In the middle of the night William, my five-year-old, roused us from sleep thinking that he’d cracked his tooth while chewing on the zippered mouth of one of his stuffed animals. His father and I, abruptly awake, looked at each other in alarm – sure that we were witnessing some kind of dental catastrophe. Except, of course, it wasn’t a catastrophe at all. Late night Googling assured us that William was only losing his first tooth, right on time and in a predictable location. When we told him his tooth would fall out soon and another would grow in its place, he was shocked.
The next day, having deposited both children at preschool, I was registering William for kindergarten. I walked through the schoolyard teeming with children: children playing tag, children climbing on a jungle gym, children whispering and shouting and laughing. Inside, as I handed over my umpteenth form, I mentioned our exciting loose-tooth situation to the secretary. She sprang up. “Wait here,” she said, “I have something for you.” She came back with a necklace, a slim blue lanyard with a large white tooth charm that opened. “When your son loses his tooth, he can carry it around in here,” she said. “The kids wear it like a medal, even the fourth graders.”
That afternoon William arrived home with his tooth taped to a paper. His preschool teacher wrote, “William was brave and calm when he lost his first tooth while biting into an apricot.” I handed him the necklace. With no instruction, William knew that the tooth belonged inside. He slung the necklace around his neck. He was beaming, showing his sister and racing through the backdoor.
I read last week that in certain tribes in New Guinea when a boy loses his first tooth he leaves his mother’s village and goes to live with the men. While my son won’t be going so far away, there is the undeniable feeling of a leaving – through the backdoor today, and onto the schoolyard tomorrow.