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Tales from the Motherhood: Ode to the last tooth and a lost piano

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 4:28 p.m. CDT

My baby has no more baby teeth. How did that even happen?

She yanked out the last loose one last month and didn’t even bother putting it under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy. She’s a teenager, after all, and nobody is allowed to enter her room without knocking. Phooey. I wish I’d realized, then, that it was the last one, as I would have relished the moment more, but I didn’t discover this until she had her teeth cleaned on Wednesday.

Shoot. If I had, I’d have done a jig. Or said something totally embarrassing (or “inspirational,” as Holly likes to call my commentary whilst rolling her eyes), or at least snuck in anyway, with the hopes that finding a celebratory $20 under her pillow (just for the last tooth!) would make up for my trespassing. But I didn’t know. I wonder where that tooth is now?

Parenting surprises like this one remind me of those times when I’ve reached for the last piece of candy at the bottom of the box and then made the horrible discovery that I was already THERE. Know what I mean? I was already there, at the bottom of the box, already ate the last one, and I’ll never get that moment back to really relish it.

You know, in that “Oooh,this is the last one … isn’t it lovely and yummy and perfect?” kind of way. (Of course, had I just mindfully eaten the first one in that way in the first place, since the first bite tastes EXACTLY THE SAME as the last, for Pete’s sake, I might not find myself at the bottom of the dang box and we wouldn’t be having this conversation – but I digress.)

I do try to be present and aware of every transition my kids make, but then, we’re kinda heading into deeper waters where I won’t be privy to them all. And we can all be grateful for that. Ha.

My kids are not the only ones making transitions. Everywhere I turn, it seems big shifts are afoot. (Is it just me, or have the last few weeks been particularly shift-y?) I hear stories of new offspring and new jobs, of offspring landing new jobs (I’m looking, too, actually, for a counseling position), and of aging parents on the move – my Mom included.

I paused as we packed, to play her old upright piano, the last time we visited her a few weeks ago (in New York). 

This old, fire-engine-red beauty (oh, I suppose it was already quite old when we adopted it), was the one I first learned how to play, nearly 40 year ago.

Back then, I played chopsticks ’til I was breathless, enjoyed warm family gatherings while Grandma played and others accompanied her with their instruments and voices, and practiced in my finger gloves on cooler days, in the hard-to-heat cathedral-ceilinged living room of that house (sold some 30 years ago).

Yeah, good times. I recall being aware, this time, though, that it would be the last time I would ever play it, as I knew Mom was downsizing and wouldn’t be hauling it again, to her new place. I played a watered-down version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” but it sounded kind of awful as the piano needed tuning. Mom said it tuned nicely, though. After Holly and I filled a few more boxes I triumphantly discovered, in a dusty corner, the long-lost strip of red-painted veneer that had fallen off ages before. I laid it across the keys, one of them broken (when did that happen?), figuring I’d get around to gluing it back on. I never did.

Instead, I got on a plane, lived over a week without my only shower while the thing was demolished, repaired and tiled, painted my fence, hung out with my kids, kept an eye on their jobs (and my own job search) and lots of other stuff – and somehow forgot to ask Mom, before it was too late,“So, yeah, about the piano … .”

But it was. By the time I did get around to asking, it was too late.

“You don’t wanna know,” she admitted when I did, as she rattled off a flush of other post-mortems about what else she’d managed to cross off her moving to-do list that week.

My question came just one day after the deed was done, after she’d made a few calls in the hopes that she could give the big red beast away, and there was no going back. I knew, of course, that her move was imminent (she moves this weekend), but her house isn’t on the market yet. I thought I had time.  

“It didn’t tune well, anyhow, right?” I asked, knowing full well that she’d already said it could be. My 8-year-old heart hoped for a different answer, but it didn’t come.

Truth is, an old, beat-up, un-tuned upright, no matter its promise or provenance, means precious little to a stranger, with eyes only for how  expensive it will be to move and re-tune it (necessary after a move). You can’t give these old pianos away. But still, what if I’d had it tuned? What if I’d made just a few more calls, posted a few free-to-a-good-home ads? What if? I felt like I betrayed it. The lump in my throat didn’t go away for a week.

Some moments just cannot be reeled back in. They must be grieved. If we are to not lose our minds over the grief – over the last tooth or the laid-to-rest piano – or even some other dear one who has died, whom we were sure we’d have time to hug just one more time – it seems we must choose to accept that we just cannot always do or notice it all, in time. Try as we might, chances are that some things, some milestones, opportunities and moments, will slip past unnoticed. Such is life.

Of course, when it’s possible, I’m not above employing the better-late-than-never technique. So, yeah, where is that darned tooth?

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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