My daughter used to be enamored with the heart-shaped notes the Tooth Fairy left under her pillow.
She’d run into my room in the morning squealing with joy, note in hand, repeating the words of encouragement and praise the Tooth Fairy had penned in neat block letters the night before: “Maya, I see that you’ve studied hard for your spelling test and that you did well. Keep up the good work…” At times, her excitement was so contagious that I’d get swept up in the magic, momentarily forgetting that I am the Tooth Fairy. The notes meant more to her than the token gifts; after all, who wouldn’t want a personalized note from a celebrity?
I hadn’t thought about the Tooth Fairy in ages until my daughter needed her wisdom teeth extracted.
There is a lot of literature out there questioning the medical necessity and practical wisdom of wisdom tooth removal, which seems to be not only a teenage rite of passage but also a time stamp for parents, confirming that our kids have grown up.
My son had his wisdom teeth extracted ahead of a long and well-planned weekend during his junior year in high school. But my daughter’s senior year activity schedule was so packed that we delayed her consultation, resulting in painfully swollen gums that necessitated taking the first available surgery date, which fell at the very beginning of second semester senior year. Feeling like I won the prize for neglectful mother of the year, I tried to rationalize that sometimes it’s best to not plan ahead and just go with the flow. This concept is counter to my natural inclination to over plan and hyper-focus on every conceivable detail I can control, and then some.
Before my daughter’s procedure, I stocked the fridge with yogurt, ice cream, mashed potatoes, pudding, pasta, and eggs, and braced myself for a rough few days. Wisdom tooth surgery is generally uncomplicated but, like any surgery, has its risks. Personally, I fear anesthesia more than surgery, especially after my eldest niece had a reaction to Propofol and was non-responsive after her sinus surgery. But why focus on the negatives? (She’s OK now, by the way!) I started to ease into the idea of a relaxing several days at home, catching up on binge-watching and spending quality time together, when my sister called to report that my other niece had a complication following her own wisdom tooth removal.
Somehow, despite following all the doctor’s instructions precisely, and under the strict oversight of her physician-parents, my niece developed a massive abscess three weeks after the surgery. She was rushed to the doctor for manual drainage and was sent home with a tiny drain in her mouth. She, too, is just fine now. The moral of the story: stuff happens. Most of the time it’s fixable, but with my daughter’s own procedure looming, anxiety set in.
Suddenly I was thankful we didn’t have much time to think and plan; I just wanted it over with, not realizing that this week at home together was the Tooth Fairy’s parting gift to me.
My daughter is not triggered by the sight of blood or bodily fluids and is tough as nails as far as pain goes. Her mother? Not so much. When the nurse asked me if I’d like to peek into the four bloody cavities as she unpacked the cotton dressing post-procedure, I politely declined and took steady, even breaths while staring at the wall. After the post-op debrief, we got my loopy daughter into the car and drove to the pharmacy to pick up her antibiotics and painkillers.
During the 20-minute drive home, I answered the same questions over and over again: Yes, your tongue is still in your mouth. No, you haven’t lost all your wisdom. Yes, I do know the way home. No, the surgical nurse wasn’t talking behind your back.
The tongue thing seemed to be a huge concern until the anesthesia wore off completely. Luckily my daughter’s friend visited that night and suggested she touch her finger to her tongue each time she feared it was gone forever. That seemed to do the trick. I was grateful for the advice and moral support from the mouths of babes.
The third and fourth days after the surgery were the most painful, both physically and mentally. Just as swelling and inflammation reached their height, my active daughter’s tolerance for sitting still reached an all-time low. Short but manageable outings, tons of ice, staying ahead of the pain with meds as directed by the doctor, soft foods, and lots of rest kept us on course.
Although she was miserable at times, sneaking out to a movie in the middle of a weekday and eating ice cream for lunch was a fun break from our normally hectic schedule. While hibernating under blankets in our living room, I jokingly asked my daughter if she’d like to wake up to a heart-shaped note congratulating her on losing four wisdom teeth at once, and on getting into college. We reminisced about my late nights leading a double life and the time she caught me at my desk writing a note on behalf of the Tooth Fairy (“Mom! That’s so weird! The Tooth Fairy has the same notepad!”). Before I went back to my magazines, and she to her Pinterest boards, I silently thanked the Tooth Fairy, wherever she is, for this week at home with my soon-to-be-departing senior.
When I was in high school, I had my own wisdom teeth extracted. I took my husband to get his pulled when I was pregnant with my son. My son also had his wisdom teeth pulled and I survived his procedure effortlessly and efficiently. So it was hard for me to understand why I was so uptight before my daughter’s surgery. My nieces’ post-surgical complications didn’t feel like enough to have me this wound up.
I reminded myself that most teens go through this rite of passage and it’s no big deal; then it dawned on me: this was a rite of passage for me, too.
That sleepy, swollen girl on my couch will be off to college in a few short months, and this procedure was one more thing to check off our list before she departs. This minor surgery, which seemed to be light years in the distance and something we would likely tackle before college, was another reality check that the time had come. No wonder I was doting on her obsessively (and no wonder she couldn’t wait to get away from me and back to school). Soon she will be in college with all her wisdom intact and this recovery week will be just another war story from her teens.
Although the Tooth Fairy will never visit our house again, I’d like to think she had wisdom of her own, working her magic to arrange this unexpected gift of a week at home with my daughter right smack in the middle of senior year.
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