Thursday, October 27, 2011

Consecrating a reliquary

Note the fully grown-in adult tooth ready to slide forward.

Her tooth fell out, her first baby tooth. Her baby tooth fell out and with it, the first last threads of Baby itself, dropping right out of her open mouth. What kind of milestone is this that I have to celebrate the discarded shards of her first phase of life? Watch the era shut down with a smile and a dollar and nowhere in this very entrenched cultural moment is there a spot for a little reflection? A drop of melancholy and reminiscing because my baby (my First baby, mind you) is falling right out of the face of a Big Girl?

I don't understand why parents save teeth, and yet, I can't not save it. For surely just as it's a rite of passage for her to believe in the Tooth Fairy today and for me to play the role of Tooth Fairy tonight, surely it must be an equally valid rite of passage for that day to come, post-belief, when she finds that box of her milk teeth, tucked gently away against the dam of time and memory and magical faith. But it's disgusting, a little, isn't it, to think that as of tonight I'll be a woman with a tooth collection up on a closet shelf. Somehow it makes me think of that fall almost exactly five years ago, when the lovely husband had that tumor and diseased lobe of his lung removed. We asked what happens to it, that piece of his body that they planned to cut out of his body. "Medical waste," they said. "It gets discarded as medical waste according to standard health regulations."

Jewish tradition says that our bodies are made in God's image and all parts of the body should be buried. We asked religious authorities - should we have that little cancer ball and victimized flesh that it destroyed buried? And the answer we received was no. There's nothing holy about a cancer ball that forces a 32-year-old man into rib-cracking lung removal surgery. Let it be medical waste.

Part of me wanted to be told to bury it.

But you know, we didn't have a lot of time for reflection then, either, because as M came out of surgery our baby was cutting her first molars. Circle of life, that. And incidentally, M is supposed to have his five-year (and if clean, then final) check-up with his oncologist in two weeks. He just moved his appointment by a week, at my request, so he can take the younger two kids into daycare that day so that I can spend that morning volunteering in E's kindergarten classroom -- the same class where they sang and danced around her in a circle this afternoon, celebrating her and her first fallen-out tooth.

Maybe I always just feel fragile about lost body parts at this time of year. Maybe I feel a little fragile that the lovely husband is so far away for this Big First, for this small loss.

Although the essence of parenting will be on display tonight, which is this: it neither matters that I'd like to pause to commemorate an ending era that nobody else seems to commemorate, nor that I wish my husband were home to conspire with for Tooth Fairy-ing. Instead I'll carry on, solitarily maudlin but setting my feelings aside for the task at hand: to slip a few cells of calcium and DNA out, a small prize in, and perform a first rite of childhood.

And then I guess I'll perform a first rite of parenthood: I'll quietly move some rarely-visited storage items, find a quiet spot, high out of reach and not visible from below, and I'll enact a sacred space. I'll brush away gray dust, I'll ensconce a small vessel, and I'll venerate a relic from her ghostly, fading infant character.

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