Sheldon looked in the mirror and smiled wide. Then closed his mouth and pursed his lips. He ran his tongue against the back of his teeth until that last front tooth wobbled against the pressure. He rocked the tooth back and forth with the tip of his tongue and then opened his mouth up and watched it wiggle with ease. He took a comb to his hair, pursed his lips one last time and turned from the mirror, ready to start the day.
Sheldon couldn’t wait to grow up. He wanted to be tall and strong and smart. He already knew he was smart, because he could read whole books in the time other kids read only chapters, and the teacher in his second grade class assigned him extra math homework. But he was still waiting to become tall and strong, since right now he was rather mousy, but not quite weak. He was looking forward to the day when he wouldn’t have to be herded from place to place, and let outdoors to expend his energy halfway through the school day. He felt bored by his classmates’ banter about games and jokes and trinkets that were traded during the day. He wanted his books and his math homework and a job like his dad that required a briefcase and a car and a tie. Most of all, he wanted to loose his final baby teeth.
He strongly disliked (his mom said not to use the word hate) the way his baby teeth made his mouth look childish and goofy and he disliked the name in general. “Denti da latte,” said his intrusive Italian nonna who moved in above the garage this past year. Sheldon did not feel a baby, and did not drink milk like a baby, and so he couldn’t wait to rid himself forever of this final sign of youth that haunted his otherwise groomed demeanor. Sheldon was already an old soul at eight. Years of observing from the sidelines had made him sharp, articulate and precise. His idea of fun was a spelling test or a math competition. His idea of not fun was getting his pressed pants dirty or having to run anywhere for anything.
Other kids thought he was shy, while adults thought he was polite. Some mistook his efficiency for standoffishness, but really Sheldon was just prepared: he was eager, and bold and a risk taker, but all in a formal calculating way. In high school he would rule the debate team, become a surprisingly competitive bowler, and be recognized for outstanding research in Mesopotamian archeology. But right now all he wanted was to get rid of that one last stubborn baby tooth that he felt sure was keeping him from a more civilized existence.
During morning meeting in school he wiggled the tooth with his tongue. It squeaked and moved and rocked back and forth. During math he played with it. Back and forth, back and forth. And through Science and down the hall to lunch and during recess he wiggled it and it wobbled and his tongue pressed back and forth, back and forth. But it wouldn’t come unstuck. So Sheldon, who was precise and in exacting in his thoughts as much as his words, started making promises. He wasn’t one to believe in God or gods, so his pleas were directed to his tooth in particular and the larger universe in general. “Ok,” he thought at first. “If I wiggle you seven times and you come undone, I will never eat boloney again.” (Sheldon loved boloney. He liked it smeared with mayo and slapped on white bread. He knew it wasn’t sophisticated, but he also didn’t feel like it was too juvenile.) But the tooth would budge.
“Ok,” thought Sheldon next. “I’m going to wiggle you 12 times, and then if you come out, I promise I will study the genus and species of the whole animal kingdom.” The baby tooth wouldn’t move. For three days he made promises. I’ll give up french fries. I’ll make breakfast for my mom every day. I’ll never eat gummy bears again. I will start paying more attention during music class. I will write a journal of what I do every day. He tried every sort of compromise imaginable, but that baby tooth just wasn’t ready to leave.
Sheldon was distraught. He wanted that tooth out. He wanted to comb his hair, and smile (even if it meant a gapped smile) and know he was one tiny tooth closer to being an adult. Wiggling that baby tooth became such an obsession that Sheldon forgot to study for his science test. He missed a word on his spelling exam. He stopped reading whole books and just focused on his tooth. He started treating that stubborn baby tooth like a real baby—consoling it, telling it stories in his mind, caressing it. His mind wandered from books and facts and homework and numbers to the to the unknown depths of his imagination. He told his tooth stories of astronauts who fought off invading giant carrots, and stones that morphed themselves into buildings, and blue rabbits with long ears that listened to tales from around the world. He created a universe where everything was transparent and he made up origin stories for the four elements. All the while stroked his tongue over his tooth, even forgetting his original intention to drive anything childish from himself.
One morning during Math class when Sheldon was day dreaming up a tale of a lady who made lace cobwebs, his tooth let out a sudden squeak and a certain POP. His tongue stopped moving and his tooth jumped out. He stuck out his tongue and there lay his last baby tooth. He grabbed it and held it in his hands, running his tongue over the smooth new gap in his mouth. It had been three weeks of fixation, and now his baby tooth was finally gone.
The next morning Sheldon combed his hair and smiled his gap-toothed smile in the mirror. He certainly didn’t look any more adult than the day before. He remembered his homework, and his spelling quiz and the fact that he had music class that afternoon. He remembered the tales he had created in those previous weeks, and the promises he had made that little tooth. He remembered all of those things, but by loosing that last tooth he also lost any desire to ever be more adult. He ran his tongue over that empty space and missed the wobbly white chomper that used to be there. Then he combed his hair and he turned away from the mirror ready to start the day, weaving a story of beetles with golden wings in his mind.