I was four years old when I lost my first couple of teeth. A Google search tells me that six is the normal age for this to happen, but assuming that ‘normal’ doesn’t cover your teeth being (accidentally) knocked out by a boy when you try to kiss him, the age at which I lost mine is perfectly normal.
Lining up at the end of a music class at school, my pre-K classmates and I were readying ourselves for the hike back to our classroom. The boy I’d had my eyes on for quite some time was in front of me in line. His perfectly round head accentuated by a layer of soft blond fuzz tempted me like a bee to pollen, and was what prompted my secret nickname for him -to which only my mother was privy. I was that smitten.-: mantou—a Chinese bread bun. A description reminiscent of a dandelion or Q-tip is deceptively delicate for the very solid skull that knocked my teeth out of their very sockets. The Boy was bending down to retrieve something he’d dropped or fix the Velcro on his shoes, and I took the opportunity to bend down and plant my puckered lips on that ball of fuzz. But before I could, he stood up, that head sending my bottom jaw crashing into my upper, prematurely dislodging my two front teeth from my gums.
I don’t recall what took place immediately after, but I’m quite certain that there was no medical emergency or even any cry of pain. I do recall my parents laughing—something they still do today, the teeth eventually falling out, and my being a first-time recipient of the tooth fairy’s generosity. As a result of the prematurity of my tooth-loss, I was an “adorable toothless monster” for quite some time, and though the grown-up teeth to replace the ones I’d lost finally came in and concealed the evidence of my rejection, the memory remained.
I have few early-age memories and the accuracy of the ones that exist is questionable, but there are those snapshots that will forever be solidly and, for the most part, accurately ingrained. Expectedly, having teeth knocked out is one of mine, but less expectedly, it was not the pain that made for such a vivid impression. I had thought initially that embarrassment had no role in this either, for an embarrassed child I was not: I’d pranced around beaches naked until the age of much-too-old, sported a bald head when I was three, and habitually wore long-johns as trousers. Yet it must have been embarrassment that kept my hypochondriacal self from crying in pain or seeking medical attention, and it was definitely embarrassment that prompted me to fib for a little while exactly how I became the adorable toothless monster. Claiming that it had been I who was bending down to pick something up or fix my Velcro and that The Boy’s head had gotten in the way was significantly less mortifying than admitting that I had suffered a failed and injurious attempt at seduction.
Embarrassment is a pretty unfortunate cause for a long-term memory, and though luckily the embarrassment becomes part of the memory itself, and I am glad to say that it plays no role in my telling the story any longer, it is regrettable that it once did. It was my first time losing teeth, but it was also my first time at go-getting, and in this sense, my four-year old self is a role model. I am retrospectively pretty proud of my early-age gutsiness, and I only wish I were so intrepid today. Unfortunately, however, this intrepidness was short-lived, likely due to the incident in question (my first successful kiss came much, much later). Despite the embarrassment, I have no regrets over how I lost my first teeth, but I do wish I’d been able to laugh at myself much more quickly. Courage and embarrassment often come hand in hand, and now I can refer to this episode for a double moral lesson: be gutsy and, if it doesn’t work out, laugh about it. And wear a mouth guard.
Image credits: Stephen Nakatani via Flickr Creative Commons