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Mr. Tooth Fairy

The tooth fairy visited our house for the first time tonight, and surprisingly, she was male. With four children, my husband and I know that, collectively, they will lose enough teeth to nearly outfit a piano’s keyboard. The loss of our eldest daughter’s first tooth is no small milestone. There were warning signs. Six days after her sixth birthday before breakfast, she noticed it was loose. After that, she spent lots of time in front of the bathroom mirror wiggling and working on her lower gum. A speck of blood was considered a good sign. She’d ask, “Is it out yet?” over and over as if she might miss the event.

There was a great amount of fanfare in realizing and announcing that the tooth had indeed fallen out…right on the stairs. She was chewing a caramel. It must have stuck and pulled just the right way. And then it bounced down a few steps. She had to catch it. We clapped and cheered and danced around and then ran for the mirror to see the spot sans tooth. Our girl giggled, pushing her tongue into the new hole in her mouth before searching the kitchen for just the right container to preserve the tooth for presentation to the Tooth Fairy. She chose a plastic baggie.

At bedtime, the meaning of the lost tooth settled over me and my husband. This was our parental premiere as Tooth Fairy. Precedents would be established, traditions launched, monetary values for lost teeth instituted.

“Who’s going to do it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. You want me to?”

“No. I’ll go. How much are teeth worth these days?”

“Is a first tooth from the first child to lose one worth more? Do you want me to call my mother?”

After a few thoughtful moments flicking through his change box, Mr. Tooth Fairy decided on a quarter and headed for the stairs. Several minutes later my scientific, technology-minded husband returned with the tooth and a sappy smile on his face. I stood at the kitchen sink ready to open the cabinet door to the trashcan. Mr. Tooth Fairy cradled the tooth in his hand and we gazed at it through the baggie.

“Should we keep it?” he asked me.

“No. Who keeps a tooth?”

“It’s so small,” he said quietly.

“It’s one of the first things we knew about her”

“Yeah.”

The fact that she had teeth was indeed part of the first little bits of information we were given about our daughter. Before we met her, we knew this tooth existed. It was noted in the medical report written five and a half years ago in a Chinese orphanage and then was sent to the adoption agency here in Virginia that was helping us find a daughter to call our own. After waiting what seemed an eternity for our adoption application to be processed, we were elated when Jennifer from the agency called with news that the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs had referred us a baby girl and we should drive over to pick up all the papers and photos.

I left work early the next day and rushed to the agency office. As excited as I was, I was not prepared for the emotional rush that overwhelmed me when I opened the big white referral envelope and saw her photo for the first time. This adorable baby, bald with a big smile, tongue sticking impishly out one side of her mouth lived oceans away and had a name I couldn’t pronounce correctly…but look at that smile. She’s MY daughter. And she has teeth! Happy tears on my face, I drove home with the papers on my lap, one hand hugging them to my body as if I were pregnant. My husband fell in love just as quickly as I did. We packed our bags and eagerly awaited permission to travel to Beijing.

We started protecting our daughter’s tooth and five others in her mouth the day we met her in a hotel in Wuhan, China with a Pooh Bear toothbrush. It wasn’t easy. She was fourteen months old, newly separated from the only people she had ever known and didn’t seem to understand what a toothbrush was for. We didn’t speak Chinese and she didn’t yet understand English. We decided we’d wait until we got home before declaring brushing mandatory.

After we arrived home, we learned that sweet berry flavored toothpaste purchased from our local grocery store did the trick. She loved brushing after tasting that. Wasn’t that just yesterday? How is it possible that we arrived at this moment of holding her tooth separate from her mouth in front of us right now?

Looking at the lost tooth now reminds me that most everything except her first six teeth and basic health history before she made us a family with children is a mystery. I’ve wondered and imagined so much. This tooth in my husband’s hand is as solid a clue as we’ll ever have about her fourteen months of life in China before we were her parents.

My reliable baby book tells me that children usually start cutting teeth anywhere in their first six months to a year of life. The timing is hereditary. When a six year old loses her first tooth, it’s likely the first one she cut five and a half years ago. This was a bottom tooth…typical for babies. One or both of her birth parents probably cut and lost teeth about the same time in their lives. Tonight, we know something about her development and a link to her birth parents. Someday, she’ll own the journals I’ve been keeping of her childhood achievements and milestones and read about when her first tooth fell out. I wonder if it will hold the special meaning for her as it does for me and her dad at this moment.

We stood several minutes more, inspecting all the angles of the tooth and contemplating our history with it. Finally, I said, “You don’t have to throw it away.”

“Oh, good,” he whispered and slipped the bag with the tooth into his pocket. Maybe she’ll inherit her Mr. Tooth Fairy’s sentimentality as well.

(A version of this story first appeared in Adoption Today in the spring of 2005)

Linda Mitchell is a wife and mom to four, blog contributor for Love Without Boundaries and volunteer at her kid’s school, student of School Library Media, K-1st Sunday School Teacher…..and creative writer when she can get a word in edgewise.

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