Last night I had a dream that all of my teeth fell out. I have this dream on a semi-regular basis, and it’s always painful and terrible. I’ve done the research about “what it all means,” blah blah blah, and quite frankly, I don’t care about the deeper meaning. I just want it to never happen again…
But it got me thinking about being a kid and when my teeth really would fall out. It’s such a simple rite of passage, but it befuddled me over and over.
I hated having loose teeth. It freaked me out. My first tooth loss came with such resistance: It got so loose that I could spin it all the way around. I even asked my parents if there were ways to glue it back in. The root finally gave way as I lightly nibbled on a microwaved fish stick. This was in contrast to my best friend who would suck on ice and yank her teeth out with pliers as soon as they showed signs of being loose. Hers was pretty extreme behavior, but so was mine. I was a total wuss.
My first tooth fell out when I was five, when my family was living in Colorado. Sometime later that year, around the beginning of summer, we moved across the country to the great land of the Washington DC area. Because I was going to be in a new place and I was to be starting school in the fall, my parents thought it would be a good idea to enroll me in the neighborhood summer swim team so that I could get to know some kids. I’d been taking swimming lessons since I was a toddler, and they thought this would be a fun activity for me.
I loved it. I had a great time with the other kids, learned a lot about teamwork, and thrived on competition. I continued swimming competitively until I graduated from high school, and I maintain that I was never that great of a swimmer–I just had such an unbelievable drive to win, that I did. Often.
In my first meet, I stopped in the middle of the race to hang on the lane line for a moment, and barely made it to the other side of the pool. There was hope that I would improve, and I was one of the youngest kids on the team, so no one was particularly worried. I was only swimming in “B” meets at that point anyway, which were non-competitive team-wise and really only for fun. Our team had plenty of strong eight-and-under girls to fill out the “A” meets, so I wasn’t needed yet.
Until April broke her freaking toe.
I was only even at the meet because my older brother was swimming, and my parents were involved in volunteering at the meet. I was mainly just there to participate in cheers and pick dandelions with my friends (and eat nachos and Fun Dip). I was, in fact, WINNING at hide-and-seek when my coach found me (I should have hid better) and said, “April just kicked the fence and we think her toe is broken. You’re the only other swimmer we have who can make it to the other side of the pool and we need you to swim in the relay.”
My answer was so dumb: “No, I think I’m tired.”
In reality, I had a loose tooth. It had reached the point of spinning all the way around, which let me know it was probably going to fall out soon and that it wouldn’t take much for it to happen. I was deeply concerned that it would fall out while I was swimming, and that the poor Tooth Fairy would drown trying to fish it out of the pool. I hadn’t heard anything about her knowing how to swim.
I didn’t want to tell anyone the truth about my hesitation, so there ended up being sort of a commotion about the whole thing. My coach wasn’t buying it that I was “tired” since I’d been running all over the place with my friends, so he went to my parents, who came straight to me, demanding an explanation. Again, I was a little embarrassed, so rather than go into the whole Tooth Fairy thing, I just showed them the loose tooth and they figured I was worried I would swallow it.
My coach pulled me aside and explained that my tooth would stay put if I kept my mouth closed and that everyone on the team would be super proud of me if I decided to swim. He told me that I didn’t need to worry about how fast I was going (I think he had basically decided we were going to lose that race, but he’d rather have had us lose than have to forfeit), so there was no pressure. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t nervous about being too slow.
I finally decided I would do it. The three other girls on the relay team were eight-year-olds who were neither amused by my presence nor by my delaying the meet to decide whether or not I could swim with a loose tooth. They were already angry that we were going to lose the race. April was so mad at herself, she couldn’t even watch.
When it was my turn, I dove in and remembered what my coach said. Don’t open your mouth. I didn’t breathe for the entire length of the pool, much to the concern of all the adults watching. My coach was apparently standing at the edge of the pool, shirt-off, ready to dive in and save me in case I passed out from not breathing.
Hey, guess what. We won the race, and I dropped 25 seconds off my previous time. I won the “Most Improved” award at the end of the year and earned the respect of my team.
Most importantly of all, the Tooth Fairy didn’t drown.
But I did swallow my damn tooth.