October 29th, 2007

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Losing teeth and growing up

Monday, October 29th, 2007

This weekend, I talked to a 7-year old girl who had recently lost her first tooth. A gap in her grin, Claire told me that no, it didn’t hurt when the tooth fell out. Something about the momentous occasion that losing your first tooth ever is took me back to my own experience of the occasion.

I remember having that tiny bottom baby tooth, no bigger than a Tic-Tac, wiggling back and forth, back and forth. My tongue would push it around each day, loosening its bond with the gum, fretfully anticipating the day when it would finally fall out. My older brother Jeremy had already lost several teeth, and he assured me that it was a crazy experience – painful and traumatic – a right of passage that he had survived, and valiantly, but not without agony. He encouraged me to tie a piece of dental floss around the tooth, and attach it to a door, which he offered to slam; this would be a far less torturous experience than the slow, natural process.

I was terrified.

In my limited knowledge, I believed my brother. My fear forced me into trusting that his experience would be mine, too – that this was going to be the most harrowing event of my young life. And there was no escaping it. Unquestionably, the tooth was going to fall out, like it or not – and I would probably lose a lethal amount of blood in the process.

How often do we take someone else’s word for it? I know that I regularly listen to other people’s accounts of their exploits, good or bad, and assume that if I tried the same thing, my experience would be identical. My fear keeps me firmly imprisoned in settling for the truth that others have experienced, and not challenging myself to test the waters on my own.

But I am relishing my new-found callously courageous existence. I am learning to trust my gut, and make bold moves simply because what if it works? I am finding the balance between listening to the advice of those trusted friends who have earned the right to speak into my life, and letting go of the inessential pointers from the peanut gallery.

I think this is what “growing up” feels like.

When my first tooth finally fell out, it was painless. I felt around with my tongue, detecting the vacant hole where the tooth had once stood, and thinking that the gap that was left felt impossibly large. I lived. And the next time, I wasn’t so afraid.