It’s summer time and for this parent it typically means children home around the clock, constant moaning of having nothing to do or being bored beyond comprehension, and the occassional fight breaking out. Which no matter how uninterested you are in refereeing it, duty calls and you have no choice but to do just that. So far we’re all still alive here, though significantly worse from wear, but alive nonetheless. This fact alone signals to me that I am at the minimum meeting my basic parental requirements. There’s a bright future ahead of me, if I could find the time between dishes, making meals, doing laundry, and the often needed break to smoke and browse social media in a total act of rebellion to reclaim myself as an individual. Yes, I could be unstoppable. If I only had the energy (hence the vitamins).
My back went completely out and for nearly two weeks solid, and I staid in bed around the clock. You would think that this would be fun, maybe even every mother’s dream. Instead I felt like a total failure while my little one brought me my cane each time I needed to get to the restroom, and all of my daily chores piled up around my ears. Instead of being blissful, it tasted like defeat. My body beating me at a game that I would never be likely to win.
So today, my five year old lost her first tooth and it was terribly sad. No, not for her, she was utterly ecstatic about it. I on the other hand felt as though I was loosing something. She’s my last and final child. I still remember the day that we first spotted that tooth pop up through her gummy little grin. I remember thinking my heart would explode each time she smiled at me with that one tiny white tooth shining amongst the sea of hollowness. Somehow her losing this tooth, signified the loss of her infancy. Something to say that those days are now a distant memory moving further and further behind us as she approaches being an independent little girl with less need for her dear old mom. She woke up this morning with excitement, “Mom! My tooth is loose, see!” As she flicked it back and forth with her tongue to show me just how much it was truly about to fall out of her head. My first words were, “Oh my God, nooooooo!” She looked at me perplexed at how I could find something so exciting to her, to be so catastrophic. So I slapped on a smile and blurted out, “Oh wow, it sure is! You’re a big girl now!” She looked at me with that same goofy grin that she had four years and a few months ago, this time no longer chubby-cheeked and baby-faced, but beaming with the pride of a child who understood more about life now than she had years ago. It’s as if she, too, knew that today was that of her transition. Into school years, homework, sleep-overs and summer vacations. And though this same thought made me sad inside, on the other hand it made her ridiculously happy.
I jumped on the phone to contact my husband and tell him the news, to which he also replied with sadness for the end of her babyhood, but excited for what this moment meant to his little girl. I made her promise to nurse that tooth all day, and keep from pulling it until her daddy got home, as to keep him from having to miss witnessing his first child’s lost tooth. I promised her in return that if she didn’t mess with it until her daddy got home, that he would pull it for her as soon as he arrived from work. We struck a deal of which she happily agreed.
I sat in my bed staring at my fourteen year old daughter as she talked about her own memory of losing her first tooth. Here she was before me now, a young woman — Smart, funny, beautiful and compassionate. In four years she will be leaving us to start her own life, independently. I hear the phrase, “it seemed like only yesterday when they were babies,” but today it rang as the purest form of truth. It was just yesterday when my teenaged daughter was in diapers and needing me for every little thing. It was just yesterday when she climbed up in my lap for me to read her a story, brush her hair or tie her shoes. It was just yesterday when I was taking her to her first day in kindergarten, and the same when she first broke her arm courtesy of the bully pushing her off of the playset and onto the ground. It was just yesterday when she first said the word, “mama.” I can almost hear the sound so sweet, in my head. The time got away from us, so fast. As I looked up I realized that in another blink of an eye I will be sitting with another teenaged daughter reminiscing about today when she lost her first tooth. I’ll search my memory for these details of how excited she was to be closer to grown up. One day, when I’m old and nearly in my grave, I will then listen to her tell me how much she wishes that she was little again, and I will tearfully agree.
I asked my little one what happens when a tooth is lost, to which she explained what she believed the tooth fairy does. It was in this second when it dawned on me that I AM the tooth fairy, who also doubles as Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. That it was up to me to make her belief of a fairy jonesing for a tooth in exchange for money, into a reality. It was my job to keep that fantasy alive for her, so that her imagination could stay wide opened, endless and magical. It was up to me and I had to deliver to the best of my ability. I staid up late waiting for her to fall asleep before grabbing a piece of blank paper from a journal and her basket of crayons and markers, with the mission to write her a lovely note from the tooth fairy. I shuffled through broken crayons with their labels torn off and mixed as many dreamy colors as my own imagination, coupled with the late hour, would allow for.
My husband snuck into her room and carefully removed the tooth sealed in a ziploc baggie, underneath her pillow. I quietly removed the tooth in exchange for the note and a one dollar bill, sealed it and gave it to my husband whom returned it to our little girl’s pillow. As I returned the tooth to my memory box, I caught a glimpse of the little bag of hair trimmings from her first hair cut and the other tiny bags of teeth that my now teenager had lost when she was a child, along with her first haircut trimmings as well. It all hit me again, time moves so quickly. What once just an easy place to store the teeth away, as to keep my children from ever realizing that I infact was their tooth fairy, had now become a priceless treasure chest of memories.
As I drift closer and closer to the years of faded memories, with my achey bones, bad back, and screaming knee — I hope that I will never forget this day and the goofy grin across my little one’s face as she poked her loose tooth out to show me that she was one step closer to being grown up. I hope that I remember the munchkin-like sound of her precious five year old voice and the porcelain doll-like face of my teenager as she smiled and laughed at her little sister’s exuberance for finally losing a tooth. I hope that I remember the conversations we had and not how much I longed in the moment for them to be smaller. I hope my memories are not always of looking backward to times before, but of also being fully-present and appreciative of the now. I hope that I remember the school dances, slumber parties, homework and crushes and even the summer vacations where they fought and drove me insane. I hope that I do so with fondness and gratitude for the immense responsibility gifted to me, by the grace of one who knew that I was, likely, unworthy.
I know that I will never look back and remember the dishes, laundry or chores. The floors that needed sweeping or the meals that were planned. But the laughter in the silly conversations had while we cooked and folded laundry together. I won’t remember the flavors of ice cream we ate when I took them out for a treat, whatever day, time or even year that it was. But instead those same joyful smiles on their faces as they bragged about how delicious their flavor of choice was. I won’t much remember how many times I had to tell them to go to sleep every night, but the giggling and whispering piercing through the stark silence of the house, instead. I won’t remember having to get on to them when they wouldn’t stop arguing, but the “I’m sorries,” they said sweetly to the other when I sent them to their room to work it out. I won’t remember the fibs they told to get out of trouble or the mess they left in every room. I won’t remember the sleepless nights, the disappointments, or wanting to pull my hair out, but only the love that encompasses them both.
Being a parent isn’t easy and definitely not for the faint. We each barely make it out by the skin of our teeth, with loads of stories to tell. Maybe all of the little stuff like chores, schedules and the moments of weakness that feel like utter failure, just don’t matter all that much, if at all. Maybe it’s what our children take away from having us and we from having them, that counts each and every day. Maybe it’s the toothless grins, the bedtime laughter, the conversations that went on without end. Maybe it’s the curiosity within their open-ended questions, the times that they just want to be with you even if while you’re sleep-deprived, and trying to decompress from the day. Maybe we should be grateful as we continue to make it out alive, and pray that our luck never fails us. Maybe it’s not what particularly is happening at any given second, but what lasting good memory can be taken away from it. Today I was the tooth fairy, tomorrow I’ll likely be just mom — Washer of clothes, cooker of meals and enforcer of rules. But TODAY, I got to help shape another lasting memory.