How long, I caught myself wondering in the shower, could I push this before it’s considered child neglect and someone calls social services?
I was taking my twins, newly-minted three-year-olds, to their annual appointment with the pediatrician and I knew she’d ask the question she always asks – the one that earns me an eye roll and another note added to the appointment summary along with weight and height and current medications.
Have they been to the dentist?
I usually say I’m looking into it, that I really want to find the right one, the right fit among our care providers in our area, with good recommendations and hours late enough or early enough. Our pediatrician’s been around the block, though. With us, in fact. She’s known our oldest son, now five, since we were still doing double math on his age in the NICU (31 weeks gestation and also five days and counting in the big wide world). He’s the one she’s really asking about when she asks about the dentist. She knows I’ve avoided it for good reason.
Sensory sensitivities are not to be trifled with. I cannot vacuum in the house when he’s home – the whirring sends him into a panic. We prefer dust to tears. He hates the sound of hair dryers. During haircuts, I’ve had to hold his hands while he cried and shuddered into my shoulder when they turned the clippers on. We both usually emerge with hair and snot stuck to our limbs like yetis. Our last haircut was done outside Great Clips by an angel of a woman who understood his proclivities perhaps better than he did. It was hot on the sidewalk as people tried to edge by on their way to the sushi restaurant next door, but he was happy. It was the best haircut he’s ever had.
If this is light cleaning and hair-cutting, imagine what the sound of a dentist’s drill might do?
There’s more to the story. Here’s the nugget of truth: I hate the dentist. Hate. Fear. Abhor. I currently have a tooth that looks like a craggy mountain peak where the bonding broke off (while eating cantaloupe of all things), but I cannot bring myself to make an appointment to get it fixed. I’m convinced that if something can go wrong at the dentist, it will go wrong with me. I am Murphy’s Law. When I had my wisdom teeth pulled in high school, my gums got infected. Then, one month before my wedding, one last wisdom tooth sprouted, the one that they said would never arrive. It grew in sideways. One week after our honeymoon I had it taken out. Then I vomited Oreo ice cream all over my new husband two hours later. I’m a catch.
This is how I’ve managed to avoid the dentist with my son until now. We’ve been in this together. Now, however, he is five, and I am tired of seeing that note at the bottom of our checkout sheet at the pediatrician. So a week ago, we finally went.
He was amazing. We rolled in in his wheelchair and parked in front of the aquarium, which stunned him into tranquility. It made me regret all the snarky comments I’d made at the obtuse dentist in “Finding Nemo.” That dentist was a genius. Fish do soothe the angst-ridden soul.
Of course, I’d also done my P.I. work and found the best special needs dentist in town. My kid got his own private room. Cartoons played on the television while he picked his own toothpaste. There were no drill sounds, even in the distance. He opened wide, smiled, and high-fived the dentist after just to prove the point that he’s braver than me. On our way out, he picked a toy from the treasure chest amid applause from the staff, who whispered to me he was better than most of their other patients (including adults).
There are many times I do not give my son enough credit, times when I lean into past experiences of failed attempts or when I project my fears onto him. It’s always well-intentioned, a type of protection for him, but my worries cannot be his security blanket. They would suffocate us both in the end.
Kids live to prove us wrong. Just when you think you’ve got the shyest kid, his teacher will tell you he’s the one that contributes the most in class. Just when you think you’ve got the pickiest eater, you discover they like peas a thousand times more than you do. They are constant reminders to keep the lines blurry in the pictures of ourselves and them. They resist definition, as should we, because we are all still in the process of becoming us.
I have since made an appointment to have my bonding fixed. Here’s to hoping.
*This article was originally published in Parent.co.