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Losing teeth and letting go
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A nervous Boston reluctantly gives his tooth a tug. - photo by Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
It was late, and thats never a good time to start pulling teeth.

But our oldest son, Boston, had a loose one that had been ready for what seemed like weeks. I honestly couldnt believe it hadnt fallen out during one of his frozen Go-gurt binges.

Boston, let me take another look at your loose tooth.

He reluctantly parted his lips to reveal a tiny little baby tooth hanging on for dear life. Then I noticed it: a jagged white speck of a permanent tooth popping up behind the loose one, making its way in, ready or not.

That was it.

Ok bud, I said resolutely. Tonight is the night. Were pulling your tooth.

Youd think I had just told him we were amputating his leg.

NOOOOO! he screamed. Please, Mom! I dont want to!

But Boston, your permanent tooth has already started growing in behind your loose one. Its BEYOND time to pull it out. You have two rows of teeth. You dont want to look like a shark, do you?

He thought about it.

Never mind. Either I can do it, Dad can do it, you can do it, or Im calling the dentist. Trying to really motivate him, I added, And the dentist uses pliers.

That started the weeping and wailing. Im not kidding you, my husband and I spent the next full hour coaxing, pleading, bargaining, threatening, encouraging, yelling, grounding and bribing our way into getting that darn loose tooth to come out. But it wouldnt budge. He wiggled and wiggled that thing as softly and delicately as he could, with tears in his eyes, as we looked on, frustrated and tired.

Finally, when it became clear that he wasnt going to be a big boy and get er done all by himself, we took drastic action. We cow-tied him.

Boston, my husband said as he grabbed his wrists and pinned his feet between his knees. I love you. Then, looking at me: Honey, go for it!

Ive never heard my 6-year-old howl so fiercely as when I hooked my nail under what was left of his root and gave it a good yank.

Time out: This seems ridiculous, right? I mean why in the WORLD did we care so much? So what if he didn't want to pull his tooth out yet? Was it really that big of a deal?

The mature answer is no. No, it wasnt. But for some reason, we became dead set on getting that loose tooth out that night. Maybe it was because it really was on the verge of falling out itself. Maybe it was because we were done with him being stubborn and wanted to prove that it really didnt hurt that bad and to stop being a wimp about it. (We didnt exactly say that. In that order.) We were all being a bit neurotic when finally I heard that satisfying snap through the blood-curdling screams.

And then silence.

Did I get it? I asked breathlessly.

Boston felt in his mouth.

No, he said.

What? I couldnt believe it. I also couldnt believe what happened next. My little man, my sweet little boy, reached his fingers inside his mouth and gave the smallest of tugs, and Ill be darned if that tooth didnt just fall out.

Oh, he got it! my husband said. We laughed. We cried. We held that tooth up like a trophy.

And after all that, my son finally cracked his first gape-toothed smile.

Im glad we got my tooth out, he said quietly, handing it over so I could put it in a plastic baggie.

You see? That wasnt so bad, was it? Now you can put this under your pillow for the tooth fairy, I said happily.

Then suddenly, the impact of what I just said hit me like a ton of bricks. My son believes in the tooth fairy. I mean, he really believes an actual fairy is going to fly into his room, take his tooth and leave him money.

I felt sick to my stomach. What had we just done?

As I turned that tiny tooth around in my hand, I thought about when I first noticed it coming in when he was around 5 months old. I remember laughing and crying and celebrating then, too. I remember being so excited that my baby was getting to be a big boy. And now now that baby tooth had come out. What were we thinking, forcing our little boy into the next phase of life? Our little boy who still believes in fairies.

I suddenly wanted to rewind time. I wanted to put his tooth back in. I wanted to hold him and let him be scared and nervous and tell him soothing things, like how everything was going to be OK and how losing teeth is a big step toward growing up, and how its OK to be unsure about it.

Maybe it was time for his tooth to come out. But maybe he just wanted one more day to think about it. I should have given that to him.

Its sometimes good to push your children into trying new things. Sometimes they need encouragement and coaxing and even a little pressure when theyre about to do something scary, like take swimming lessons, go to school all day, try out for a sport or lose a tooth.

But time passes and pretty soon, they are not that baby gnawing on a squishy toy to get that first tooth to come in, but a first-grader, nervous about moving on and letting go.

I should have let him hold on, just for a bit longer. Growing up is something that will happen on its own and all too soon.

For now, I want him to still believe in fairies.