Losing a tooth is the biggest childhood milestone


My son got into the car after school last week and slammed the door shut. 

“How was your day, babe?” I asked.

“Bloody,” he said, and then pulled something out of his pocket. I looked over as he opened his hand. Inside was a tissue; inside the tissue was a molar. 

Immediately, my mind went to my wallet. Do I have cash? I have moved on to using Apple Pay for pretty much everything, but the tooth fairy is still stuck in 2001 and constantly in need of an ATM. In recent years, she has, in a pinch, exchanged teeth for coupons, foreign currency found at the bottom of suitcases and, on one memorable evening, a gold necklace (that I still have not gotten back). 

“Yeah,” he said, as I was desperately trying to recall if I had raided his piggy bank the last time or if there was still something inside it. “It’s the last one. Remember? The dentist said I only had one tooth left to fall out.”  

I almost slammed on the brakes. How could this be? After years of scrounging around the couch cushions for change, debating with my husband about what to do with the baby teeth (he was Team Keep, I was Team Dump; in the end he won out but I have no idea where they are and live in constant fear of reaching into a random jar and finding them), setting alarms for 11 p.m. only to sleep through them and then have to make a mad dash with cash to the bedroom during breakfast, followed by a white lie of “Hmmm, are you sure you’ve looked everywhere? Maybe check again” — after all that time, this phase of my parenting life has now come to an end. 

My son and me when he was younger.
My son and me when he was younger.Courtesy Alisha Miranda

On the one hand, I’m relieved. I think people fall into two camps with teeth: those who are not bothered by the fact that we go through a developmental stage where pieces of hard mineralized tissue that already pushed through our gums once fall out and then grow back again; and normal people, like me, who believe teeth are just plain gross. I am genuinely disgusted by the sight of a wobbly tooth. For years, my children have used this knowledge to terrorize me, but no longer. I’m finally free of the dental tyranny I’ve been subjected to for so long. 

But on the other hand: It feels like a real definitive end to childhood in a way that other milestones have not.   

It’s not as if it has been abrupt. Having 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, has meant that we’ve been careening toward adolescence for some time now. Long gone is the Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo and Agua de Violetas, replaced with acne-targeting exfoliators and Dove deodorant (I have drawn a line at Axe body spray). We’re dealing with bras and periods and having conversations about fake news and climate change. I know that my babies, although they’ll always be my babies, are no longer babies. But for whatever reason, the loss of this final tooth has sent me into a tailspin.

I know that my babies, although they’ll always be my babies, are no longer babies. But for whatever reason, the loss of this final tooth has sent me into a tailspin.

When the twins were born, five weeks early and with the support of a team of medical professionals and cutting-edge science, I was overwhelmed by becoming a parent. I wasn’t ready to be in charge of humans, especially small, new ones who needed to be fed constantly and never, ever seemed to sleep.

I remember a conversation I had with my aunt, a mom of three children, when my kids were about 4 months old. We were exhausted, as a household collective, although the twins seemed to be faring better than my husband and me, who also wanted to cry about 10 times a day. “When does it get easier?” I asked her. “Maybe around 4 years old,” she told me, and then I cried again because four years might as well have been 100.

“But everything is a phase,” she continued, with perspective that at the time I could not fathom. “This phase will pass.”

Unsurprisingly, she was right. It was all a phase, and as one gave way to the next, it was clear that each had its pros and cons. No sooner was I celebrating the end of diapers when I had to deal with making time for constant potty breaks. I couldn’t wait for first steps to arrive, and once they did, I contemplated becoming a mom who kept her kids on a leash (no judgment, only awe at the brilliance of that invention, especially when navigating toddlers around Disney World.) 

But those early stages, although they were distinct from each other, required more or less the same type of parenting skills: keep them healthy, feed them enough vegetables, keep them alive. Moving into the preteen years has required an entirely different expertise. It feels like a totally new phase of parenting — one I am, in general, wholly unequipped to enter. 

As he gets older and enters a new stage of his life, I'm entering a new stage of parenting ... and it's tough.
As he gets older and enters a new stage of his life, I'm entering a new stage of parenting ... and it's tough.Courtesy Alisha Miranda

I read an article the other day (OK, fine, it was a post on Instagram) that said something like “parenting teens requires you to move from being a manager to a consultant.” As a former consultant, this analogy sort of blew my mind. When you are a manager, you are responsible for everything from strategy to execution. Your job in managing your children and their lives is to run the show, keep things moving and help them attain their goals, but ultimately the buck stops with you. You are a benevolent dictator, not breaking a sweat as you bargain for just three more bites of dinner before dessert, floss their teeth for them the day before a dentist appointment and deftly organize playdates with the kids whose parents you like. You’re in charge. It’s a good feeling.

But don’t let that control go to your head, because it doesn’t last: At some point you have to engage in a peaceful transfer of power, à la George Washington (who, incidentally, was no stranger to losing teeth). To become the consultant you must advise and offer guidance, a shoulder to cry on and all the wisdom you have at hand. But your kids, now your clients, will take it or leave it. And in exchange, they will probably just yell at you all the time.

Teenagers have to make their own mistakes and according to experts, you are supposed to just sit back and let this happen; failing is vital for development and for helping teens grow into adults. I’m sure the experts are right, but I would rather have a root canal a day than watch my children suffer.  

Ultimately, this new phase, like the others, is about figuring out how to move on. I can’t even imagine the next ones that are to come — the peaks and valleys of teenage hormones, the first broken hearts and hangovers and (if I don’t ground them forever) eventually leaving home. As I say goodbye to the baby-tooth stage of my parenting journey, I am trying as hard as I can to hold on to that wise perspective my aunt offered: Every phase is a phase. The new ones will be full of joys I can’t yet possibly comprehend.  

Before bed on the night of the final tooth, I asked my son if he had put his tooth under the pillow for the tooth fairy. He gave me an arched eyebrow.

“Mom, I know there is no tooth fairy,” he said. I looked at him, my no-longer-but-still-always-my-baby, the tiny wisps of a mustache forming on his upper lip and gave him a kiss on the forehead which he, miraculously, did not swat away.

“Well, you might as well put your tooth out for her anyway — you know, just in case.”

“No. I think you better keep your money,” he said firmly, telling me what to do for once. “I hear that braces are going to be expensive.”



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