“Why are all of my teeth falling out?”
Back in the bedroom a gentle breeze has begun to blow in through the screen of the open window. The flash of a firefly draws my eye.
“Because you are growing up.”
There is a moment of silence and I can sense his thought about this. The room is still and silent and my eyelids instinctively begin to droop.
“Why am I growing up so quickly?”
I have been struck by a lightning bolt. I am wide awake, now.
A space in the blinds lets in the moonlight and illuminates the new space in the middle of my son’s bottom row of teeth.
Things are changing.
Is the space between us growing, too?
The hair on my arms stands on end. He looks up at me, waiting.
Instead of speaking, I suddenly slump forward, wrapping my arms tightly around him. He is, I think, a little surprised by my reaction, at first letting out a small giggle in the midst of my embrace, and then relaxing a bit, letting his head fall softly to my shoulder.
I wait for the lump in my throat to recede slightly before saying, “Growing up isn’t a race. Don’t run away too fast.”
The weight of my words billows like a ship’s sail, filling the room, and even though he is not quite seven years old, I think he understands.
“I won’t,” he breaths out.
I breath in and let go, help him get comfortable, covers up around his head. By the time I pull my hands back, I can see that he is already drifting off. I run my hand through my son’s hair until his eyelids flutter closed and his breathing becomes regular.
The car ride to and from the ATM is quiet, except for the low tones of the radio. I am only half listening as the piano player strikes the chords to a familiar Beatles’ song.
Yesterday, I think.
With the fresh roll of bills in my wallet, I visit my son’s room one more time before finally crawling into bed.
It is 3:15 in the morning.
In an hour my alarm clock will shout me awake and I will embark on my usual weekday routine. I must get some rest. Some slumber.
I lay there with eyes half closed, watching shadows form and fall away, the lights of passing cars show through my bedroom windowpane. The final silhouette seems to linger longer on the ceiling, on the wall, inspecting me, studying me, the outline of some Lost Boy searching for a home, a playmate. I have settled into a place between sleep and awake, and I suddenly have to fight the uncontrollable urge to force open my bedside window. My heart beats now as it did in youth and in my dreamlike state I crave pixie dust and pirates and starlight. I crave adventure and I pray for flight.
But mostly I am hoping to hear that whisper again, if you want to know the truth. That small voice at the side of my bed that will wake me from my slumber.
And when that gentle tone reaches my ear, I know exactly what I will do.
Smiling, I’ll pull the covers back and let my son crawl into bed with me. Gently, he will nuzzle the crown of his head into the rounded hollow under my chin, and it will fit perfectly, so perfectly, for now.