Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Intimations of Mortality

Occasionally, I have that dream where suddenly my teeth start falling out. I clutch my mouth, trying to catch them and force them back in, horrified by the sudden, unexpected loss of so necessary and useful a part of my body. I've been told this is a common nightmare, and I've always assumed that it is a haunting reminder of our mortality, our sheer helplessness in the face of our bodies' slow and inevitable decay.

This, roughly, has been Bub's reaction to his first loose tooth. He was morose and subdued all day Sunday, but our first hint of the reason for his mood came during dinner, when he bit into a pickle and suddenly let out a wail of anguish. His bottom middle tooth was tilting wildly back and forth, and Bub was grief-stricken at the news that it was going to come out.

"I love my teeth!" he wailed. "I need my teeth! I just want them to go back to normal!"

Adult attempts at reassurance proved to make matters worse. "I lost my teeth when I was your age," hubby assured him. "And look what I've got now!" Bub took one look at his giant grin and let out another shriek of despair.

"You know what's worse than losing your teeth?" my father-in-law asked. "Losing your hair!" Bub quickly raised a hand to his head and tugged on his hair to make sure it was still firmly rooted, tears tumbling down his cheeks. It was a half hour at least before he could be calmed sufficiently to choke down a bit of applesauce for his supper.

Like everything about Bub, this reaction seems both unusual and eminently reasonable. He is concerned less about the pain or inconvenience of the missing tooth than about the broader implications. His comfortable, friendly body, so apparently stable and unchanging, has betrayed him. He does not fully grasp the meaning of death, but he is glimpsing its hideous visage every time he wobbles that tooth with his tongue. Mutability and change are his enemies already, but now they are hitting closer to home, an invasion that is deeply unsettling. When I look at his tear-stained face I find myself thinking of cultures without dentistry where the loss of one's teeth (in old age rather than youth) means bidding a final farewell to food.

This most ordinary childhood rite of passage would be comical and endearing if it weren't so sad. After one joyful week of summer vacation, Bub is depressed. "It's a no good, very bad day," he announced this morning before dragging his feet to the breakfast table.

At swimming lessons, though, we finally caught a break. Less than forty-eight hours after the first wobble, Bub's tooth came out in the pool. Bub was thrown but cheerful, especially when we explained that the tooth fairy will still come, even though the tooth itself is somewhere at the bottom of the pool. The wobbly tooth gone, Bub's spirit is rising to the task of embracing the new, big-boy reality that these bodies aren't ours for keeps.

23 comments:

Jess said...

What an important lesson to learn. And what an adorable photo.

Poppy said...

Oh, what a proud smile!
The characters on that shirt look awfully familiar, but I can't seem to place them. Particularly the fox.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful account.
Look at that big boy grin with his shoulders thrown back. Summer 09.

(Your) Anon

kgirl said...

I pretty much resist the urge to react as Bub did every time I look in the mirror.

But he has a way cooler t-shirt than I do.

Jen said...

My third (and much younger) son had this reaction to losing his first tooth (and then again, when his most recently lost tooth was helped along when a 6 mo baby's foot connected with the loose tooth, which he lost within the hour). We were a little taken aback, but realized we might have missed mentioning the tooth fairy etc. to him for the first one.

Also he's shy and seems to feel that commenting on anything unexpected is more of an insult than a comment or compliment. He didn't want anyone to tell the story of the baby, finding it "not a good story to tell, at all!"

Bea said...

Poppy - They're the mascots for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Expect to see more of them from here on out.

Omaha Mama said...

So how does his mom feel about such a milestone?
My B will be six in a couple of months and she is so impatient to lose a tooth! She's the last of her friends to have all of her teeth still in tact and now even has a younger cousin who has lost three. I probably won't show her the picture of Bub, it would just tick her off! ;0)

Margaret said...

1) Oh my gosh, look how much he's grown!

2) What is it with the teeth dream - I have it often!

wheelsonthebus said...

wow. never had that dream.

Mary Ellen said...

Poignant - yes, that move out of childhood is bittersweet. One of my guys battled his way out, impatient; the other missed the silliness and sweetness of being prepubescent and had a time of real depression.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, congrats! Geister's lost tooth #3, and none of his friends have till now!

planetnomad said...

A. WOW he's getting big! So cute too!

B. After Elliot had lost a couple of teeth, a development he took with aplomb, he got sunburned on his arms. When they started to peel, he said, "Are my grown-up arms going to come in now?" This still amuses me.

Bon said...

oh. oof, my heart. he is wise about the core of things, this beautiful boy of yours.

and you tell it well, every time.

Beck said...

What a cute guy he is.
My kids were EXTREMELY enthusiastic about losing their teeth, but that was largely because both of them were by FAR the oldest kids in their class to have never lost a tooth, and both of them started worrying that they were going to be stuck in some weird little kid limbo forever while everyone else got bigger and bigger.

Patois said...

As always, you are far better able to describe precisely how my daughter fares when facing such milestones.

On another note, your boy looks so bloody grown up in that photo. Perhaps it is the absent tooth. But I just see such a mature face.

No Mother Earth said...

I'm sorry, it's very serious, but you're description of the conversation that occurred just had me in hysterics! I can totally imagine how that played out.

In other serious matters...Bub is ridiculously cute.

No Mother Earth said...

Oh, and love the t-shirt. Where'd you get it?

No Mother Earth said...

Oh, and it's "your" description, not "you're". Geez, I'm losing it.

(Am I a stalker yet??)

Jaelithe said...

My son is similarly freaked out about the idea of losing his teeth. I am hoping that, like Bub, he'll feel better when one finally falls out and the world does not, in fact, end.

Reluctant Housewife said...

Oh! Poor little guy. I'm sorry he was so upset. I'm glad he's excited about the tooth ferry.

Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

julie green said...

i have that dream, too, only in mine they crumble right in my mouth. it is the most horrible nightmare. scares the bejesus out of me.

i think i have it on nights when i am grinding my teeth, which i do sometimes. my husband says it wakes him it's so loud.

NotSoSage said...

Oh no! I never considered that losing a tooth might be taken this way. As my daughter seems to have inherited my horror with all things related to growing up, I am now prepared.

Bub looks adorable, though, and I love his Vancouver 2010 t-shirt.