“I’m getting a new tooth!”
She wasn’t mine, obviously, I have no children of my own. She was there with her mother, eating lunch in my section that day, at work, five or maybe six years old, I can never tell with other people’s kids, and obviously excessively proud of the gap in her mouth where once a tooth had been.
“Oh, are you?” I asked, my head cocked to one side, smiling politely, and she nodded her head with the kind of enthusiasm only children are capable of.
By adulthood that enthusiasm, that wonder, has been beaten out of us, however much we might try to hold it tight.
“I am!” She said, still nodding, “I’m going to lose all my baby teeth and get all new ones, and they will be my grown-up teeth, AND I’m going to leave my baby teeth under my pillow so that the tooth fairy can take them and leave me money!”
She beamed with pride, and even I had to admit that minus the tooth the grin was pretty adorable. I like kids well enough, after all. I could never have one of my own, I can barely hold my own self together and don’t by any means have it together well enough to have another life depend on me, but I like other people’s just fine, and adorable is adorable, regardless of your position on children in general.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, genuine amusement in my voice, “Well good for you! You must be very pleased!”
She nodded, again, and I could have left it at that, if I’d wanted to, gotten back to work and never again thought about the conversation. It would have been the safe thing to do, and arguably the kind thing, but it was a slow day and on slow days you have to make your own fun, so instead I beckoned her forward, as though to offer her some sly secret the world had heretofore kept from her.
She leaned in, eyes wide, as I knew she would.
“Just remember,” I told her with a conspiratorial smile, “once you get your new teeth, they’re the last ones you’ll ever have. Ever. You do NOT want to screw these ones up.”
Her eyes went even wider then, wider than I would have thought them capable of going, and her mouth dropped open as though she’d never given this matter any significant thought. Behind her, in her own seat, her mom let the laugh explode out of her almost against her will, before biting it back as best she could, keeping it to a muffled giggle.
It was a high risk, high yield joke, I admit, but a funny one, as long as Mom laughs and the kid doesn’t actually cry at her first realization that her body would some day inevitably fail her. And, looked at from a certain point of view, it could even be considered educational, in its way.
She didn’t beg for dessert, after all, when the time came for me to present the cheque, and she’d no doubt brush her teeth without needing to be told for a good long while. A thing a child can always stand to learn.
And, although this is a smaller, meaner justification, I assure you: The look on her face was priceless…