We chatted about teeth today after reading My Tooth, a poem by an anonymous writer. This was during our Morning Meeting group activity and as the 80 Morning Meeting Ideas book suggested, I prompted our students to chat with one another about a time they had lost a tooth. The stories varied from having lost a tooth while eating an egg roll to not having lost one yet.
Then I told my lost tooth story:
It was my first year teaching Kindergarten and W had lost his tooth. We put it one of those fancy tooth-shaped teeth holders. It hung as a charm around his neck–you know, for safe-keeping.
One thing to note:
-Inasmuch as they look reasonably sized while in your head, baby teeth are actually quite small.
After the expected awe and clamoring of friends, we went on with our day. Shortly after arriving to the cafeteria and getting seated, W lost the tooth that he’d just lost.
Upset is an understatement.
He was inconsolable.
I was inexperienced.
I was also on all-fours under a cafeteria table looking among discarded food and other rubbish for a tooth. Put that one my resume. Actually, don’t–I never found it. Neither did his friends. This story doesn’t end happily.
At the end of the day, I wondered aloud, “Yes, but why was he so upset? We squared-away everything with the Tooth Fairy. We emailed her and all!”
“It’s really hard,” my teaching partner explained. “It’s almost like they lose a part of themselves.”
I paused. I’d never had to think about it until now. All I wanted to do was wash the corn-bits I had mistaken for tooth off my hands. But, instead I garnered all my empathy toward thinking about loss. And again, about losing what you had already lost.
I also thought about letting go and being forced to.
Tooth loss is a unique experience because unlike other things you lose, teeth are cherished, collected and then replaced with treats and rewards. I just learned that how the lost teeth are handled actually vary all over the world.
But W was upset not about the lack of reward–but the actual loss of the tooth. I swear I looked hard for that tooth–I looked even a few days after he lost it, though I knew they thoroughly cleaned the cafeteria each night.
“It’s really hard.”
“It’s almost like they lose a part of themselves.”
The words resonated though I hadn’t fully grasped what W was feeling.
I didn’t have an analogous situation to ponder.
So, when he was sad, we stayed by him.
And when he was better, we enjoyed his joy.
Isn’t it like that sometimes?
And besides, when you’re sad you don’t always need someone who has been where you’ve been.
You just someone to stay where you are and walk beside you when you’re ready to move on.
W has moved on. Several years have passed and I trust all of his teeth have safely fallen out, been properly retrieved and replaced with a winning smile.
But I think of W, each time one of our students loses a tooth. And I tell his story, every time.
So far, no other incidences.
And now, as the years have piled on, I’ve come to know the Tooth Fairies quite well. I know that they too, have excitement and anxiety–mostly about getting caught and waking the dreamer who lost their tooth! I’m more well-versed in the wonder, fear, awe, disappointment and excitement surrounding tooth loss. But mostly, I’m cautious and careful with tooth treasures and urge our students to be the same.