We saved our son’s baby teeth in a plastic margarine tub on top of the microwave. At first as a holding area each time we collected another tiny relic from under his pillow: a what-to-do-with-them-till-I-figure-out-what-to-do-with-them-spot.
Losing a tooth is scary. How do you explain to a child that part of you falls out and grows back? Or worse, coax him into tying a string to his loose tooth and the other end to a door knob. Close the door quickly: a lesson in how to do what needs to be done.
My husband and I were divorcing. I spent each after-school afternoon with my son in the “marriage house” where I no longer lived. Ten years old and his parents resided in different places. This was a tragedy to me. Fifteen years later, my son is a successful man with no visible scars.
One of these afternoons I was wiping off our microwave and this tub of teeth tumbled to the floor. Our dog, dead many years now but back then a hungry, hungry pup, heard them sprinkle onto the worn linoleum—a treat?!—and gobbled as many as she could. I scooped up a small handful.
The Labrador was a compromise. I didn’t want a dog; my husband did. When I moved out, my son asked: Can we get a dog now? In some weird way she replaced me. I loved her for what she gave my son. A distraction throughout a dreadful time. A dog! Years of joy.
Dogs were new to me. I screamed, “Open.” I wanted those teeth back. Somehow I believed if you said any command slowly and with authority, a dog would understand; it seemed so on TV. My son laughed hysterically at me with his dog. “Open,” he said. He laughed and laughed. “Open.” He couldn’t get the word out without rolling on the kitchen floor.
I pried apart her lips, but she would not give up any morsel. Later—after cheeking one last tooth like an unwanted pill—she spit out my son’s second molar in two pieces. I saved them, dog spit and all.
Sometimes the metaphor of these baby teeth is years, like rings of a tree. My son’s childhood scattered across the floor. This was the year everything changed for him.
Sometimes this is an allegory for what a dog will eat: anything that sounds like a treat.
Our dog bit in half one of my son’s molars. A bitten tooth. What is that even like? A bullet pierced by a bullet? A pocketful of pockets? Scar tissue cut away?
Baby teeth are lost so new ones can grow. Twenty out; thirty-two in. As we age our capacity for teeth and compassion increases.
Now I store my grown son’s impossibly tiny teeth in my jewelry box. Each time I look inside for a necklace or a bracelet, there is my boy. There is his dog.