Emma was losing her first tooth yesterday. All day long I watched my daughter wandering the house, her half-open mouth in a state of tongue-working wonder. Every half-hour, I gave her tooth an awed wiggle — confirming yes, it did indeed seem looser than it was 30 minutes ago.
Mid-afternoon, halfway through the shrill singing of her favorite show, I heard a little “pop,” followed by Emma’s excited shriek that signaled success. She called every friend and family member she could think of to share her “big-girl” news. She drank everything through a straw, the gap in her teeth an open invitation, a tiny window into her mouth.
Unlike Emma, losing my first tooth was more distress than delight. Although I was excited, fear of the pain kept me covering my mouth as the tooth dangled — a tiny enamel trapeze swinging in the big-top tent of my mouth. That was 29 years ago, but for all my anguish, it could have been yesterday. Now I’m the one with the mouth full of big-girl teeth. Now I’m the one sneaking quietly into my daughter’s darkened bedroom, rooting around for the pea-sized prize and replacing it with a fairy dollar — a marvel of glitter and glue. And, yes, now I’m the one suddenly feeling very, very old.
Standing in the darkness of her bedroom, I began getting that spinning feeling I felt as a child when I looked up at the stars and thought about God and the concept of “eternity.” I remembered the futility of trying to grasp the idea of no beginning and no end, and how my head ached with lack of understanding. Looking at Emma lying in the quiet, I remembered my toothless dreams, then fast-forwarded to thoughts of my daughter one day standing in my shoes, her own hands rough with glitter. And I was struck by how life can feel so very small and yet be part of something so very large.
Perspective is both a blessing and a challenge. I read somewhere that it takes seven years for our mind to catch up to our actual age, leaving us forever in a time warp of youth. Feeling younger has its benefits, though. That is, until I find myself on my hands and knees on the floor, waiting for the queasy spinning to stop after I demonstrated a somersault to Emma.
Obsessing about growing older is a weird thing, and in the grand scheme of it all, pretty insignificant. It’s just hard to keep that perspective when you’re staring down creeping crow’s-feet in the mirror. Funny, too, how the strangest things can start the drama bubbling up — such as seeing your first-grade lunch box in an antique store, or watching an aging musician trying to hang on to his cool. Or realizing that your childhood, like a song stuck in your head, is repeating itself within your child.
I’m still relatively young. At 34, I’m young enough to enjoy a day at the water park, but old enough to notice what’s happening on the back of my thighs. I’m young enough to look pretty foxy on a date with my husband, but old enough to need a lot of effort (and spandex) to pull it off. I’m young enough to pull a late-nighter on special occasions, but old enough to look like death as I drink coffee the next morning.
As the new day dawned, Emma raced, tippy-toed, into the bathroom where I was analyzing my face, preparing to start the morning routine. She bubbled over with delight, and for all her “big girlness,” she still seemed so little. Setting aside the anti-aging miracle cream, I leaned over, wrapping my arms around sweetness, her youthful magic somersaulting in my heart.
Whitney Scott is a photographer, freelance writer and “tooth fairy assistant” who lives with her family in Carthage, Missouri.
*Article originally appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of MomSense magazine.