This whole grandparent thing I've been experiencing has reminded me of some of the stuff I used to be sort of good at once upon a time. I've remembered how to play catch with kids who are still struggling to wield a glove without getting bonked on the head every time you toss a pop-up their way. I've regained my ability to threaten, bribe and cajole in equal measures regarding bedtimes, sweets and certain green vegetables, and I've recalled the childhood struggles of bikes without training wheels, shoes that will not stay tied, and toys and sports equipment that go missing every time you turn your back on them.
Heck, I even remembered how to change diapers back when my youngest grandsons were babies.
But the one childhood rite of passage that caught me kind of by surpise is now upon us.
Loose tooth season.
In a way, it's not unlike autumn, when things suddenly begin to fall all around us. But instead of brightly colored leaves of red and gold, deciduous incisors, canines and molars are the seasonal prize. Usually, the sudden shedding of teeth begins around age five or so, which means both kids, who are five and seven, are becoming gleeful participants in the celebration of missing "baby" teeth and the cash prizes they expect to receive from the tooth fairy, who--based on the massive amounts of money handed out nowadays--apparently sells them on the black market to supplant the precious ivory elephant and walrus tusks that are now thankfully illegal to harvest.
Actually, it's really surprising that I had put the entire bloody little process in the far reaches of the back of my mind. After all, my own sons were sort of legendary tooth-losers, on a local level, at least. First, there was our older son, Colin, who after weeks and weeks of talking about his loose tooth, endless wiggling and jiggling of said bicuspid, and greedy anticipation of his first experience with the tooth fairy, managed to swallow that first lost tooth while crunching down a breaded shrimp in a crowded restaurant, causing me to attempt to declare the child-fairy agreement null and void until his mother stepped in and set the record and rules straight. A couple of years later, son Patrick made local headlines when he answered a Christmastime question posed to kindergartners by the local Galva newspaper with this highly sensible reply:
All I want for Christmas is..."my two front teeth and a thousand dollars."
Later on, Paddy would thrill and revile the staff at our dentist's office when one of his baby teeth had to be professionally extracted due to a root system so long, extensive and downright gnarly that it became known as "the dinosaur tooth" in family lore from that day forward.
Of course, obstinate old geek that I am, it has not been enough for me to simply sit back enjoy my grandkids' loose teeth and the innocent, childish excitement that goes along with losing them. Instead, I've been compelled to educate them, their parents, and the grandma-lady with exciting facts via our friends at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, about tooth-losing customs around the world, never dreaming for a minute that I might also be boring the bejeebers out of them.
But the fact is, various cultures have their own customs relating to the loss of deciduous teeth. While the tooth fairy tradition rules in many English-speaking countries, other folks look at things a little differently and replace her (him?) with mice or other rodents because of their sharp, everlasting teeth. Countries like Spain, Italy and Venezuela all feature visits by mice who swap money for teeth, while parts of lowland Scotland go a step further and replace the mouse with a WHITE FAIRY RAT! who purchases the teeth with coins.
In Turkey, Cyprus, Mexico, and Greece, children traditionally throw their fallen "milk teeth" onto the roof of their house while making a wish. Similarly, in some Asian countries, such as Nepal, India, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, when a child loses a tooth, the usual custom is that he or she should throw it onto the roof if it came from the lower jaw, or into the space beneath the floor if it came from the upper jaw. While doing this, the child shouts a request for the tooth to be replaced with the tooth of a mouse, again because of the fact that the teeth of mice grow for their entire lives. The Sri Lankan tradition is to throw the milk teeth onto the roof or a tree in the presence of a squirrel . The child then tells the squirrel to take the old tooth in return for a new one.
This is just a sampling of the interesting tooth-lore I gathered, but enough, I imagine, to amaze and startle you, especially the parts about the white rat-fairy and the tooth-gathering squirrel.
Anyway, back to the grandsons.
Young Cyrus, the seven-year-old, has been dropping teeth at a rate so rapid that his smile now resembles something you'd see sitting on a porch on Halloween night. He's an active little chap, and thoroughly enjoys and participates in the oh-so-attractive wiggling, twisting, turning procedure that finally, thankfully results in an successfully extracted kid-fang. In an effort to hasten the process a bit and spare us all the sight of his tongue and fingers constantly at play, I've suggested alternate means to get those pesky things out of his mouth. I've offered to tie a string to his tooth, then connect the other end to a doorknob, a roaring freight train, or even something really fast and powerful, like the back bumper of his grandma's car.
He, of course, has steadfastly declined, while displaying a new modicum of caution when wiggling and waggling a tooth within my personal sphere of influence. Young John, who is five and often defers to his big brother regarding his approach to life's little occasions and challenges, recently announced that he, too, had a loose tooth.
"Really?" I said. "Let's see."
I fully expected him to keep his distance, remembering my reckless advice to his brother regarding strings, doors, trains and speeding grandma-cars. But, instead, he stepped close and opened his mouth wide.
"Here, grandpa," he said. "Wiggle it."
And so I did, amazed and gratified by the fact that despite all my kidding about fast ways to pull teeth, the little guy really, really trusts his dear old grandfather.
Of course, the real question is this: