The Strange Thing That Made Me Feel More Like a Mom Than Ever

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Earlier this month, A’s dentist commented on his beautiful smile. To me and his dad, his smile glows with joy.

Only a few days later, as we walked to school, he tripped on some snow and fell flat on the sidewalk. I saw the look of horror on a friend’s face who saw him fall forward. I rushed to examine his hand and knees: No scratches, phew! He had a pinhead-sized drop of blood and a tiny scrape on his upper lip, but seemed unscathed overall. He was stunned, but we brushed him off and hugged him, and he forced an “I’m okay” smile.

That’s when I saw his chipped front tooth. I gasped on the inside, but managed to say without sounding alarmed, “Oh. You chipped your tooth.”

“I did? Will it grow back?” he asked. “No. It’s an adult tooth,” I replied, dying inside. I put on a calming face, and told him, the dentist can fix it. He began to cry. We went to the school nurse so she could clean it up. Before he left for class, he looked in the mirror and he cried more. I let him know it was okay to cry, and it was a drag for this to happen. He acted brave. I acted brave. Then A went upstairs to join his second-grade classmates.

I saw some parents on the way out and said my hellos, but as soon as I got past them, I broke into tears. And didn’t stop crying for half the day. I know that the dentist can bond it, but that didn’t help me now. My 7-year-old son’s beautiful smile was ruined. I know boys will be boys, but I blamed myself. I blamed the snow. And it all made me feel more like his mom than ever. I felt a particular type of heartache that I’ve never experienced before, a kind that I imagine is reserved for parents. 

Isn’t that weird?

We adopted A just over two years ago when he was 5. We’ve all suffered through his chicken pox, pneumonia, and even a broken arm. He’s achieved so much in his life, and we are proud of him. We’ve experienced the most wonderful joys of raising a kid — and have weathered some emotional storms as well, but for some reason this chipped tooth incident just crushed me. A broken arm heals. A chipped tooth is forever. I felt that my baby was permanently marred.

I e-mailed some friends. They all said it could be fixed. My friend Katherine said she had a chipped tooth rounded off when she was 7 or  8. I never noticed. However, nothing made me feel better until I called my mom. I wanted to ask her about how she felt when one of us kids did something terrible — such as  the time I cut my face with a razor or when my brother stepped on a huge piece of glass. She, the mother of three boys and a girl, didn’t make much of the chipped tooth. It’s a wonder what dentists can do today, she noted.

Coincidentally, she had stayed up late watching Kramer Vs. Kramer the previous evening and recalled the scene when Dustin Hoffman’s character rushes his son to the hospital after the boy cuts his face at the playground and requires stitches. “He runs to the boy and holds him,” she says. “That movie brings back so many happy memories of having kids.” Whoa. Your kid needing stitches doesn’t sound like a happy memory to me. Neither does the scene when he calls the kid “spoiled, rotten little brat” and a “little sh*t,” but I guess I need to see that film again. Because I only remember the court battle and the fighting. I guess it’s all a package. The happy memories. The sad ones.

I sent a photo to his dentist and told her I was devastated. She replied, “Don’t worry. It happens. And I can fix it.” I made an appointment.

At bedtime, A whispered in my ear that he hopes the chipped tooth fairy can help his tooth grow back. He left her a note. I said smiling, “It’s just the tooth fairy, not the chipped-tooth fairy. She can’t do that, she doesn’t have that kind of magic.”

Photo: Getty