the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Little shop of horrors

The last time we took Leta to the dentist she was so not having it that he had to inspect her teeth while standing three feet away. That was a long time ago, and we have not attempted the dentist since then because we are wimps. Also, when presented with the choice between a) spending an afternoon with sharp, lethal objects in my mouth being held by someone other than myself, or 2) sitting pantsless on the couch eating puffy cheetos while watching SpongeBob, let’s just say that when Jon walked in and was all, you do realize you’re half-naked and laughing at an animated sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea? I was all, then you take her to that place and watch what happens when that man in the white coat approaches her with a dental hook. Go ahead, I’ll wait here and keep your seat warm.

Side note: last weekend while we were at the music festival in San Francisco, Jon and I waited for over four hours next to the front row railing next to stage that Radiohead would be playing. Which means we got to see them live from the front row, but we forgot to eat dinner. And that detail is only important because we forgot about our empty stomachs when a few hours after the show someone started buying us drinks at a bar in the Lower Haight. By the tray full. And then all of a sudden I’m lying in bed at the hotel with my pants off watching the Olympics, and I can’t figure out how I got there. So I turn to Jon and go, dude, something weird just happened! I think we were teleported! And he’s all, wait a minute, you don’t remember stopping into that convenience store and picking up the tortilla chips that are in crumbs right now all over your chest? Or how you turned to me and whispered, “SHHHH! CAN I TELL YOU SOMETHING? I CAN’T SEE SO GOOD.” Or the cab ride home where you kept yelling BUMPY! BUMPY! BUMPY! at the driver? I don’t remember any of it, and ask him how my pants ended up splayed across the top of the television like that, had Ed O’Brien been in here earlier? And he explains that the first thing I did when I walked in the door was rip off my pants, toss them behind my back and fall face first on the bed missing the nightstand by inches, which you have to admit, is just as sexy.

About a month ago our dental hygienist called and said, it’s been a while, you do realize that this is a first world country? And that many people here have all their teeth? Would you like to keep yours? So we sucked it up and made an appointment, and since then have tried to prepare Leta for the experience. And by prepare her for it I mean that when she asked if going to the dentist was like going to the hospital I told her no, of course not. It’s much, much worse.

Yesterday I volunteered to go first, and it wasn’t that bad, I only lost a pint of blood, and then when it was Jon’s turn to go I held Leta in my lap so that she could see what they were doing to him. I talked her through the cleaning and the brushing and the flossing, and every three seconds or so she would turn to me and say, “But they’re not going to do that to me, right? RIGHT? SAY, ‘RIGHT.'” I tried to steer her away from this line of thinking by telling her to watch her father, but this only made her bury her head into my chest even further. So I tried Plan B which was: “If you don’t let them clean your teeth they are all going to fall out. And then you won’t be able to talk. And then you’ll die homeless.”

One of the hygienists working a station over from ours yelled out, “OH MY GOD! My mother said the same thing to me! AND IT WORKED!” So you see, there existed a parent out there like me whose child did not end up a serial killer, although that kid now spends her days jabbing hooks and knives into the mouths of very frightened people. I’ll be sure to add more hugging to my approach, then.

When it came time for Leta’s exam I held her in my lap, climbed into the Chair of Doom and stroked her head to calm her down. Jon sat near us and held her hands, but she kept ripping them from his grip and trying to claw her way out of the building. If you can think of a reward, we used it to try and bribe her: more princess toys, a Barbie dream house, a weekend in Cancun with Dora, a chocolate pony that shits M&M’s. But she screamed and cried and wriggled like we were branding her with an iron. She and Coco are a lot more alike than she’d like to admit. I mean, we yank the slightest bit on Coco’s leash to get her to straighten up and stop barking at a trash can, and she yelps and flails as if we have just removed her gall bladder without anesthesia. Neighbors will look at us like, what on earth are you doing to that poor dog? And Jon is all, this is nothing. You should see how she reacts when we force her to play fetch in traffic.

Our hygienist is amazing with kids, thank God, and was able to time it just right so that when Jon slid Leta’s trembling hand away from her own mouth for a half second she was able to touch a single tooth with the rubber toothbrush. And it was as quick as the realization that pancakes were not going to kill her, because Leta immediately relaxed, opened her mouth and let the hygienist clean every single tooth. And while she was in a forgiving mood the dentist ran over, got within inches of her face and was able to stick his fingers in her mouth to inspect her gums and teeth. Just like that it was over, and you would have thought she had just taken her first steps because we could not praise her enough. Tons of hugs and cheers and kisses, and that’s when the hygienist broke out an array of princess toothbrushes, oh you upstaging hygienist! Just go ahead and send her to the Celestial Kingdom and give her her own planet, why don’t you?

Because apparently there is no treat quite like a princess toothbrush. She’s had Dora toothbrushes and Elmo toothbrushes and my mother is a horrible monster and bought me this RED? WITH NOTHING ON IT? NOT EVEN THE NAME OF A DENTAL CLINIC? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? toothbrushes, but never has she owned a toothbrush decorated with a Disney Princess. And she cradled that toothbrush for the rest of the afternoon, talked about how brave she had been by going to the hospital and letting those people look inside her mouth, how she would show Her Kids this Most Wonderful Toothbrush In All Of The Toothbrush Kingdom, and then at 5:30 PM she looked up at me and said, “I would like to go to sleep and brush my teeth now.”

I got her to last until 6:30 PM, but then I couldn’t take the pleading anymore, and after we dressed her in her pajamas she stood in that bathroom and brushed her teeth for ten straight minutes. I had to physically remove that toothbrush from her mouth, she did not want to let go, and after stories when I was kissing her goodnight she said, “After I sleep, can I brush my teeth? And then right after I brush my teeth I’ll go to sleep again so that I can wake up and brush my teeth again.” Yes, absolutely you can do that. You’ve totally earned it.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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