Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

March 12, 2001

The tooth hurts

I am a little obsessed with teeth. This is not just a recent thing. It predates Lucy, even.

Ever since I found out that Adam had to have every one of his permanent teeth removed to make room for the extra set that was coming in behind them, I have carried a small pellet of fear in my heart.

Add that to the fact that I teethed at four months and was a something of a biter — and suddenly, I had enough fodder to fuel a fair amount of worry.

Imagine the baby, I thought, who would be born with not one, but two, rows of teeth. Hucksters of yore would have sold tickets to see The Amazing Shark Baby, Live! (Today, I might have to settle for an appearance on America’s Scariest Dental Visits, which I believe, is scheduled to run on the Fox network next week.)

Anyway, as soon as Lucy’s four-month birthday rolled around, I started looking for signs of imminent teething. Drool, crying, frantic gumming – all of these were sure indications to me that Shark Baby was swimming my way: “Ba-dump. Baaa-dump. Ba-da-ba-da...”

In the two months since then, there has been a lot of drool, and a fair amount of crying, sometimes even at the same time. But these have been nothing compared to the gumming. Gumming has become Lucy’s day job. No matter what else she is doing – bathing, playing, holding my hand, reading, nursing – she finds a way to let her gums in on the fun.

Everything goes into her mouth for a good chomp. Books, magazines, her feet, her finger, and occasionally her thumb, not to mention remote controls, dog toys, the corners of her high chair. Everything.

As she is also learning to scoot and wriggle around on the floor, not unlike a potato bug suddenly exposed to daylight, she has even humped her way to such filthy things as cast-off shoes. I found her once trying to chomp the corner of my “walk the baby fat off” hiking shoe. There’s nothing quite like a dirty boot in your baby’s mouth to prove once and for all that you’re a terrible housekeeper.

But, as I’ll say to the judge, that’s not entirely my fault.

When you’re living in a two-bedroom condominium, and using your dining “nook” as a combination home-office and playroom, sundries are bound to pile up on the floor. And pile up they did: cloth diapers for toxic leaks, shiny plastic toys, rattles, books, beanie babies, orphaned socks, video tapes, coupons that I will never use, receipts that I meant to file. The list was endless. These things threatened to bury us in a time capsule of mostly well-intended consumerism, and for once, I am not exaggerating. Much, anyway.

The only bright side was that they had turned the condo into a human-sized Habitrail, and I was getting in very good shape meandering through them, with or without my baby-fat-burning shoes. I was logging about a mile a day between the bedroom and kitchen, mainly because I had to take so many detours around all the baby stuff.

Looking back on it, it is not surprising that Christmas was the last straw for the condo. We emerged from the holiday season with so many gifts for Lucy that one last wee hat set off the crap alarm, which bleated like a lamb until Adam and I made the decision to sell our condo and buy a house.

That took less than two weeks.

Normal people spend a lot more time on this process. But Adam and I belong to the Band-Aid Removal School of Life Events: best they should be dispensed with quickly. And within two more weeks, we were in the house. The greatest house in the world, as far as I am concerned. It’s a 1905 Craftsman with – and this makes my eyes sting – a kitchen large enough to house Lucy’s high chair, the dog bowls, the cat bowls, with enough room left over that Adam and I can both stand there watching the chaos of it all.

And it has been chaotic.

Two days after we moved in, Lucy and I caught colds. And two days after that, Lucy turned six months old. Far from enjoying a momentous, Martha Stewart event, we spent her birthday and the days surrounding it listening to Lucy shriek.

And not her usual “I’m talking with dolphins, Mommy” squeal. With that one, it’s clear she’s trying to communicate complex ideas. What they are, we do not know. But they are nuanced and shaded, and they rarely break glass.

Her six-month shriek, on the other hand, was something else. It said one thing: “I’m in pain.”

Adam and I thought she must have a horribly stuffy head. We could hear the snot rattling in her nose, and she wasn’t sleeping well at night at all. For me, the only bright side was that I could take the noise for hours on end, without considering child abandonment for even a millisecond.

Too bad I’m too much of a dope to have figured out what the problem was. Otherwise, I could have prevented the shriek in the first place. The irony is, Adam and I had been quick with the gum-numbing goo two months earlier, when we didn’t need it. But by the time she had an actual tooth coming in, we didn’t do a thing.

I guess I could say the distraction of having to put all our earthly possessions into small cardboard boxes, tape them shut, then cut them open and unpack them caused me to miss the fact that a small, diamond-sharp tooth was on its way.

The truth is that the novelty of teething had already worn off weeks before. I thought so much about it that I simply ran out of mental juice for this event. It was the developmental milestone that cried wolf, I guess, and by the time the signs had arrived, I had stopped looking for them.

So, it was a great surprise for me to stick my finger in Lucy’s mouth and feel something ridged and hard attached in there.

“By gum!” I exclaimed (more or less accurately), “it’s a tooth!”

It was just a tiny one, a speck of white, like rice for Barbie. But I had to tell everyone, or at least their answering machines, about it, I was so excited.

I never would have thought something so small and ordinary as a tooth could fling me into orbit. And I can’t believe I almost missed it.

That’s the thing about having a baby, though. It’s a chance to watch life open up before you, like a time-lapse film-strip of a flower going from notion to bud to blossom. You get that strange sensation of time moving quickly and slowly, all at once.

With your own baby, you get to feel these changes, and not just see them. You have to pay attention, though, and not just think about all the unfolded laundry and unpaid bills.

The threshold moments help you understand a little bit better what it means to be human, and to be alive. To touch life like this, to feel it bloom in front of you – this is the only kind of magic that is real.


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