I’m not quite sure how to account for the thrill that ran through me like a jolt on Sunday when Rowan showed me his first bona fide wiggly tooth. Something about that little white incisor, outlined in blood and moving back and forth in his gum, was electrifying, and not just in an “I may throw up” kind of way. For him, too. After the initial shock and crunch and grief of biting into an olive he thought was pitless, he got all shy and proud in the way that he does when something momentous happens. We immediately set off down the street to tell his best neighbourhood friend, who was, unfortunately, too entranced (read: weepy) by the final minutes of Charlotte’s Web on DVD to pay appropriate attention, and so we also paid visits to both sets of next-door neighbours to tell them the news. He’d ring the doorbell, and then hide behind me when it was answered. “Rowan has some exciting news,” I would say by way of prompting, and then we would all wait expectantly and he would whisper to me, “You tell it.” Once the initial news was broken, he would step up and provide more context around the olive, as well as some obligatory wiggling.
And then we went home and told the cat. “She likes it,” he reported.
A loose tooth! It’s just such an immediate sign that he’s growing. His body is getting too big for its current home and is shedding its old trappings. Apparently, a friend with a six-year-old told me, it could take a year for the thing to actually fall out, but still, it’s a sign. Given the potential lag time between initial wiggliness and full separation, I am glad I resisted the urge to remind him not to lose the tooth once it did fall out. Such a weird parental impulse to rain all over the parade: Oh honey! How exciting! Your very first tooth is loose — now don’t screw up and lose it or anything!
Because then what would you blog about 30 years later?
Because, you know, that’s my own first-grade baggage. Working and working and working at my own first loose tooth until it finally popped out, only to have it tumble into the detritus of an elementary-school playground because, in my passion, I simply couldn’t leave it alone. I came home in tears and wrote an apologetic, greedy, phonetic note to the tooth fairy, which my parents, bless them, kept:
(Yes, “Susie.” That’s a whole different story for a whole different blog post, but don’t think you’ll escape intact if you try to get any leverage out of that one.)
Apparently, I lost the next tooth as well. In the intervening time, I learned how to spell the word “money” but it’s clear that my priorities had remained intact.
(Susie six yers old Dear tooth fairy may I have all the money in the world if you can’t give it to me at liest 5 dollers.)
(Dear dear tooth fary Roses are red Vilests are blue I wand my Tooth so do you)
And, later still:
These are not the only note my parents kept. I will spare you, for example, the exquisite torture of the notes in which I painstakingly write out new lyrics to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, asking my mother “Mommy, Whitch do you like best?” Rereading it, and the others, in which I announce in bright red magic marker, things like “I’ve got the best mommy in the world! Love Susan Goldberg” fill me even now with an jolt of embarrassment not so different to the sensation of watching my son wiggle his bloody first loose tooth.
I’m not sure whether I ever believed in the tooth fairy, or whether finding the notes I wrote to her in my mother’s dresser — which I did — clued me in. A few years ago, as he prepared to move out of the house he and my mom shared, my father stuck all of them in an envelope and sent them to me (actually, he addressed the envelope to “Susie Goldberg” ha ha ha), and I couldn’t quite bring myself to do more than glance through them. Somehow, it’s hard to remember yourself as a weird little kid, even as it helps you relate to your own weird little kids. It’s hard to remember yourself as naïve and vulnerable and greedy and exuberantly affectionate and wanting to show your parents everything. It’s hard to remember that, at one point in my literate life, I didn’t know how to spell.
“I’m at a different place in remembering my mother,” I said to Rachel over a rare beer in a bar on Saturday night. I remember less about her sick and more about her happy. But the memories are also becoming less distinct, softened around the edges from being thumbed through so often. “It’s just that life keeps making new memories, but my memories of her are finite,” I said. And then I got all weepy.
If my memories are finite, though, my fantasies are limitless, if humble. I imagine Rowan phoning my mom to tell her about his tooth, and how much she’d get a kick out of that conversation. I imagine her visits to this house she’s never seen, how the boys would tumble all over her with delight, how Isaac would snuggle up against her with his blankets and his thumb. I imagine our near-daily phone calls, talking about dinner and renovations and work and family. I imagine how she’d pout every time we decided not to fly down to Toronto for high holidays or some family event — how she’d check the seat sales, get my father to send the links.
It’s comforting, this sort of imagining. It’s my mother’s legacy, the imprint of a life so well lived, well loved, that I can fill in the blanks even now, when she’s gone. “Your Bubbie would love this,” I often say to the boys, about whatever meal we are gathered around, whatever activity we’re engaged in. When people ask if I believe in some kind of afterlife, this is where I go: the ghosts and the heaven that surround us in the tiny details of daily life. She’s here, and she’s gone. Did I believe in the tooth fairy, or did I know that she was my mother? Now, the distinction seems illogical: yes, and yes.