their teeth. At first, nobody is ready to let go. The Tooth Fairy is a terror, crawling in the
bedroom in search of discarded body parts. The red roots anchoring the teeth, too tender to
break. Apples skins are granite, bananas are cudgels, mashed potatoes requested for dinner every
night. Weeks of candy-sized bone being reported on with the regularity of the weather, seesawed
back and forth by the tongue, tugged tentatively, loosened, then regretted, and pushed back in
When that first Chiclet-white front tooth gives up the ghost—falling into the lap without
any pain while watching TV—a scream of surprised delight, and the two-dollar payout
transforms every kid into a wild prospector managing a goldmine, assaying the variegates of size
and time taken to get out for the value of cashing them in.
The mouth unravels. A slice of undercooked cheese pizza tumbles a molar out the mouth
onto the carpet of Chuck E. Cheese. A sneeze blasts germs and squeaks of surprise as another
premolar breaks away. Brushing saws free a lateral incisor that hadn’t even seemed ready to go.
One, practically perpendicular to the floor, is pulled out by Dad’s sleight of hand. A bicycle
handle-bar lip-busting accident fills the mouth with bright blood, and another unmoored tooth
tilts outside the bite plane as if attempting to rappel down the face. A brother’s elbow to the jaw,
the culprit for an askew canine.
While the mouth empties, spilling out bits of kid, it also fills again. Children of a certain
age look like a seven-year-old’s scraggly drawing of a demented grin: incisors crooked sideways,
white blades of incoming teeth striving to save slots, wolfish canines growling over their still-in
siblings, and horse-big front teeth dominating more than their fair share of space. The kids are
half made—billboards of white enamel but also so much gum, arched and pink as ground beef.
Then it’s the last tooth, poolside, squinting, mouth agape, fingers on the rooted back
molar—emboldened by experience, all tenderness obliterated by the practicalities of wanting to
swim without distraction, the tooth pulls out with a soft shuck, roots still attached, turned over to
you for safekeeping. That bit of bone—what the body gives up in order to become—is in your
naked hand. The promise of a five-dollar payout extracted from you instead of the Tooth Fairy.
You fold the last visible bits of babyhood in a crinkled napkin, while they scramble up the ladder
of the highest diving board, a quick couple of steps to the edge, then diving, headfirst into the