Lost Teeth and Growing Boys


I’ve read that some babies are just born with whole sets of teeth—molars and everything, just waiting to be used.

My children had no such luck. Declan began teething on the eight hour car ride home after Thanksgiving. (Yes, I swear to you I can narrow it down to a single car ride.) He wailed the whole time, tiny little tyrannical fist shoved into his mouth, which was impressive but, on the whole, not very helpful.

He worked on that thing for months. His cheeks flushed with the strain of it, rosy splotches bringing out burgeoning dimples. We found use for the millions of bibs we’d been gifted, because there was no stopping the drool, only containing it.

And there was middle of the night rocking. While Declan has never slept well, before teething he was content to take a bottle and go back to sleep. After teething I clutched him to my chest for hours, brushing back the soft hair on his forehead and beating back the pain in his jaw. He was content enough to doze there, clutching my shirt and hair and whatever piece of me he could cram into his little hand. It was exhausting and I complained, but it was the first of many times my boy needed me, and I learned to let myself be needed.

I remember exactly which tooth it was that sprouted first, in large part because Declan had worked so hard for it. I can still feel that little spasm of wonder as I realized a) we weren’t crazy—he had actually been teething and b) time was catapulting my best boy forward. And if we were lucky, time would keep doing that.

Exactly one week ago I panicked, just a bit, when I felt an unusual give against Declan’s mouth as I brushed his teeth. Tentatively I pressed against his first ever tooth—the one that both took and gave us months of our lives—and sure enough it was loose. I did my best to reassure my ever-worried child that loose teeth were normal and no big deal, and he believed me, which is crazy because I was lying, of course.

This was not no big deal. He was six. Six! Six years gone—no, not gone, had—and yet that first little tooth bud erupted just yesterday, didn’t it?

Today, over lunch at day camp, Declan told me nonchalantly “Hey, my tooth came out.”

Sometimes there is no pomp and circumstance in growing up.



For My Daughter on Women's Day

women's day photo.jpg

(Okay, so I’m a day late, but my head hurt so badly yesterday that I couldn’t look at a screen.)

I was afraid to have a girl until I picked out her name.

That might be strange to say, but it’s true. I’d been a “boy mom” (whatever that is) for five years, and the idea of a daughter was equal parts wonderful and abstract. I joked that I wouldn’t know what to do with a girl—I’d just treat her like I did her brother and hope for the best.

But there was some truth to that tongue in cheek quip. I know firsthand that the world is not the same place for women that it is for men—we begin drawing arbitrary, often hurtful distinctions between girls and boys before they’ve even exited the womb, and I feared that for my daughter, in a way.

We didn’t find out we were having a girl until the end of July, but I knew it deep in my gut the week before the ultrasound. I knew it because I found the name Jemma, and it fit with the kind of rightness that soothed all of my fears.

I don’t usually have much time to binge watch, but binge watching is how Jemma got her name. Up until June of last year, I not only worked full time, but I was also putting myself through grad school, coordinating 10-20 hours of therapy per week for Declan, and freelancing when I could. When I resigned my position to student teach, I intentionally left myself a month or so of breathing room. During one of Declan’s ABA sessions, I put on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (that’s seriously a pain in the ass to type), and I knew almost immediately that the child in my belly was a girl, and it didn’t scare me because I knew her name.

Jemma Simmons is one of several strong female characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She is equal parts kind and brave—she is logical, intelligent, and a brilliant scientist. I learned at an early age to pretend to be less intelligent than I am. I learned that offering up my opinions in class made me a know-it-all—that I surprised people by being logical. That girls today can rally behind pop culture portrayals of women as smart and strong—of women with agency and autonomy—moves me deeply. Watching Jemma Simmons nonchalantly embody the traits I was discouraged from in girlhood inspired hope for my daughter—for my Jemma.

Darling girl of mine, you are so small, still, but we are carving out enough room for you to grow as big as you want to be. Happy Women’s Day, Jemma Jane.

The Forgotten Art of Flapping Hands

 Image: Val Dunham

Image: Val Dunham


The Forgotten Art of Flapping Hands

Come morning I'll remember that you won't always be four.
I'll nod and wink to the boy you'll be at sixteen,
and struggle to make your beautiful, fluttering hands
like everybody else's.

Tomorrow, over coffee, I'll admit you are a bird
among a flock of flightless things
and I will strain against your wings until they're
and inanimate
like everybody else's.

But tonight, my starling boy, you are free--
untied to graze the red drenched sky,
a wobbling song I watch like a kite flyer,
bulky and flightless on the ground.

When my coffee grows cold and
your body still trembles I'll see sense,
but tonight, watching your silhouette
fold a shadowed kiss around a wanting sun I think
"Dear God, he is a poem
we are reading like a script."