Archive for the ‘Dentist’ Tag
I was already feeling like a failed parent. It was my toddler’s third birthday and he had been telling me for weeks that he wanted a Buzz Lightyear birthday cake. I had it all planned out. Bought the ingredients, the food coloring, mapped out the rocketship I would use as a template. I blocked out a two-hour time slot on the big day for making it. I had it covered. But while we were at the zoo that afternoon, I noticed that my five-year old’s right eye was blood-shot and had a slight bulge near the iris. I immediately called the pediatrician, and the only appointment available was during my two-hour allottment for cake-baking. What could I do? We went straight from the zoo to the doctor’s appointment, where we were given antibiotic drops. Problem solved. But by the time I was loading my kids back into the car, the cake was doomed. I had to call my husband with an S.O.S.: please pick up a birthday cake at the grocery store. He performed his act of heroism, but unfortunately the closest thing they had to Buzz Lightyear was Pokeman. When my little guy saw his birthday cake he burst into tears. And I cried, too. So I was already feeling terrible.
And then, after the candles and the presents, as I was brushing the chocolate crumbs from his teeth, I found something that made me feel infinitely worse. A giant hole in one of his bottom molars. Perfectly round and cavernous. A sinkhole.
How could I let this happen?
It all stems back to potty training. Anyone with a toddler knows how exasperating and just plain smelly and gross potty training can be. I’ve been lucky. My second and third children both decided at the age of two that they were too big for diapers. Overnight they were running around in cartoon-covered underwear. My oldest was more reluctant. At three and a half he preferred the relative ease of the diaper. He didn’t have to stop playing trains to take a trip to the bathroom. So I bought him his favorite train, Gordon, and hid it up in the closet. Hunter could play with Gordon every time he had a successful stop at the toilette. It worked like a charm. But Pierce, my youngest, wasn’t interested in potty training. And he isn’t obsessed with trains. He’s obsessed with candy. How do I know this? When he learned his colors, he learned them by dum dum flavors. Red is strawberry, purple is grape, and pink is cotton candy. The logical thing to give him to interest him in potty training was treats.
I know. Completely stupid. But not without precident. As evidence, The American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Toilet Training, page 57:
Small treats can be an effective way to demonstrate to your child in concrete ways that she has done well and should be pleased with her own behavior.
Small treats, however, do probably not include golfball-size gumballs. Which I had a whole box of in my closet. (Don’t ask. They are now at a landfill.)
So it was the gumballs that did it. And I had administered them. I felt terrible. I hoped that the pediatric dentist would give me a slight reprieve from my huge case of bad-parenting guilt. I hoped he would tell me that Pierce had bad teeth, bad enamel, maybe even no enamel at all. But no, he just listened to my mortifying story of gumballs and nodded knowingly. “That could have done it,” he said. Even worse, he showed me an x-ray of Pierce’s teeth and pointed out where he was missing two permanent teeth. WHAT?
But at least he fixed the sinkhole. I won’t go into the details of the pulpectomy, but in place of the giant hole Pierce now has a silver “pirate tooth” which he shows to everyone he meets. I am so glad he loves his pirate tooth. I am so happy that he wants to introduce it to all of his friends and many, many strangers. And I am thrilled to brush that knob of metal every day and remember how I failed as a parent.
Yesterday I was at the dentist. It wasn’t fun. Apparently I clench my teeth so hard when I sleep that my gums have receeded, exposing roots. So there I was, getting impressions made for a night guard (to help with the clenching) and two fillings (on those exposed roots). Clearly things haven’t exactly been looking up since my computer died. Fortunately I have a two year old with gorgeous dimples.
While I was stuck in the dentist’s chair, I was trying to read a book. That initiated a conversation about reading with my dentist, the gifted Garon Larsen. While he was injecting me with novocaine, or whatever pain-killer dentists use, he told me about his fifth grade daughter who loves to read. Recently she brought home a book from the school library. She told her Dad that she hadn’t had time search through the stacks, so she had just grabbed this book off the shelf. Well, she loved it so much that Dr. Larsen picked it up and read it too. He told me that the book was wonderful: the problems engaging, the voice perfect. He loved everything but the title. I was dying to ask the name of the book, but my mouth was stuffed with wads of cotton and there was that drill in the way, too.
Finally he asked, “Have you ever heard of Sharon Creech?”
Have I? The great, gifted Sharon Creech? She is one of those writers I don’t just read, I study. Here is what she says about writing: “When I begin a book I feel like that “smoothbeautiful horse” of e.e. cummings’s poem “the little horse is newlY.” I know nothing, but feel everything. All around me is perfectly a strangeness of light and smell, of a world that is welcoming me in, a world full of smoothbeautiful folds in which lies the breathing and silence of that someone — that character who is about to break her silence.” She opens herself so much to her writing, that what comes out is like a revelation. The frame of her books often take on a circular shape. Circles, she says, that “echo and enclose cycles — birth to death to rebirth; beginnings to endings to beginnings” (from the essay “Leaping Off the Porch,” as published in Origins of Story, edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire).
The book Dr. Larsen shared with me was Creech’s Heartbeat. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will soon. When my mouth was finally unoccupied, I told him about Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, though it took me a couple of tries to say it with my mouth half-numb.
Granny Torrelli is the story of friendship between twelve year old Rosie and the boy next door, Bailey. They have grown up alongside each other, and have shared everything together. Which is why Rosie doesn’t understand why Bailey gets angry at her for learning how to read his books — written in Braille because Bailey is blind. Added to the misunderstanding is the tension that arises when a new girl moves in across the street. A ‘too-friendly’ new girl who ‘smiles all over the place’. A new girl who Bailey seems to like. Maybe even more than Rosie.
The problems are simple, but the emotions are real, which makes the problems important both to Rosie and to the reader. The voices of the children are perfectly pitched, their thoughts, words, and feelings accurately tuned to who they are and what they are experiencing at the age they are experiencing it.
But what makes this book so precious to me is the figure of Granny Torrelli, arriving in the midst of these boiling tempers and simmering problems. Rosie introduces her like this: ”Granny Torrelli comes over, says she’s in charge of me tonight. She wants soup. Zuppa! she calls it. She says it like this: ZOO-pah!”
With the matter-of-fact bustle of a seasoned cook, Granny calls Rosie and Bailey to help her in the kitchen. They roll fresh pasta; mash ground beef, eggs, and onions into meatballs; stir spices into red sauce, and in the process of cooking, and listening to Granny’s stories about her childhood friend, Pardo, Rosie and Bailey learn to see beyond their hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Granny’s stories create the circular shape that Creech talks about — the cycle that moves beginnings to endings, to brand new beginnings. The beginning of her friendship with Pardo is an echo of Bailey and Rosie’s friendship. It’s ending creates a new beginning for them. The entrance of the new neighboor is another beginning that promises new returns.
The story is a also a testament to the magic of the kitchen: of the nourishment that comes both from and through cooking, and also of the sense of comfort and connectedness that come from food. In a recent article in The Horn Book Magazine, author Linda Sue Park discusses the importance of food in the books we read and write. “Food and love are the earliest things we learn,” she says, “with the deepest roots and reverberations. Maurice Sendak knew this when he wrote in Where the Wild Things Are that Max wanted to be “where someone loved him best of all” — and that love was epitomized by a supper that was still hot” (“Still Hot: Great Food Moments in Children’s Literature,” The Horn Book Magazine, May/July 2009).
Creech knew it, too, when Rosie carries the steaming bowl of cavatelli, “covered with the beautiful red sauce, to the table, and Granny Torelli brings the bowl of meatballs and spareribs, and Carmelita brings the extra sauce, and Bailey has the cheese, and Pop brings the salad, and Mom pours water in everyone’s glass.” The new neighbors are invited to the feast, and Rosie imagines “Granny Torrelli’s mama and papa and sisters and brothers and Pardo and my grandpa Torrelli, all up in heaven having their own pasta party.”
“My world,” Rosie says, “seems a little bigger.” She is seeing those cycles that swell and repeat and never end, inspired by the nourishment that comes from the combination of friendship, love and food.