Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

Four kids shape my life. They span two decades.

Two of them are independent. Two are not--and won't be until I hit the end of my next decade.

And as tiring as my little squirrels can be, I realize they are a gift to me, a late-in-life treasure that keeps me younger than most women my age. This is not to say that giving birth in your 40s automatically makes you younger at heart. But personally, as self-serving as this sounds, I can confidently say that my lifestyle and my outlook (and perhaps good genetics) keep me looking far younger than most women my age, and even those who have yet to even hit 40.

So my littlest gem, who turns 5 this month, hit a milestone this week that made me reflect on how lucky I am to have them.

It was a lost tooth.

I knew it was loose, for Keni boasted about this bottom tooth's ability to bend completely forward and backward. She'd push it 90 degrees forward, then wiggle it all the way back. I, of course, could hardly watch, since I do have a weak stomach and all. So at dinner this week, she marveled: "My tooth! It's out..."

And sure enough, there it sat in the palm of her chubby hand. She gushed a broad smile as blood slowly oozed from the tiny hole in her gum.

There it was: my baby lost her first tooth.

"What's gonna happen now?" she asked.

"Your big teeth are getting ready to come in," I told her.

She inquired: "Do they come out, too?"

"Nope. They're your final teeth, your second set," I answered.

Big teeth. Little girl. Toddlerhood is gone, I silently mused.

That night, we had a big production, hiding the tooth beneath her pillow. She asked for "a hundred dollars, please. No, a thousand dollars."

How about a hundred pennies?

"Yeah, yeah! A hundred pennies!"

And within an hour, the tooth fairy descended from her enamel mansion in the sky, floating into Keni's room and withdrawing the little tooth. In its place, she forked over a dollar.

The next morning, Keni awoke at her usual 6 a.m.

She reached under her pillow for the money, a frantic search for the jackpot.

"A buck? Just a buck?"

With her feigned disappointment, she started to chuckle: "Look, it has George Washington on it." (As compared to other U.S. dollar bills which have Elvis surrounded by laurels.)

She thought about her future purchases, one of which was a gift for Mother's Day.

I assured her. There was no need, for the best gifts in life cannot be bought--no matter how much cash the tooth fairy drops. The best gifts are the people in our lives. And we can reap the rewards of these gifts by showing them how much we appreciate them for who they are now and who they might become in the future, whether they are 5 or 50 or somewhere in between.

Here's to some beautiful Peppermint Chiclet teeth, my little squirrel.

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