Two things have always been true: I dread taking kids to the dentist because it means sitting in the hot seat: have I failed and let my kids' teeth rot or am I mastering basic care? And two, the worst place one can go at school is to the Principal's office (flashback to 1st grade, sitting on the linoleum floor in the hall awaiting my sentence -- Principal's office or not --because I'd teased Elizabeth Valcheck. I remember the dread of having to tell my parents).
In February I rustled up my courage and took the kids to the dentist. One child sank into the chair with fear and trepidation and walked out with shiny teeth, per usual. The other cheerfully clamored in and after the usual poking had one small cavity. A cavity?? Yes. There were alligator tears and a minor twinge of parenting guilt, but the cavity was so superficial, the dentist filled it without even a pinch of Novocaine. Whew.
As he'd finished taking x-rays, Maeve and I watched the fish in the aquarium, and I checked out. As we were about to leave, the doctor came out and waved me over:
There are quite a few.
Quite a few what?
Yes. So we are going to have to schedule several follow up appointments.
Oh, this poor kid has my genes (flashbacks to sealants and drilling and metal fillings through elementary school. I'd never considered genetics in the dentist-parenting-test).
Actually, these cavities are from diet.
Diet? (how can you tell that??) We aren't a sugar family. I mean we have sugar, but we're not super sugar eaters.
Well, that may be true at home, but you don't know what your child eats apart from you, at school and for snack.
Actually I do. (how dare you!) I know pretty much everything my child eats every day.
(glare -- and the instantaneous conclusion that this dentist clearly isn't cut out for working with children).
I walked to the car a condemned mother: seven cavities! (really EIGHT since we'd already taken care of one). I could see a slight tinge of shame washing over my child and had no choice but to normalize this mouth of cavities and chock it up to genes (and the fact that I haven't helped with brushing my kids' teeth for years and don't buy them floss).
Two months later:
I have found a pediatric dentist who is like a cartoon princess and has terms for every part of the filling process --"lollypop" (numbing gel), "sleepy juice" (Novocaine), "raincoat" (ring around the tooth being worked on) -- has TVs mounted on the ceiling, and and uses laughing gas, which I am not quite sure is ok...
We are there for our first round of real fillings, and I am the nervous one. Maeve and I have squeezed into the room and settled in the corner on two chairs where we draw fish and drink cups of water from the waiting room, and I shoot anxious looks at the unfazed child on the chair. It's lunchtime and we've been here for a long time, so I've sneaked a jar of trail mix from my bag, pretty confident there's a no food policy in the office, but we're eating quietly.
My child is happily relaxed, wearing leopard sunglasses, numbed up, with mouth propped open. I am sitting wondering if it's all right to drug a child and begin life thinking this is what the dentist is like.
Just then my phone rings. It's the principal. Actually, it's the vice principal standing in as the principal for a few months. Immediately I launch into a speech about how I'm sorry I didn't call to say my child would be late for school but we're at the dentist and will in fact be coming in, just later this morning.
Oh, that's fine. I'm calling because there's been a little incident here at school.
Slow dawning -- principals are not the people who call about attendance. He used the word "incident." But he's also the vice-ish principal not the actual one.
Oh, you aren't calling about attendance, are you?
No, no. Well, at line up, there was some rough housing between X and Y -- (X obviously being my child). He then recounted the incident that included their tripping over a third party, which infuriated Y and caused more aggression that ended with X -- my child -- biting Y's arm.
Wait, X bit someone?
I am trying to concentrate on what he's saying and gauge the seriousness, but just next to me, the dentist and hygienist are loving this. I hear happy dentist voice:
so you have a sibling?
yes (muffled from chair)
sounds like some trouble at school
mmmmhmmmm (though I am confident child in chair is not tracking phone conversation)
...oh, BIT someone?!?
Back to phone:
Wow, he must have been really angry.
Vice principal man continues with the story -- he isn't that concerned because the two have resolved their conflict well and are back to friends blah blah, but his concern is the roughhousing at school and during lineup. It sounds like it was more impulse control than anything else. So the kids came to my office to talk it out --
Wait -- they came to your office. Does this mean X was sent to the Principal's office?
As in he got in trouble and was sent to the Principal's office?
Ok. Just clarifying here. That's serious.
Hygienist and dentist:
Oh no! A trip to the Principal's office!
That's trouble now!
Then, as I am wrapping up the conversation with the principal (clearly the principal, temporary or not) and desperately trying to concentrate on what he's saying and make intelligent comments about how we should handle this at home and what the consequences ought to be, Maeve overturns the entire jar of top secret trail mix -- sunflower seeds, nuts, craisins everywhere.
Trying to censor any defensiveness of my child -- though I am now caught between the stigma of going to the Principal's office and thinking I probably would have bitten the kid too -- kneeling as I scrape dusty nuts off the floor, trying to play it cool for this dentist-hygienist team who has never met the biting child, I try wrapping up the conversation with any shred of dignity and finally hang up.
Later that day, the child waltzes off the bus.
Hey! How was school today?
Oh, it was good!
Yeah. We played cops and robbers at recess (kid is smiling, bouncing along)
Hm, what else happened today?
Oh we got to read longer than normal and I finished my book -- I'm so hungry!
Yeah, you should have a snack. So, anything else happen today?
Really? Nothing else happened? ...
Finally a pause to look at my face. Oh. body language sinks. I got in trouble today.
Well, Y and I were kind of wrestling at line up and I tripped on Z, which made Y fall down, and Y was so angry that he grabbed me from behind and somehow (starts acting this out), his arm went here (pulls his own arm up to his mouth) and my mouth was open, and somehow my mouth went like this (acts out closing his teeth on his own arm) -- i don't know how.
You mean you bit him?
Well kind of. But I didn't mean to. Somehow his arm was just in my mouth.
The conversation continued...