More and more lately I look at Joey and Noah and think, "They're so not babies anymore." To most people it's obvious; they're four and seven and they haven't actually been babies for a long time. But for me, time with them seems to move more slowly, like we're in a warp. There have been so many days where I wished for them to be a little bit older, to understand just a little bit more. I wish I didn't let myself do that, but I know why I do. It goes along with the whole concept of, "God made babies cute for a reason."
I have been singing the same song to Joey at bedtime since he was an infant. He was a really fussy baby, and discovering the miracle of the bedtime routine was possibly literally lifesaving. In his darkened bedroom at our first house, he'd nestle his fuzzy blond head against my chest. I'd rub his back with one hand and have my other arm under his round diaper bottom. I always think of him in the fleece footie pajamas, so cozy and warm in our drafty old house. I hope I never forget that feeling of his weighty little body in my arms as I sang to him "Close To You" by the Carpenters.
I remember one night I laid him in his crib and placed his favorite striped blanket beside him (just like I did tonight), and he smiled up at me through the dim light. It was one of those huge, loving, open-mouthed baby smiles, and I was struck by the two little teeth poking through his bottom gums. I felt a sharp pull on my heart. "He's lost his newborn smile," I thought. "He'll never be my brand new baby again."
Flash forward seven years (I can't believe it's actually taken so long, or that it's already been seven years), a little boy comes home from the dentist proudly wiggling all his lower teeth with his tongue. "They're all loose and I didn't even KNOW!" he announced proudly to everyone who would listen. I'm pretty sure he's the last one in his class to lose his first tooth. He's sat idly by while all his friends have shared reports of dollar bills and five dollar bills and, of course, teeth tied to slamming doorknobs, just waiting for his turn. His big chance.
One tooth was wigglier than any other. The bottom right tooth. I've watched him play with it now (to my germophobic horror, I might add) for two weeks. At one point, he handed me a paper towel and said bravely, "Just yank it out, Mom. I can handle it." He could handle it, maybe, but I couldn't. I gingerly pressed my thumb and forefinger, braced by the paper towel, on either side of that tiny tooth and, well, I tried to pull, but, in the end, I just couldn't do it.
"Don't feel bad," he said, so typical of himself. "It'll come out when it comes out. It will happen on its own."
Sure enough, I came home from shopping today to a gap-toothed smile. He'd done it himself, pushing himself to pull the tooth as far forward as he could handle, until it came free in his hand. He was so proud of himself. It meant so many things to him: being a big boy, finally matching his friends, showing me his bravery, handling a hard situation on his own. I know a lot of experienced moms out there will roll their eyes at me (and probably do often), but when I stared down into that little hole in his mouth, it meant a lot of things to me, too.
The hardest part of all was tucking him in to bed tonight. Pushing that fuzzy blond hair off his forehead as he pressed back on his Batman pillowcase, trying to see if he could feel the tooth beneath the pillow. "Try it out, Mom," he said. "I'll roll over and pretend to sleep, and you be the Tooth Fairy. I want to see if she'll wake me up."
There is a longstanding story that when my big brother was a little boy and lost his first tooth, my mom tucked him into bed that night with promises of a magical fairy who would bring him a prize to trade for his tooth. Legend has it that my brother frowned deeply, reached beneath his pillow for the tooth, and thrust it back at my mother. "You take it," he said. "I don't want any fairies in MY room."
I honestly think that it might have been easier for me if Joey had done that. As I described the mysterious ways of yet another mythical hero (in line with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Superman), I felt yet another pang. It may sound weird, but I hate lying to him. I hate imagining yet another milestone moment down the road; the one where he looks at me with hurt, tear-filled eyes, and gasps, "You lied to me?"
Just the same, I'll never forget those magical moments from my own childhood (though my mom slipped up a lot more than I do; I was third and she only cared half as much as she had with my brother and sister, a fact she admits freely and without shame). As I fielded his questions in the best ways I knew how, I was plotting in my head just how, how, I would sneak into his room later, get my hand under his pillow, and make the big trade.
I was sweating it all evening, I'll tell you that. I know he's generally a good, heavy sleeper, but the evil voice in my head had other ideas. What if he rolled over and my hand got stuck? What if he bolted upright and asked what I was doing, waving a five dollar bill in one hand while the other was pressed beneath his pillow? I've never been very good at getting caught. I abandon the lies instantly and confess every last detail. I highly doubted I could hold onto my reign of Best Mom Ever if I fell prey to my own tendencies.
But how many years have moms and dads been doing this? I don't know. I don't want to know, either. I don't have the energy to Wikipedia it tonight. Not after I just crept up the stairs to Joey's room, waving a five dollar bill in one hand. Not after I approached his bed where he lay spread out like a little golden angel, his new mouth slightly agape with precious sleep, and slid my hand beneath his pillow to find the rather gross first gained and first lost tooth. Of course it was way farther in than I remembered and I had to dig several heart-pounding seconds longer than I wanted, but he didn't budge. He lay there so trusting, so angelic, visions of me singing "Close To You" dancing in his sweet little head.
I committed the lie and dashed madly out of his room, down the stairs, and stood breathlessly in front of my husband. I gestured wildly for him to pause the TV.
"I did it," I proclaimed. "It's done."
"Great," he said. "Can I unpause now?"
How deflating! After I placed the tooth in a Ziploc bag and tucked it into my sock drawer with Noah's first baby hat and Joey's last binky, I lay down in my bed and remembered that chubby little baby from seven years ago.
He's most certainly not that baby anymore.