Last night while brushing her teeth, it hung at an odd angle - askew from the rest of her teeth - and I knew it would not be long. I told her, "You will lose that tooth before you go to school on Tuesday."
It fell out of her mouth - literally, with no effort from her - before breakfast this morning. She wrapped it carefully in a bright pink drawstring pouch and put it under her pillow, anxious for tonight's visit from The Tooth Fairy.
Tonight, I slipped my hand under her pillow, thankful that she sleeps like a log, and exchanged the tooth for a crisp dollar bill and a note reading, "Nice tooth! Keep brushing! Love, The Tooth Fairy." Then I retreated into the kitchen, tiny tooth in hand.
What now? I pondered.
I know from talking to my friends that there are some moms who are not so sentimental about these matters and who would have tossed the tooth into the garbage without another thought. But for better or worse, I have a hard time releasing "things" that mean something to me, or did at some point in my life. Just last night I poured through my attic in search of old college relics in preparation for an upcoming reunion and was shocked to find what I'd saved from elementary school, high school and college.
So I stood there in my kitchen rolling the small tooth in my palm, thinking.
Not so many years ago, she fought for that tooth. Always a slow teether, I recalled the weeks and weeks of drooling and chewing. The many nights of restless sleep. The cold washcloths and Ambesol given to her to bring relief until it finally broke the surface.
We stared in wonder and awe when this tooth - the bottom center, one of her two first - made its appearance. It transferred her smile from a gummy one to a toothed one. We marveled at this. Beamed about it. We ran our fingers over it's pearly top and cooed, "Such a big girl, you are."
It marked a new phase for her: More solid foods. Crawling. A sliver of independence.
When she lost her first tooth, I dropped it into a small plastic bag and placed it carefully in the back of my top drawer. It was, after all, her first lost tooth. A big one. No question there.
But does every tooth need to be saved? There is something a bit strange and perhaps even morbid, even for a sentimental sap like me, to keep a bag of teeth in my drawer for the next 18 years. I mean, to what end? To give them to her someday? I can just picture the look on her face.
"Um, gee, thanks? Mom?" followed by her promptly tossing them into the trash herself as soon as I'm out of sight.
Yet, I recall the day I found some of my own baby teeth wrapped in tissue in the back of my mom's jewelry box. I don't know how old I was, but when I found them I recall taking them out and rolling them between my fingers, fascinated by how small they were compared to my adult teeth.
I remember the mix of feelings. Horror: Oh. My. God. She saved . . . my teeth!? And love: But she saved them. Because they are mine. Because she is my mother and I'm her daughter and she wanted to hold onto them. Because she wanted to stay connected to them somehow. Because she loves me.
Even then, I was a sap.
Now, once again, this tooth and the change it brings to her smile marks a new phase: Kindergarten.
On Tuesday, she will get on a bus at the end of our driveway - alone - and go away from us to a new school with many corridors and big kids. It is a momentous step toward independence.
So with that in mind, I walked down the hall to my bedroom, and plunked this tooth, this symbol of babyhood, into the bag next to its twin. I do not know at what point I will stop saving them.
But not tonight.
Out of curiosity, what do YOU do with your children's lost teeth?