Rite of Passage

It was the smallest tooth I’ve ever seen. Jordan held it proudly in the palm of her hand. It was a long-time coming, this one. Lucas began losing his baby teeth at five, but Jordan has been stingy with hers. 2:45 pm was the exact time of separation, duly noted by her kindergarten teacher. Poetically, she marks this rite of passage on the same day as another milestone in her life: the final day of her first chemotherapy cycle.

The lost tooth was no surprise. On Monday, she told us that one of her teeth “wiggled.” We cheered and teased. By Tuesday, the tooth was so loose it nearly waved good morning. Jordan was apprehensive.

“Is it going to hurt?” she whined as she slicked her tongue back and forth over the errant denture.

“No, honey. It’s just going to fall out and then your gum is going to feel kind of funny…but it won’t hurt.”

Jeanette and I were sure she’d come home from school that afternoon with something to put under her pillow, but she and the stubborn tooth returned in the same precarious relationship. Only now, the tongue twisting was constant. When she wasn’t talking to you, her tongue danced around her teeth like it had a mind of its own. It made Jeanette and I so uncomfortable we kept concocting ways to hasten the big moment.

“Have an apple, sweetie,” Jeanette suggested.

But Lucas, the ever-eavesdropping man-about-the-house, uncovered the ruse.

“Yeah, Jordan. That’s how I got my tooth out. You just eat an apple.”

Jordan’s face twitched into a frown.

“No! It’s gonna huurrrrt!”

Resisting the urge to smack Lucas on the back of the head, we sent him to his room to finish his homework. We had somewhere to be. Tuesday night was the Holiday Pageant for Jordan’s kindergarten class. She was excited. She wore a favorite green velvet dress with holiday ribbons. This was a big night. And there she stood, looking quite the picture of Christmas personified in a little girl, a Norman Rockwell character painted in sepia tones … all the while twisting her tongue about her face grotesquely swinging a loose tooth on its hinge.

Throughout the lively holiday performance the loosening continued. Then, she started looking down at her feet. While the other kids sang on cue and presented their best holiday smiles, Jordan fumbled around in her spot, shuffling on the floor. We were sure the tooth had lost the battle. On the stage, with fifty other children and an auditorium crowded with parents, the tooth must have fallen out, we thought. Then she started to cry. It was a brave cry. She tried not to let it interfere with her performance. She’d make little sobs and brief frowns, then she’d stiffen up to belt out the next verse of the song while wiping tears away. We had three songs to go and she was melting down. And we still could not determine the whereabouts of the wayward tooth.

As it turns out, when the last bow was taken and the children returned to their waiting room, we found our little girl with all her teeth still intact. She had been crying because she couldn’t see her grandmother in the crowd. I tucked her into bed that night and then informed the tooth fairy that she could skip our house again.

42 days have passed since Jordan began her first chemotherapy cycle. She’s been so cooperative, never complaining. Each night, she helps us mix the medicine into the apple sauce. Then she eats it all dutifully. The side effects have been minimal. The progress unknown. But now she can look forward to two weeks of rest before beginning the process again.

42 days. And on the 42nd day, the last of the protocol, her body gave her something to mark the occasion. It did so without any fanfare, without any drama – just plopped the tooth right out onto her desk. Her teacher helped Jordan put it in an envelope, labeled 2:45 pm. Jordan brought it home with a new sense of confidence and ease. She had navigated a rite of passage. She was a bigger girl. And for that, we had two reasons to celebrate last night. The tooth took center stage, of course. She placed it under her pillow hours before bedtime, and she slurped her last dose of apple sauce laced with Temodar quickly so she could rush to sleep in anticipation of rewards from the tooth fairy. Jeanette and I prayed for a different reward as we turned the light out and whispered good night.