My vanity, my child

By Gretchen

My five-year-old son has a very small cosmetic flaw. One of his upper center baby teeth is coffee brown. He’d prefer to call it chocolate or even dirt. When I consider the little sliver of trouble in his sweet mouth, I can’t help but think of a careless stain on the front of a crisp white cotton shirt.

The tooth’s condition is the result of a violent and bloody meeting between his mouth and the edge of a sidewalk. It happened during a walk we took on a glorious young-Spring day when he was three. The extent of the damage wasn’t realized for a few weeks because of the incredible swelling and bruising in his mouth and face. Trips to the doctor and dentist were encouraging. There was no serious damage, and he would get to keep all his teeth.

Unfortunately, one of the traumatized teeth was dead. It filled with blood upon impact, staining the enamel from inside-out. At first, the tooth was purple. Over the past two years, it has settled into the warm shade of a light French roast. It will stay that way until he loses it in a couple of years.

One cure for Coffeetooth is early extraction. That option doesn’t seem fair or reasonable. The tooth works, cutting carrot sticks and candy with skill and without prejudice. He needs it, so we will leave it in place. If his permanent tooth were formed and ready to roll down into his mouth like a little pearly white wave, we’d consider that route.

Another option presented to us was to perform a root canal. That seemed needless and extreme. No infection was or is present, so we wanted to spare him that particular experience. He can find out how fun it is when he is 35 years old and he breaks a molar chewing a slice of homemade bread crust.

The tooth is anchored in my son’s mouth. I see it when he chirps good morning, when he laughs at a chihuahua on TV, when he explains how green Moon Sand got ground into the carpet. I think nothing of it.

The tooth is anchored in my son’s mouth. I see it when he talks to the checker at the grocery store, the Sunday School teacher, the UPS guy, the friend. I think everything of it.

My vanity rudely rises. I’m embarrassed it lives in my heart. Aren’t I above all that? I worry the person listening intently to my son or watching him laugh thinks he is a boy with an ugly, rotten tooth. He hasn’t been cared for. He never learned to care for himself. How could a loving parent let it get that far? What garbage must he eat!

It’s hard to admit even a small kernal of personal pride hinges on something so tiny and impermanent. It shouldn’t, but it does.

My son isn’t self-conscious about his tooth, thankfully. In fact, when the accident first happened he seemed very proud of his colorful tooth. It set him apart and he had a harrowing tale all his own to tell. I’d nod and listen to him recount the very bad day, the big huge lips, the dentist’s fun chair that moved up and down and up and down and then at the end? Guess what? A toy!

The little things we worry about are often the greatest things we miss when resolved. Someday, that little brown tooth will be wiggled out of his mouth and placed under his pillow.

The toothfairy will scoop it into her palm and quietly consider her new treasure. She loves the little brown tooth and has all along.

She just didn’t know it until it was gone.

Gretchen can also be found blogging at Lifenut.

16 Responses to My vanity, my child
  1. Mozi Esmes Mommy
    February 15, 2009 | 4:21 am

    He is still beautifully perfect…

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  3. Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)
    February 15, 2009 | 2:46 pm

    I can sooooo relate! My baby chipped her tooth and I wrote about it on 5m4m. BUT that one doesn’t bother me much.

    It was my SON’S tooth when he was three. Same thing – hard impact, turned black. Eventually it healed and went to a proper color. BUT now his new adult teeth are in and that tooth has a white stain and it hasn’t come down completely. I hate to admit but my perfectionist eye sees it and I wish that I could just fix it.

    Fortunately it doesn’t bother him. And what REALLY bothers me, is that it bothers ME. I shouldn’t be so vain. I shouldn’t be so silly. And so I remind myself – it is only a tooth, it is only a tooth!

  4. amy
    February 15, 2009 | 9:11 pm

    I was thinking a little about this the other day. J’s clothes are an assortment of gifts and handmedowns, a few I’ve purchased for her, but most I have not. She always puts together good outfits for herself, but our neighbors are French (moved from Paris last year) and their kids always look impeccable. They take great pride in their appearance and the mom has even apologized for her kids looking “dirty” when all I can see is one tiny crumb on a shirt. I wonder what she’s thinking about the way my kids look? Obviously, a tooth is a completely different matter, it’s an injury and it will heal, and you have no control over it.

  5. tracey
    February 15, 2009 | 10:13 pm

    Our kids teach us so many things. Humility and compassion for other people with physical/mental differences is one of the biggest lessons.

    My daughter was born with a large strawberry hemangioma birthmark on her forehead. I am so grateful for having had the experience of being the family that was stared at. Of having the impolite comments and second-looks directed at us. Never before had I felt true empathy for people with physical differences. I do now. And I feel I am a better person for it.

    I’m sure your son’s brown tooth has encouraged you to be less judgmental of other people with brown/stained/chipped/crooked teeth. For teeth that aren’t perfect are not a sign of lower class, care, or intelligence.

    I’m glad your son loves to tell his harrowing tale. 🙂

  6. Veronica
    February 16, 2009 | 10:27 am

    This is very similar to some thoughts I’ve had lately. Do we correct tiny flaws or not? Am I being a better parent by leaving it or “fixing” it? Sometimes it’s a really tough decision.

  7. Beck
    February 16, 2009 | 1:06 pm

    My older two now have chicken pox scars all over their faces, which bothers me – but mostly for them, because they’re now old enough to bear the weight of their own vanity. It hurts to have our children feel imperfect and vulnerable, even if only we are aware of it.

  8. Mary-LUE
    February 16, 2009 | 1:09 pm

    I have a friend who, when he was a boy, drilled a pencil through his tooth. On purpose! He just kept turning it and turning it until he had a hole in one of his front teeth. It was filled but was all dingy gray. His friends used to joke that it was his one flaw because he was handsome and a gifted poet-type songwriter, guitar player, etc. So for him, the flaw kind of worked. When he ended up having to have it fixed because it chipped or something, his friends groaned. There was nothing but perfection now.

    This of course, is just a tooth story and not really related to what you were talking about.

    My own difficulty with imperfection in my children has to do with what I am afraid the world is going to do with it. My husband gets frustrated with me because I sometimes fixate on things–like my daughter’s football player-shoulders. (Not in front of her!) But I worry about a daughter who is probably going to be stocky and not conventionally beautiful. Will the world tear her apart? My husband think I am not accepting her for who she is.

    Blech. Being a parent is hard.

  9. nutmeg
    February 17, 2009 | 11:15 am

    I’ve had these same thoughts about my kids’ molluscum (warts-like rash.) I hate myself for it and wonder how I would have handled some of the birth defects others handle with such grace. Blech is right! As usual, you’ve made me feel better about my weakness with your honest post. It always feels better when we know we’re not the only ones and it feels even greater when you find that a SUPER AMAZING mom feels the same thing you do. Thanks, Friend!

  10. Sara Joy
    February 17, 2009 | 2:18 pm

    The exact same thing happened to my youngest sister – 30 years ago. Although the accident and resulting tooth are memorialized in school and family pictures, she says it never really bothered her. The only thing that bothers her is that she fell trying to catch up with her three older sisters who were leaving her behind…she implies that we still do. Nonsense ;).

  11. Kathy
    February 18, 2009 | 10:47 am

    Our 4 year old took a similar tumble a year ago. Lots of blood, trips to the dentist and xrays seemed like things would all be OK. Then the tooth turned gray and eventually six months later an abcess formed, so we had to have it pulled. I’ve slowly learned to embrace his big missing tooth grin, but knowing it will remain that way for 3 or so more years sometimes still leaves me feeling that motherly guilt and vanity.

  12. Kathy C.
    February 18, 2009 | 5:57 pm

    Wow– you made me go back in time today.. .remembering my little three year old with the gray front tooth– sigh.. a trip to the dentist told us to be on the lookout for an abscess, which luckily never happened. He lost that tooth in first grade at the tender age of six… six and a half years ago. I hadn’t thought of it in so long…..

  13. Fair_ victorian
    February 18, 2009 | 6:37 pm

    I had the same experience when I was a kid. Unfortunate meeting of my mouth with a wind-up toy proving the strength of my brother’s throwing arm. Fortunately, I had it fall out after only a little while on it’s own to make room for my adult teeth, sparing my mother that difficulty you feel about this cosmetic flaw. But I understand. She was fastidious woman about my posture. Not that she worried about her own or that of my brother all the much, but she knew people would think badly of her and me if I, a tall girl, were to slouch. I don’t think it’s such a terrible thing to want your children’s appearance to reflect the care and concern you put into their upbringing.

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