We sometimes call our youngest son … Boo. As an infant he had a curious addiction to peek-a-boo games, laughing and giggling every time his mother or I would pop our head out from behind anything handy. His fascination for the silly along with that cute, endearing smile was something a parent could never grow tired of. At work on Monday mornings, before the coffee was brewed and the copier was warmed up, I would commonly find myself sitting at my desk enduring a bout of depression. I regretted not spending more time with our children over the weekend, I still do, and thinking about the smile that lit up Boo’s face when I did my best to startle him made it all the more painful.
When he was seven years old he lost his first tooth. It had been dangling tenuously for awhile, stubbornly hanging on by a single meaty thread like an apple in a tree waiting for a stiff wind to finally shake it loose and send it tumbling to the ground. I thought he was just being extremely patient, willing to let Mother Nature decide when it was time to fall out, until his sister opened his eyes. She informed him he needn’t wait for it to drop out, that he could pull it himself and collect the booty from the tooth fairy right away. You could see a light bulb come on in his head, so much so that I started worrying about his other healthy teeth. He disappeared into the bathroom and his mother and I smiled at each other, returning to watching the TV. Suddenly I heard a gasp from the other room and then the pitter patter of bare feet across the linoleum floors. It was out, he declared! He was so proud of his accomplishment that he marched around to everyone, showing off the tooth and the bloody hole it had emerged from. Afterwards, he spent a lot of time smiling at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. This was a big deal. When it was time for bed I watched as his mother gently wrapped the tooth in a piece of tissue and instructed him to place it under his pillow. When I turned the light out and said goodnight, he still had a smile on his face.
Hours later it came time for the obligatory tooth fairy pay-out. His mother and I had to think a little bit about how much to put under his pillow. We couldn’t remember how much our other two children had received for each of their teeth. How high had we set the bar? Did it matter? Absolutely, I told my wife, kids compare notes when it comes to things like this. In the end we decided on a crisp dollar bill. I imagined that children from privileged families probably received their first credit card this way. I was designated as the tooth fairy since the wife was going to bed to read. When it came time, I snuck into his room, stumbling several times over the booby traps he no doubt leaves for the bogeyman to trip over. I deftly made the exchange without stirring him, and quickly left.
Back in the living room, hunkered down in my throne (recliner), I noticed I still had the tissue with the tooth in my hand. Looking at it made me wonder what had happened to the other “first lost teeth” the tooth fairy had collected from our other children. I was certain my wife had them squirreled away somewhere, but then I realized she didn’t leave me any specific instructions with what to do with the tooth. That cascaded into a flood of other memories, plenty of reflection, and a little bit of worry.
Boo is our “bonus baby” and at times I’ve thought long and hard about how we keep things fresh for him (and us), having been through everything years before. It is so easy to slip into the “been there, done that” mode at times. It is not fair to him. He deserves all of the attention and fussing that a first born receives. But how do we remind ourselves to fight that temptation. Staring at the rolled up tissue in my hand I wondered if this was an example of us not treating him special enough. I thought about what I could do to make sure that wasn’t going to happen.
When Boo was staring at himself in the mirror, smiling, and again just before the light went out in his bedroom, I amusingly noticed that there was a hole in his smile now. A piece was missing. It now rested in the palm of my hand. On my way to bed that night I transferred it to a tiny pocket in my wallet.
From that day forward I’ve carried a piece of Boo’s smile with me. I think about it on Monday mornings, when I’m missing him more than usual.
It will always be the most valuable content my wallet can hold!