My four-year-old son lost his two bottom teeth this week. This made him the first friend in his class to lose a tooth, and he felt so special. My hope is that this feeling of being “special” or “different” continues as a joyful emotion rather than a troubled one.
Even at the young age of six years old, I felt the pressure to “fit in,” and be like everyone else. I really do remember it like it was yesterday. I was in first grade, and was a new student at Ealy Elementary School. My family had just moved to a new house–requiring me to attend a different school within the same district. I was sad that I had to leave my kindergarten friends, and something new, even then, was challenging for me. It can be very disheartening being thrown into a new environment, and having to start anew both academically and socially.
My teacher presented a tooth sticker chart at the beginning of the school year. She explained that it was special to lose a tooth, and we could track how many we lost in the first grade. So, when a student lost a tooth, he could share a story the next day, show the new open space in his mouth, and then add a sticker next to his name on the chart AND get to wear a big tooth sticker for the remainder of the day. This sounded great for a child who was losing so many teeth that year. But, I was different. I had lost all of my baby teeth exceptionally early, and by first grade, I didn’t have any more to lose.
Each week went by, and I remained the only student in my class with an empty line of boxes next to my name. I was the only one who hadn’t had the opportunity to stand up in front of everyone, and get crowned with a big, special sticker to wear on the front of my shirt, and place a smaller tooth sticker on the chart. I felt excluded, different, and unnoticed. To add to this dilemma, because I had lost all my baby teeth, my big, huge adult teeth had already come in. And, let’s just say they didn’t come in nice and straight. I had what you called buck teeth. The worst kind. The kind where my brother tortured me on a daily basis calling me, “Buck tooth Bob,” and other names that I will withhold for now.
So on top of feeling left out at school when it came to missing teeth, I felt insecure about the way I appeared. I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that I was going to go into school, go up to my teacher, act excited, and show her I had lost a tooth. I pointed to the most empty space I could find in my mouth–yes, a new tooth had already started to come in, but I thought it was my best chance to be like everyone else. She showed such excitement, and I beamed with joy. Finally!
I got to do the whole shebang. I showed off my missing tooth, made up a story to tell my friends how I lost it, placed a tooth sticker on the chart–and, best of all–got the huge tooth fairy sticker to put on my shirt for the day. The only issue was that I couldn’t let my mom find out. So, I kept reminding myself throughout the day to take the sticker off before going home.
Of course, I walked in the back door from school, and the first question my mom asked was, “How did you get that tooth sticker?” Shit. I had forgotten to take it off. Busted. My mom was so disappointed in me. She immediately made me sit down at the kitchen table, and write a letter to my teacher apologizing for having lied to her about losing a tooth.
I learned many lessons that day at the mere age of six that have stayed with me since the first grade. First, I learned never to lie. I tried, and got caught. Let me tell you– the disappointment I saw in my mom’s eyes was not worth ever doing again. I felt terrible for being dishonest to a teacher I liked so much. What if she never trusted me again? Secondly, I learned to embrace being different from others. I was unique, and should’ve been proud of having lost my teeth so much sooner than the average kid. And, finally, I learned about forgiving. My mom forgave me for doing something I should not have done, and my teacher, to this day, has taught, modeled, and prepared me for other obstacles I have and will continue to encounter.
It’s unfortunate that even at such a young age I was striving to appear a certain way to fit in. I hope my son doesn’t have to go through an ordeal like I did to learn about truth, integrity, and forgiveness. But, if he does, I will be there to support and help him along the way–just like my mom and first grade teacher did for me. To my teacher who has been following my blog… Thank you. It’s been a staple story throughout my life that I am happy to share with the world.