I heard my 6-year-old boy run down the stairs with an excited bounce to his steps, but then he slowly strolled into the room with a goofy, pleased-with-himself grin across his face. I could clearly see blood pooling in his mouth.
“AHHH your tooth!”
He was beaming (and bleeding). That makes four total teeth lost with two on the way. And this last one — the lone front tooth standing — hung on to the bitter end, through crunchy apples and mindless wiggling/tongue flicking/tooth-removal attempts. It hung on until the bigger, more permanent tooth pushed its way in, announcing “Adulthood coming through!”
He said the tooth just fell out. Ejected. Bu-bye, baby tooth. See ya, baby years.
“So where’s the tooth?” I said.
“It’s under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy,” he said coolly. “I took care of it, Mom.”
My sister, who was watching from the hallway, exchanged a look with me that said: “Tell me there’s a bloody tooth under his pillow.” We giggled to ourselves; he’s only in the first grade, after all.
But as it turns out, this kid went to the bathroom, rinsed his mouth, rinsed the tooth, and found his little Tooth Fairy bag. He dropped the tooth in the bag, put it under his pillow, and then came to find me. He didn’t scream “Mom!” or run to me to fix it; he took care of it.
He’s been doing that a lot, lately.
Who are you, I sometimes wonder, as if I’m slowly meeting a new person. All of his “remember when” baby stories are already written, behind us. He’s even starting to forget who he was at 3 or 4 years old. He doesn’t remember the lines and songs from the Wizard of Oz, even though he’d ask me to recite the story every afternoon before he fell asleep for nap time. He asks to hear stories about himself as a toddler and listens as if he’s hearing about a stranger. He kind of is. I’m the only one who holds these memories, and that feels like a big responsibility because I don’t want to forget, either.
I am though. I’m forgetting.
His toddler voice, with those classic toddler phrases that I thought I’d remember forever, are starting to fade. It feels like another lifetime. He’s a different person than he was — a different size, yes, but also a different personality. Different needs and preferences and quirks. Sometimes I’ll scan through my iPhoto account and watch old clips and think, “Wow, I forgot about that.” His mannerisms. His sweetness. An obvious spark of something that’s always been him, through all the evolutionary steps to whoever his adult self will be. In fact, I’ll probably spend more years knowing that adult version than any other past version, certainly longer than the infant and toddler boy he once was.
When I see his videos, I hear that voice, with its cute impediment that we hammered out in speech therapy; I see his cheeks, his chubby arm creases, his outfits that were so normal and standard but now give me pangs of missing. I miss that person. I’ll never feel the weight of his toddler-sized body, his cheek mushing into my shoulder as I rock him to sleep. I’ll never hear his little toddler voice whispering, “I yove you mama” in my ear again, not in that little toddler accent of his. But when I watch the videos and look at photos from that time period, exactly as it was, I remember. And I smile.
So you know what, plugged-in parents? Don’t put down your phones. Take the video, snap the photo. Stop deleting the ones that aren’t Instagram worthy — the ones that show a messy living room or a temper tantrum.
Don’t delete the outtakes — those will be the ones you’ll cherish the most.
You’ll want to remember the realness, because believe it or not, you’ll forget, too.
My photo collection doesn’t stop time or bring back the past versions of my boy. It doesn’t add any extra permanence to my reality; it’s all slipping into the void, anyway. But it helps me remember him, at all the stages, reminding me that who he is today isn’t who he always will be. So soak it up, but also take some pictures.
Because just like I miss the small waddling boy who clung to my side and who talked in a cute chipmunk voice, I know I’ll miss the first grader who lost teeth and left them for a magical fairy.