March 18, 1922

By Gregory Clark, March 18, 1922.

The death of popes, the marriage of princesses, the fate of jazz-party legislators are, after all, minor events in comparison with a baby’s first tooth.

The first tooth is a sort of coming-of-age. A toothless baby is merely an infant. When the first tooth emerges, the baby becomes a child. It is no longer a harmless creature. It can bite its papa’s finger. It can make papa yell. It is a creature of consequence.

A young couple of my acquaintance were blessed six months ago with a male infant. The father works in the same office with me. For six months, I have been subjected to an intensive course in babiculture. I know how much a baby should gain per week. I can tell the difference between a hungry cry and a temper cry. I know how to hold them in the bath. This friend of mine has spared me none of the intimate details of a baby’s daily routine.

It has been “baby” this, and “baby did that”; “baby nearly crawled to-day,” or “baby has learned to pull his daddy’s hair.”

Yesterday, however, my friend strode jauntily over to my desk and said:

“Well, what do you think! James bit an arrowroot biscuit last evening!”

I was puzzled.

“James?” I said. “James did what? Who the deuce is James?”

“James is my son,” said he, proudly.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Baby!”

“Baby nothing,” he retorted, exultantly. “He has cut his first tooth! James he is from now on!”

This shows how a tooth can go to the head.

The first tooth of a first baby, however, is a tolerably weighty event in a young household. That indispensable volume which arrives shortly before the baby in most menages, the “doctor book,” says:

“Teething: preceded by drooling, restlessness, biting of hands, loss of appetite for a few days.”

This friend of mine wasn’t just sure what that word “drooling” meant. He was of the opinion that it meant emitting a sort of wail. His wife disagreed with him, but would not admit what she thought it meant. They were both somewhat shocked, on phoning the doctor, to learn that it meant merely dribbling or slobbering at the mouth.

“Good gracious!” cried the young mother. “Baby’s been doing that ever since we got him!”

Baby was also restless. He was also biting his fists. He was also a little careless about eating, much to his mother’s alarm, for she thought the baby was losing affection for her.

So father went and scrubbed his hands, took baby on his knees, and inserted the point of his little finger into baby’s jaws to feel for a tooth.

“You!” he shouted, jerking his hand away, sending the baby into roars of fright, and causing mother to snatch him angrily from his papa.

“My dear,” said father in an awed voice, turning red and white – “James has a tooth!”

So they took a teaspoon and waggled it in James’ mouth, and were rewarded by a small, faint, tinkling sound. The rest of the evening was devoted to calling up James’ grandparents, uncles and aunts, and friends and acquaintances twice removed to impart the remarkable news.

The tooth can now be seen – if the light is good – and James keeps still. It is a tiny thing, a minute splinter of mother o’ pearl –

James’ school, college and university have now been selected by his male parent. He is going to have a gold watch if he doesn’t smoke till he’s twenty. His father has already commenced weeding out his library, destroying certain trashy books he wouldn’t care to have around –

“You know,” said the father this morning, “It’s a caution how time flies. He’ll be in long pants before you know it. It takes a thing like this first tooth to wake a parent up to his responsibilities!”