There’s panic in our household.
“Dad, I can’t find my teeth,” shouts Delaney from her bedroom. She plans to go out with a friend, but not without teeth. “Have you seen my teeth?”
To the untrained ear, this would sound like a simple question. But to my seasoned parental ear, it is actually a direct accusation. What she’s really saying is, “You have seen my teeth!” That’s because she is the teen and I am the parent. It would be inconceivable for her to believe that she actually misplaced her own teeth when there is a parent around to take the fall. Apparently she thinks I hide her teeth just so she won’t leave the house. Why would I do that? I would love some alone time in my own home. Not that we cross paths much when we are home together. She stays in her room, coming out only when I’m gone or in bed.
Our text message history will tell you how distant a father and daughter can be while living under the same roof. Last year, she sent a text asking if I would bring lunch home. My reply: I hope you like Thai food. That’s because I was working in Thailand. Did she not know I was overseas? I’m pretty sure I tapped my travel plans in Morse code on her bedroom door before leaving. Maybe not. Last fall, someone stumped me with the dreaded question, “What grade is Delaney in?” To save face, I immediately texted Delaney: Are you a sophomore or junior? She replied: Wow. Dad of the Year.
“Where are my teeth?” she says from the living room, the laundry room, the bathroom. How many times have I heard this same question in the past year?
I see flashes of my 16-year old daughter darting room to room, newspapers, dirty clothing and felines (possible suspects) flying through the air. It’s like witnessing a tornado from the inside. I imagine her elevating the heavy couch over her head with one arm to look under it, fueled by the same adrenaline rush you read about when a child single-handedly lifts an entire car off a flattened parent — except it is doubtful Delaney would find pause in her daily life to lift a car off me. Unless she suspected her missing teeth were in my shirt pocket. In that case she would lift the car, take her teeth and drop the car back on me.
One day at 3 a.m. last winter, my cellphone rang, waking me, filling me with dread.
“Dad, I think I lost my tooth down the bathroom drain.”
There are few things less enjoyable than clutching a monkey wrench at 3 a.m. But, I retrieved the tooth and saved the day — or the very early morning. Lucky for all that hair clogging the pipe and blocking its path or the tooth might’ve been gone for good.
“Where are my teeth?” echoes her voice from down the hallway, doors slamming.
Yes. You have been reading right.
Delaney lost her teeth.
It used to be a reason to celebrate when my daughter lost her teeth. The tooth fairy came. Money miraculously appeared under a pillow — this still creeps me out (how did it get there?). The tooth fairy did this because she knew we would need that money for Delaney’s future dental expenses. But I wasn’t in a long-term financial planning mode at that time. Instead, Delaney pocketed the money, likely using it for gas station candy and vats of Mello Yello. A vicious cycle of tooth decay. But it’s the loss of baby teeth that is celebrated, not the loss of a teen’s permanent teeth.
Delaney was born with a couple of congenitally missing top teeth. To compensate, she is in the process of getting dental implants. In the meantime, she wears a plastic retainer containing two removable fake teeth that fill the two gaps.
I finally convince her to remain calm so we can try to solve the case of her missing teeth with total logic, which means interrogating the usual suspects: our two cats. “What did you do with Delaney’s teeth?” I shout down at them. “Dad, be gentle,” Delaney says. “My babies, did you do something with my teeth?” she soothes, stroking them; she’s the good cop.
The cats being cats act clueless. They are unfazed by the bare overhead bulb. I catch one glance toward the refrigerator. It’s their favorite place to knock things under: toys, loose food, postcards from the vet saying it’s time for their shots.
On my knees, I blindly feel beneath the refrigerator, freeing several mouse-shaped toys but finding no teeth. The cats seem pleased, though, since they’ve been waiting months for me to retrieve their mouse toys from where they were last batted, just so they can push them back under there again in 10 seconds flat.
Disappointed, Delaney leaves the kitchen. She’s given up on her missing teeth and a social life. A few minutes later, however, I hear her say, “I found them.”
Apparently, the cats had indeed been the culprits, batting the retainer under her bedroom dresser. The cats are the ones who don’t want her to leave. Delaney soon leaves with her perfect impermanent smile, making me think once again, “How could she survive without me?” Dad of the Year. Indeed.