Posted by: Kate | November 13, 2009

Reverse Souvenirs

In honor of the un-Novemberly spate of warm weather we’ve been having lately, I wandered down to the nearest beach a few days ago.  It’s about a mile from the apartment, not the kind of long, flat, sprawling beach where you can walk for hours, but a smallish beach on Salem Harbor.  There’s an Olympic-sized public swimming pool, closed for the season, just a few feet away, and the initial bizarreness of a pool that close to the beach fades once you take a closer look at the number of boats and random other objects floating around.  It’s not a nasty place, not overtly polluted, but it’s also not the kind of place that invites a swim, or even an extended wade.

I don’t go to the beach as often as I thought I would, given our proximity to it; the fatigue of early pregnancy has more than slightly altered my daily routine and I have surprisingly less free time than I had thought I would.  And as I continue to expand along with my small passenger, I suspect it’s only going to get harder for me to make the walk there and back in a reasonable amount of time.  But there’s a comfort in knowing it’s right there, a tangible reminder that we’re not in New Hampshire anymore.  Even though we’re still homeowners there – unhappily so, and waiting for any reasonable offer to come through – we’re not living there anymore, in a house that saw me through two long, dark periods of depression, saw my husband through the stress and guilt of going to grad school instead of waiting for me to finish, saw my children attending sub-par schools which I convinced myself were good enough until we no longer had to use them.  The tiny, full apartment a mile from the beach is so much better, on so many levels, even if the neighbors leave a bit to be desired.

But my trip down the other day was not one of idle introspection; I had a delivery to make.  Two tiny, little-boy teeth, tucked away in my pocket, ready to be tossed into the ocean.

When Emily started losing teeth, I felt all of those typical first-time mom emotions: happy for her, the fun of helping her make a special pocketed tooth pillow and sneaking in at night to deposit a gold dollar, maudlin at how fast she was growing, and so on.  And then came the bafflement: what to do with the old teeth?  I’ve never been one to save bodily waste in my keepsake boxes… I take photos of the home pregnancy tests, and then throw them away.  I never asked to keep my surgically-removed appendix, and I never seriously considered saving – for any purpose – either placenta, post-birth.  There’s just a vague, low-grade ick factor associated with housing medical waste, a feeling strong enough to leave me unwilling to keep my children’s teeth forever, even when I recognized that the losing of them is an important rite of passage and worth memorializing, somehow.

After a while of batting around different ideas, I stumbled upon the idea of returning them to nature, so to speak.  Of burying them in a garden, dropping them in a forest, tossing them into the ocean waves… just finding a way to scatter little bits of my children around, in places that were important to me.  The idea appealed to me enough that, when I knew I had a trip coming up in the near future, I would save a newly-lost tooth to bring along and leave somewhere special.  Sort of a reverse souvenir.

So, now, there are bits of Emily in my front garden at the house in New Hampshire, and at a few different New Hampshire and Maine beaches.  There is a tiny piece of her on Bald Mountain, in upstate New York near my great-grandmother’s summer place, and one or two teeth tossed over the red cliffs on Prince Edward Island.  I even brought one of her teeth with me on my last trip to Paris, and left it in the gardens at Versailles.  Littering, I suppose, and a biohazard at that, but I doubt anyone would ever prosecute me for it.

And now it begins with Jacob.  I thought about saving one to bring back to Paris, but somehow I felt like they belonged in the ocean, close to the home we shared when he lost the teeth.  And since they came out together, it only seemed right to leave them in the same place, as well.   If he is so accommodating as to lose another tooth before Thursday, I’ll bring that one overseas… otherwise, we’ll figure out the right place when the time comes.

What do you do with your child’s teeth?  Have you created a special holder for them, or are you of stern enough stuff to be able to throw them in the garbage without flinching?  Made jewelry out of them, or ground them into a paste?  My archeologist-studying friend remarked on how confusing it could be, for future generations to discover a tooth in some random space… especially if they were able to match the DNA to a tooth from another random space, far away.  But potential scientists aside, this solution has worked for me, lets me feel just a little earthy-crunchy without feeling extreme about it.


  1. I think it’s a lovely idea. And I think you should read What-The-Dickens: The Story of A Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire.

  2. You’re going overseas again?!?!?!? How did I miss this?

    I like what you do with the lost teeth. It reminds me a little bit of a former co-worker who, when she dies, wants her twin daughters to select their favorite spots (one each) and then scatter her ashes at both … that way, when they think of or visit these favorite places, they’ll think of her. I thought that was kind of neat.

  3. I had friends for lunch yesterday and one was touring the East Coast in October. She was stunned by the concept of being closed for the ‘season’ everything’s open all year here I guess with the exception of the ski fields which are still open to bushwalkers during the warmer months. I honestly can’t remember what I did with the kids teeth. I think I just threw them away after the “Tooth Fairy” had done her darndest.

  4. Hmmm… I haven’t given this any thought yet. I will probably keep the 1st one (still have my pregnancy tests too) but with subsequent teeth I like your idea and may steal it. 🙂

  5. I like the beach idea! I didn’t even think to take pictures of pregnancy tests, and have had no interest in keeping a placenta, but the stub of my daughter’s umbilical cord sits in a ziploc bag on my dresser waiting for a better place. Throwing it in the ocean seems like a good solution 🙂

  6. Well, I don’t have kids yet, but I’m not sure. I had a little wooden box to put them in. Don’t remember what happened to them, though.

    One thing i wouldn’t do is turn them into jewelry. A couple of years ago, I saw jewelry that incorporated human teeth, somewhere in Germany… they had it as long as that store was open, for about 20 years or so. It really gave me the creeps.

  7. My time is coming soon and I had not given this any thought. My first thought is to throw them in the garbage, but as a sappy Mom, I reserve the right to change my mind.

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