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I gazed back at her as she sat in the dentist’s chair. I watched as her feet swayed back and forth. As the dentist started her exam, I remember thinking, “Eight years old. How did we get here?”

Suddenly the dentist turned to me and asked with a warm smile, “Do you remember how old she was when she got her first tooth?”

I froze for a moment, unable to hold back the surprised look that had taken over my face.

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“Her first tooth?” I repeated the question thinking it would somehow buy me some time.

“Gosh, that was eight years ago . . . I’m sorry I don’t,” feeling slightly mortified with my answer, I couldn’t bear to look at her reaction.

As we left the office, I started to fill up with guilt, frustration, and disappointment in myself.

How could I not remember that? My oldest child, the baby whose every milestone I obsessively tracked. Even before she was born, I knew what size fruit or vegetable she compared to. Yet there I was without an answer. Suddenly the stats were no longer easily remembered.  Stats that at one point in time, I proudly recited effortlessly were now nothing more than a mere guess. How could this be?

“Her first tooth?” I kept repeating the question over and over in my head. I felt like a mom who had failed. I wondered if other moms still remember those details eight years later. I became certain they did. Of course, they did!  Any good mom would!

Walking into the house, her sweet brown eyes stared back at me for a moment and I paused, jolting myself back into reality.

A sense of confidence began to take over as I started to talk myself out of this crazy storyline I was beginning to write for myself. A story full of guilt and self-pity. It was then and there that I came to my senses and quickly changed the narrative.

I reminded myself of my reality today—the reality that matters to me and to her right now.

No, it’s true—I don’t remember, eight years later, how old she was when her first tooth came in. But . . . 

I know instantly when the weight of the world is too much for her.

I know if she had a good or bad day before she says a word.

I know when she needs encouragement and a chance to feel heard, a chance to just talk it out.

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I know how to push her to do her best but also when to back off and give her some space to figure it out on her own.

I know when to correct her but with just the right approach because she can be so incredibly hard on herself.

Suddenly, this unnecessary weight of mom guilt I brought upon myself began to unload as I realized that maybe it’s OK if the baby stats—the stats I once so easily rattled off—are no longer top of mind.

Maybe she needs me to carry a different part of her right now and maybe, just maybe, realizing that makes me a good mom after all.

So, how old was she eight years ago when she got her first tooth? Off the top of my head, I’m honestly not sure anymore, and that’s OK.

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Elisabeth Plutko

Elisabeth Plutko loves to share her joy for writing through stories of her personal experiences and lessons learned. Elisabeth and her husband raise their two children in Pittsburgh, PA.

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