Wednesday, October 17, 2012

~ Loose Tooth ~


The whole thing happened in a matter of seconds. When I heard my four-year-old slip and come up crying in the other room, my husband told me to stay put: “I’ve got it.” Recently, Nicholas had been playing his drama card like a cardsharp, and his dad and I were trying to cut back on jumping at his every whine or cry. I sat on my hands, wanting to comfort him, but also trying hard to be a rock. He was going to be fine. Then my husband announced, “Okay, there’s some blood.” “What?” I yelled, pushing up from my seat.  “And he lost a tooth.” This was all reported in a matter-of-fact tone while I yelped and ran into the kitchen, where our son was now screaming with bright red blood pouring out of his mouth.

“Oh baby, I’m so sorry!” I ran to him and instantly burst into tears. When he saw my distress, Nicholas’s cries rocketed up another notch. There was blood – lots of it – and a big gap where his precious little white tooth had been. “His tooth! His front tooth!” I kept shouting the words like an imbecile till my husband told me, “You need to calm down and go in the other room now.” I’ve never been good with blood, and like any mother, my heart stops with each thunk, thud, or cry until playing resumes or my son, who has learned his mom is a worrywart, pronounces, “I’m okay, mama!” Still, we’d been lucky in the arena of accidents up until now. Despite Nicholas’s love for street hockey, football, and pretty much every other sport, he’d managed to stay remarkably injury free.

So how was it that an innocent twirl on the hardwood floor turned into a tooth-stealing injury? My husband, who saw it from afar, says that our son, in mid-twirl, slipped and landed face first on the wooden step that divides our sunroom from the kitchen. Out popped his baby tooth, as if from a perfect excision, its long slender root still attached when we recovered it from beneath the stair. We put it on ice (though later were told that teeth fare better in cold milk). While I rocked our boy back and forth, paper towels stuffed in his mouth, my husband called the dentist. Apparently, his was also a voice of reason: make sure the bleeding stops; these things happen; apply ice; forget about the tooth, he was going to lose it in a year or two anyway; give him Tylenol or Motrin as needed.

 Eventually the bleeding abated, Nicholas’s cries calmed, and a few popsicles and episodes of The Berenstain Bears later, he was feeling better. His mom, however, was still sick to her stomach; my attempts to keep him safe had been thrown out the window in a few seconds. My husband tried to make me feel better. “Honey, he’s fine. He was going to lose that tooth anyway.”

 “But how will he talk without a lisp?” I cried. And then it occurred to me, “And his school pictures!” I let out a moan. “He’ll be gap-toothed.” There it would be: evidence forever of how I’d let my son down, left him in harm's way.

 My husband cocked his head and looked at me as if I’d slightly lost my mind. No doubt he wondered if I needed a sedative more than our boy. Like many a mom, I’m great at guilt. If I had been watching Nicholas that second, would he have stumbled? Probably. I doubt I could have broken his fall. I might have cautioned him to be careful, to slow down; but more likely I would have been taking delight in his whimsical twirl. He’s an active, imaginative boy and I love nothing more than to witness all that imagination in play.

 Later that night, I tucked him in and hugged him till he told me to stop. The tooth was safely tucked under his pillow, awaiting a prize from the tooth fairy. I asked Nicholas, as I do most nights, what he was going to dream about. I braced myself, certain his answer would involve blood, gore, pain, an innocence stolen. “I think I’m going to dream about the brown rollercoaster,” he said after a moment. This was in reference to the ride he and his cousin had gone on six consecutive times, screaming with delight, earlier in the day at the local fairground.

 I smiled and remembered to breathe. Maybe we weren’t doing such a terrible job as parents. And when I dropped him at preschool a few days later, Nicholas gloating like a rock star while all his friends crowded around him to exclaim at his missing tooth, I felt a touch of pride for my son and this unexpected rite of passage. My heart will always break a little when I see his crooked grin. But when I heard him ask a friend as I was leaving, “Do you want to see my loose tooth?” and I stopped, about to correct him that it was no longer there, I thought better of it. He was on his way, ready to have another great day, no matter what life handed him.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taking Flight

Taking Flight  ~  October 10, 2012

Wendy Francis

My mother’s call came on an unseasonably warm October afternoon, one year ago today, to be exact. My three-year-old son and I were enjoying a sun-drenched afternoon at Houghton’s Pond outside of Boston, and we’d packed a picnic of miniature sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies (a picnic added just the right dollop of adventure for a three-year-old). After tossing a ball around, we planted ourselves on a blanket, unwrapped our cellophane bundles, and indulged, letting the sweet raspberry jelly melt deliciously on our tongues. Later, we baked birthday cakes of sand topped by pebble candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to each other. I have a picture from that day, the sun lighting his small frame bent over the water (see below). A day to be grateful for.

When the sun started to slip away, we packed up our things and headed home. I hadn’t brought a cell phone, wanting to avoid any temptation to check e-mails. But waiting on the answering machine at home was a message from my mom, asking if I could please call her. It was easy to discern something was the matter, but what? When she told me that my sixty-nine-year-old father had died of a sudden heart attack, I collapsed in a puddle. My dad had been a lifelong runner, ate well. How was it that the coils of his heart had given up on him so easily, so abruptly? And on a day that had held such splendor, such peace, just a few moments earlier?

My mom and I looked for ways to make sense of his death in the weeks that followed, but it was hard to come by. There would be no funeral; my dad had donated his body to medical research. Instead, we worked with the minister to compose a memorial that would honor all that had made him so dear. We nixed including Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” one of his favorite songs, but chose quotes from Maya Angelou and Thoreau, other favorites, for his service. Meanwhile, I searched for signs that dad was up there, somewhere. If anyone could figure out how to get us a message he was all right, I figured it would be him. When a few days later Theo Epstein got traded to the Cubs, my dad’s beloved team, I felt a flutter. But I wanted something bigger, something more.

The next morning my mom and I sat at the kitchen table, our usual spot, watching the sun rise over a swath of trees off to the east. Coffee steamed up from our mugs. A big thunderstorm had rumbled through the night before, and rain still lay thick on the deck outside. As we sat and talked, we noticed a small flock of birds begin to take flight from the trees beyond. The sky was pink, just warming into the day. And suddenly, an entire army of birds emerged from the woods, heading our way. It was as if they’d detected a chill in the fall air and were on wing, if not quite South, to warmer pastures.

My mom and I watched spell-bound, as thousands upon thousands passed overhead. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she whispered. We marveled as they continued their flight pattern for a good fifteen minutes. It was breathtaking. And as crazy as it sounds, it felt as if my dad was sending his thumbs-up sign as only he could, in a place he was sure to find us.

You might say it had a lot to do with the night’s heavy rain, all the worms that crawled to the surface, a bird’s easy breakfast. Or with the migration afoot across the nation. But to us, for those precious, awe-inspiring moments, we couldn’t help but feel we were connected to some greater presence, my dad shooing the birds from the trees, saying, “Come on, I’ve got to give them a big show, something to let them know it’s from me.”

For me, it was my dad, taking flight.