Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Like Pulling Teeth

Last weekend, Sophie lost her second tooth.  I pulled it for her, after she had worked on it for maybe a few hours, tops. She jiggled and wiggled it through half of Where the Wild Things Are. 

"This movie is boring," she said. "Will you pull my tooth out for me?"

"Of course," I said, "I'd be happy to." 

I grabbed a paper towel and  a cup of salt water, and a few seconds later, I held what looked like a tiny kernel of corn between my thumb and forefinger. "What are you going to do with it?" I asked.

Sophie put her hands on her hips, cocked her head and said, "What do you think?"

The outsider wouldn't know it, but this is big progress for everyone. Sophie's first loose tooth was the source of some complicated feelings. Afraid of how much it would hurt to pull it all the way out, she left it dangling for so long that it started to turn black. "What if I don't want to grow up?" she asked me.

Afraid to pain anyone further that night, I delegated the dirty work to Alex, who took a paper towel, and after much cajoling, put it over her tiny incisor. He gave it a tug upward and outward. One giant leap for maturity. "Go look in the mirror!" we said. Knowing that children in these situations take their cues about how to feel from the adults around them, we tried our best to look deliriously happy. I felt like fainting.

Sophie ran, crying all the way, to the bathroom, holding her tooth in the paper towel.  She bared her bleeding gums, and exhibited every human emotion there is all at the same time. She was, to use the modern parlance that refers to the physical manifestation of psychic multitasking, "a hot mess." She smiled and laughed and looked like she had just won the Olympics. "Oh my God," she said, glowing with pride.

"Congratulations," I said. We hugged in the bathroom, she bled on my shirt. "You did it," I said, wiping her lip. My girl.

Hours of deep conversation followed after that. What did it all mean? Why does everything always have to change? Why does it have to hurt? Why is it so scary? And should she surrender her tooth to the Tooth Fairy, or hold on to it? "I'd like to think about it for a while," she decided just before bed, and said she planned to seek the counsel of her peers at camp the next day.  I imagined her holding something between a Quaker consensus meeting and focus group at the arts and crafts table the next day.  "The nexth order of buthineth is my mithing tooth.  All in favor of trading it in for a dollar thay aye."

And so on the eve of losing her second tooth, which I didn't even know was loose in the first place, I did the honors in Alex's absence.  Afterward, we two old pros went to the park to give Sohpie's gums some air.

Already today a glimpse of enamel is peeking through the space.  Progress. And so the clock returns to ticking down to the next thing that makes us all cry for a bit, while we wonder--in futility--when the world will hold still long enough for us to stop growing up.

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