“I hope you’re taking lots of pictures of him like that.”
I looked up from my book to address the woman sitting opposite me in the waiting room. “What do you mean?”
“His front teeth…or lack thereof.” She smiled. “That adorable empty space doesn’t last long. I wish I had more pictures of my kids from that time.”
I had to laugh. It was true that my seven-year-old son, squirming in the chair to my left, had no front teeth, and it was true that it was adorable. It was also true that he’d had that endearing empty space in his mouth for more than three years.
My son mobilized his front teeth—fancy talk for he knocked his teeth loose—when he was two years old and fell face first on a cement sidewalk. He didn’t lose them that (bloody and scary) day, but by the time he was four years old, both teeth had to be extracted.
It was hard to let them go. The grape flavored nitrous oxide made it comfortable for him, but for me, it was as difficult as watching his soft, curly wisps of baby hair fall to the floor at his first haircut. I endured by convincing myself that as long as he had that gaping space in his mouth and the sweet lisp that accompanied it, he would stay my second, last, and squishy baby boy forever.
Two years passed before worry seeped into the seams of my plan. I became fixated on the status of his alleged permanent front teeth, or lack thereof. I caught a glimpse of them in an x-ray once, but anxiety is a tricky friend.
The dentist tried to reassure me. “Trauma often delays the process. The teeth will come when they’re ready.”
But my baby’s reluctance to embrace “big kid” independence ate away at me. I suspected his unwillingness to tie his shoes, wash his hair, and dress himself were my doing. I willed his front teeth to stay away by placing my heart in the space where they once fit. I left no room for my baby or his teeth to grow.
When it finally happened – when his permanent teeth erupted through the gum – it was as startling as the long ago accident that took his baby teeth away. The sadness that engulfed me at the sight of his long-awaited incisors was startling but short-lived because my son, who had sprouted at least two inches and had become a lot less squishy over the last few months, was ecstatic. His “big kid” teeth finally arrived and it was impossible not to share his excitement.
It would be as futile to explain the groundswell of emotions I’ve experienced over my son’s teeth as it would be to explain the perpetual bittersweetness of watching children grow up. Suffice it to say, it’s ever-changing and always complicated.
Fresh from a checkup at the dentist, I’m happy to report that my big boy has two new wiggly teeth, so there’ll be another space to hold my heart soon enough.