On Baby Teeth, Rejections, and Mediocrity

Mediocre • / me·di·o·cre
/ˌmēdēˈōkər/ adjective: mediocre
1. of only moderate quality; not very good.

//

Since I became a mom of three, most days, I would describe myself as mediocre. All the other moms in my life appear to have more patience; they do fun things and have kids that follow the rules.

Last summer, Rhett had to have a tooth pulled, and I blamed myself for the whole thing. Did I not brush his teeth well enough? How did I miss this cavity—a cavity that got so bad it became infected, without me even noticing. As he sat crying in the chair, I felt guilty as the dentist tried to numb the tooth. Rhett was nearly six at the time but hadn’t lost any of his baby teeth yet, and this was a tooth he wasn’t supposed to lose until he was 10 or 11. 

Mediocrity. 

That night, he put the tooth under his pillow, excited for the Tooth Fairy to come for the first time. I snuck into his room after he was asleep and carefully pulled the tooth out from under his head. I replaced the tooth with a one-dollar bill (no glitter or notes, just a bill I found in Rich’s wallet). After closing his bedroom door, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in my hand.

Unsure what to do with it, I walked into my room and put it in my nightstand drawer. Throwing it in the trash seemed sort of sad. Am I a bad mom if I throw it away? Should I keep it, to remember him as a baby?

//

I’ve been trying to be a writer (cringe) for about four years. I started submitting my essays to online publications when Allie was a baby. Early on, I had success after success; my acceptances outweighed the rejections. 

Any writer will tell you, rejection is part of the game. If you’re not getting rejected, it means you’re not putting yourself out there. While I believe that’s true, the rejections still hurt.

In the last year, my rejections have far outweighed the acceptances. The initial sting hurts a bit less than it did a few years ago, but overall it’s affected me more than I admit. 

I think it hurts a bit more now because I feel like I’m mediocre in mothering on top of it. I’ve lost count of the times have I’ve hushed them, “Mommy’s working!” While trying to steal a few minutes to put down words on the computer.

Am I ignoring them only to be rejected, to be a mediocre writer?

//

“Mom, what’s this tooth doing in here?” Rhett called down the hall. “I thought the tooth fairy took it.” 

I groaned. “What tooth?” But I knew what tooth he was talking about. I walked down the hall and into my room and found Rhett and Allie with his tooth in hand. 

“Hmmm… I don’t know what it’s doing in here,” I said, trying to come up with an excuse for why the pulled tooth was next to my bed.

“She must have accidentally dropped it when she came last night. I’ll take it,” I said, holding out my hand. 

“Can I put it back under my pillow and get more money?” Rhett asked. 

“Nope, she just comes once for each tooth.” 

He handed me the tooth, and I put it in my pocket to properly dispose of later.

//

On a Sunday afternoon, we were all driving home from church, and I was skimming through a local magazine, looking for my latest article. 

“Hey, Mom, can I read that?” Rhett asked from the backseat. 

“Sure,” I said, passing it back to him. He flipped through the magazine for the rest of the drive home, stopping when he recognized a picture of one of his dad’s tractors.

Once Rich parked the Suburban, I started unloading everyone and all our stuff. 

Rhett, still in his car seat, looked at me, then back at the magazine. 

“Mom, it’s your name!” he said, his face beaming. 

“It is. I wrote that,” I said. 

“That’s cool,” he replied, still smiling. 

Turning around, I met Rich, who was coming out of the garage to grab another load from the car. 

“Rhett’s proud of me; he saw my name,” I said, nodding toward the car. “I think this is the first time he thinks I’ve done something cool.” I laughed; but, it felt good, knowing he was proud of me.

(Being a stay-at-home mom married to a farmer with a farm-loving son is hard to compete with.)

//

This past winter, Rhett came home from school and excitedly said, “I have a loose tooth!” He shook the tooth back and forth in his gums to prove it. 

A few days later, after all the lights were out and we had tucked him into bed, he called out, “I pulled my tooth out!” 

We cracked open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. He sat up, squinting into the now bright room, grinning with his new smile. This time it was a bottom tooth—front and center. 

A couple of hours later, I snuck back into his room and took the tooth, replacing it with a dollar.  

Then, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in hand. The tooth was one of his first two teeth that came in when he was eight months old. I could still remember his smile with the two new teeth on the bottom, a contrast to the months of gummy smiles we were used to.

Feeling a pit in my stomach, I paused at the memory, then I walked down the hall and threw the tooth in the trash.

//

Recently, Rhett spent a whole Sunday afternoon outside, seeding lentils and chickpeas in our tree patch. The weather was too cold for Rich to be in the field seeding, but that didn’t stop Rhett. He was outside for hours. He even asked me to pack a lunch to take with him, along with his handheld radio. He left one radio in the house with Rich with instructions, “I’ll call if I need you.” 

After a couple of hours, his voice crackled through the radio, “Dad, you got a copy?”

“Yes, Rhett, go ahead,” Rich replied. 

“I’ve still got a few hours left; I’ll be back after dark, okay?” 

Rich put down the radio and, with a big smile, said to me, “This has got to be a story.”

I nodded, my fingers itching to write. I wanted to remember Rhett in his navy winter jacket, speckled with mud, a stocking hat, and Muck boots on a chilly April day. I didn’t want to forget how proud I felt watching him from the house, as he used a hoe to make his rows, then carefully poured the seeds into the tilled soil. I never want to forget how serious he takes this “play,” copying phrases his dad says and how much he already knows about farming.

//

Comparison often steals my joy in motherhood and writing. I don’t know all the struggles another mom has—the ways she feels defeated. The same with writing, I only see the pretty squares of acceptances, their byline successes—but I don’t know their rejections.

I think part of me hopes I can look back at the baby books and journals and essays I wrote during this time, and I’ll not only remember who they were, but who I was too—I’ll see that I was more than just average. 

Writing helps me remember the good stories I never want to forget and gives me a way to reflect on the challenging moments.

My writing might not be one of the greats, but I’ll take being average—if it means I get to tell my family’s story. 

(And I think my words will have a longer shelf life than baby teeth in a jar. And less smelly, too.*)

*If you’re a mom who keeps her baby’s teeth—no judgment. My mom kept mine and gave them to me when I was in high school. Then I threw them away.