A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Give the Tots Their M---F--- Toys

Over the weekend, someone stole some of the most expensive toys from the Toys for Tots drop off center in Burlington.

If you don’t live around here, Burlington is kinda nice.  You can tell cause while there are buses out there, there aren’t always sidewalks.

Perhaps I got so upset about this news because this Christmas is proving to be a challenge.  The end of my show (I am always sad after closing, even if it is just a reading), my busted tooth, trying to get shopping done on a very very tight budget with two very active people under the age of four, and bills, bills, bills.  So perhaps my inclination to burst into tears when my beloved Channel Five “Eyeopener” (me and Channel Five both start our day really horridly early) reported this is because I am stressed out.

Or perhaps it is because it really did make me sad.  Authentically so.

I have never been the beneficiary of Toys for Tots.   And truth be told, I have never donated to Toys for Tots.  My sister has, and does every year, even after the time she got mugged for her Toys for Tots gifts while walking home from shopping.

But if there is one thing my heathen self is sure of, is that this is the season of giving.  Even if you hate the holidays: you’re Aunt Clem hid your Candy Canes when you were five, you were nobody’s favorite and got slipper socks each year, your parents nag you about your divorce over the roast beef, or your brothers and sisters always seem to get in digs about how you never finished whatever it was you never finished while they zoom about in SUVs complaining about taxes, if there is one thing all of us adults can do at this time of year it is give to those who need it.

The first time I relished this idea was the first Christmas after my parents got separated.  We were rather short on cash that year, and we’d been told Christmas was going to be a little tight. 

A few days before Christmas my mom got paid.  This was before direct deposit, so she cashed her check and we headed to the A and P that’s now Walgreens in the Heights (of Arlington).  Going into the store, we stopped at the ubiquitous red kettle.  We smiled at the bell guy as my mom slipped a bill in and the bell guy looked down, smiled very wide, and bellowed “Merry Christmas!”

And in we went.

Since it was pay day and Christmas we got a lot of foods we’d learned, that fall, not to ask for anymore.  Things aside from what needed to go into dinner and lunches.

When we got to the check out my mom pulled out the bank envelope and gasped.  An entire fifty was gone. 

An entire fifty was in the barrel of that red kettle. 

Which explained the enthusiastic response.

Which explained why we put back our extras.

Somewhere someone else needed that fifty more.

My mom and sisters and I think about that grocery store trip often.

And we thought of it for sure the next Christmas as we did our Christmas shopping.

If money is tight, you do your shopping in cash last minute. 

So there we were, at the mall with the other poor people and the husbands.

As we left, we saw a very unusual sight for Burlington.  (Yes, the aforementioned Burlington).  A pan handler.  Sitting right there in army fatigues (this was when wearing army fatigues had nothing to do aligning yourself with the missions of soldiers, they were what you wore if you were a little maybe funkier than others.  And this guy, pan handling on a traffic island in a suburb on Christmas Eve, was a little funky indeed).

His sign said he was hungry.

He looked very young. 

He had a duffel bag next to him.

It was inordinately cold.  Frigid.

“Please, can we get that guy McDonalds?”  we asked our mother.  “Yeah, Big Macs.”

There wasn’t much else on that strip then.  I think Howard Johnson’s was already shuttered at that point.  So to McDonald’s we went.

When we circled back through the parking lot and dropped off those Big Macs, and apologized it was just McDonalds, I don’t think we’d ever seen a person look so hungry before. He thanked us over and over and he tore into the hamburgers.  He didn’t look up, only down into the meat and bread most of the rest of us make fun of, and he ate.

So I guess I was so upset because it hurts to know it is true that someone’s heart is sizes and sizes too small.  To be downright Mother McCheesy about it.  There’s a very warm place, I think, waiting for that person who took the time to drive up that hill, pick that lock, and thwart the meaning of this time of year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brute Force Meet Tooth

My son fucked up my tooth.

My writing group chuckled when I said I was channeling my inner six year old, and was having trouble speaking, but I realize now, after another half week of sounding like Cindy Brady, that I meant it less as a joke and more as a plea for compassion.

Truth be told, my teeth have been sliding towards trailer for years.  I’ve never ever liked them.  Well, maybe I think I liked my baby teeth, but those all fell out, so there you go.  These adult teeth, which have been with me (well, some of them have.  Others were not so fortunate) for going on three decades have been a royal pain, and every dentist I’ve been to has agreed.

My sisters have great teeth.  I am not sure how I ended up in the shallow end of the gene pool on this one.  For it is true they are not the lovely pearls male poets like to write about in love poems.  I remember one dentist, when I’d gone in to have a broken tooth fixed, got very excited at the prospect of “a project”.  Actually, he was not really a dentist quite yet.  That was the year the University of Iowa offered dental for the first time, and to save money on what I knew was going to be a very large job, I went to the University of Iowa Dental clinic.  (And my fellow patients really were trailer.  More gaping holes in that place than in a block of Swiss cheese). 

My dentist was from Jordan.  He himself did not have very great teeth.  I assumed maybe he was working on that, at night, with other dental students, because how could he honestly expect to get work with his own mouth jackety jacked up like that?

My dentist also liked lame club music.   Where would one go clubbing in Iowa City you ask?  I mean, if you are not twenty, but say nearing thirty, which this guy was?  I am really not very sure. He would sing the songs as he poked around in my mouth.  If you have never been to a university dental clinic, then you are unfamiliar with the way these visits work.  Basically every procedure can take up to three visits.  I had a root canal that took up three or four afternoons as the dentist to be worked on what she called my “groovy anatomy”.  She was Columbian.  Perfect teeth.  And very happy explain part of my problem was my very windy roots.  She seemed to work alone, stealth like, in an empty floor.  But for most of these clinic visits, if the almost dentist even changes a brush setting on that electro tooth brush, she or he has to have a supervisor come and okay it.  So I got to know club music very well.  His favorite went something like this “you’re my butterfly, sugar, sugar” at which point, even after several visits and a mutual understanding that I did know that song from the radio, he would ask, for the millionth time, if I knew that song.  Did I like that song?  He loved that song.  Sugar, sugar….

After the fifth or so visit, my club dentist got very excited.  He’d been thinking.  What I’d like to do, is this, he held his hands like a mouth, his fingers standing in for teeth, and pulled all his fingers in like hermit crab legs.  Oh!  I said.  Um.  Okay!  He’d been thinking, he said, and after the root canal (maybe one, maybe two, yes?) he’d like to really get down to fixing things.

This struck a cord.

From fifth grade on I had dreamed of braces. 

I, too, had been wanting to really get down to fixing things.  For a very long time.

I’d gone to private school and basically the rich start whipping their kids’ teeth into straight lines right after they let their full time nannies go.  Okay, no one in my class really had that kind of nanny, but by junior high everyone had very nice teeth.  Except me.  So it was my delight when finally, despite being basically homeless (we lived with my grandparents, so saying this was obviously met with contention because we were NOT homeless, we just didn’t, say, have our own HOME), and loosing all our furniture in storage, and coming to terms with my father’s mental illness, my mom made an appointment with an orthodontist. I was overjoyed.  I made it through all the impressions (horrible!) and teeth pulling (four!  to make space which I did not understand because I have gaps.  And they gave me too much gas and I was convinced I would be kicked out of my honors and AP classes because I’d lost brain cells. You, too, would be convinced of the same if you could recall coming back into consciousness while biting the fingers of one of your dentists while hallucinating everyone is laughing at you as you guest on Oprah and you hear another dentist say, as you see him watch you gnaw on latex, “Oh, maybe that’s a bit too much, give her less!”) and finally got my braces, only to have things go a little south in our house and have my mother forget to take me back for subsequent appointments.  The orthodontist was understandably upset and yanked them out a few days before I left for college. “Maybe you can come back when you are more responsible”. 

So I nodded vigorously when this club dentist said he wanted to help me.  He slipped out of the cubicle and came back with his supervisor. He explained his plans.  He did not ask him if he knew the Butterfly/Sugar song. The supervisor sighed, finished looking in my mouth, looked at club dentist and said “that might make her look a little funny”.  “Funny?” Club dentist seemed sad all of a sudden. “Funny. Like a horse.  If you bring her teeth in like that, she’s gonna look like a horse.  You don’t want that, do you?”  Um, the obvious answer is to shake your head no, as the other students prod around in there, too.  No, no I do not want to look like a horse.  Butterfly, sugar, butterfly, sugar, no horse, no horse, no horse.

I was not yet twenty-six and I had been deemed a dental disaster. 

Which made me paranoid I was not, along with all the other hang ups many girls have in their twenties, deserving of good teeth.  Sometimes I wished I lived in England, where I hear no one has good teeth, so I’d fit in. 

One of my biggest fears about my teeth is that they will crumble out.  Which I have looked up and is supposed to suggest I am afraid of growing old, but I really think I am really afraid of losing my teeth.

So two babies in two years has not helped with my teeth phobias.  Those suckers take every last vitamin and nutrient and use it for their own little selves.  Apparently, I’ve learned through this debacle, they’ve leached the calcium from me, day by nursing day.  Lovely.

So the tooth my son fucked up was already a weak link. 

But when he chose that particular one to continually head butt, over and over, in October, I knew it was a goner, even if it had been less of a loser at the time.

It all began the day after I got my hair rebraided.  After months of letting it go, I finally looked like some semblance of a person who recognizes the importance of personal hygiene. And it was only a matter of a few hours before my son made his mark, by head butting me during a middle of the night wakeful because I am teething session.  I remember grabbing my mouth and saying to my husband “It’s cracked!  I finally got my hair done and now my mouth is messed”.

I had no idea how messed it could become.

Despite being so dismayed, I was due at rehearsals in New Haven and could not go to the dentist.  Or, could not commit to  finding a dentist.  I think relatively few writers have dental, and I am one of those not few.  So I waited.  My son, however, did not.  Over the course of the next two weeks, he proceeded to head butt me over and over.  In the same tooth. Until during one trip to New Haven I remember eating nothing but McDonald’s chocolate shakes in an attempt to keep my calories up to keep my milk up to keep feeding this crazy beast of a child who was hell bent on my being as dentally compromised as he was.

One head butt, as we folded him into his car seat dressed as a very reluctant tiger for Halloween, produced the type of hole through which you can feel air.  I spent my time at the following Halloween party convinced the parents with real jobs, and, therefore, dental, could see down into my throat.  I also spent it shivering. Since the party was outside and the wind went right past my lips through that hole and up into my forehead.

About a week later I knew I had to act.

As I sat in that dentist’s chair (finally!) I gripped my hands, certain the diagnosis would be to remove each tooth and I could come back for more only when I was more responsible.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” was the verdict.  Along with an estimate of a twenty three hundred dollar bill.

So I did not quite act.

But my kid is not a quitter.

In fact my kid seems to like a challenge.

And butt his head continued to do.

The biggest hit came the day before my opening night, when I tried to dance with him to that Mariah Carey Christmas song, and I guess he’s not in to Mimi cause bam went his very hard head into my bedraggled mouth.

I toasted my play, the next evening pre curtain, by sipping my proseco through the side of my mouth, hoping none dribbled out of my mouth as all those donors and subscription holders who’d been invited to the opening night wine reception watched me.

I spoke at a Humanities Lunch sipping my iced tea through a straw and demurely declining the sandwiches and chips offered me. 

I lost five pounds and was a royal B for days.  Skinny girls aren’t mean because they’re beautiful, they are mean cause they are fucking hungry.

And it was with a whimper that the tooth finally quit me, after only the slightest of butts, about a week later.

Leaving my mouth looking like I am a professional hockey player.

“Don’t worry about it,” my daughter’s preschool teacher chirped.  “My husband doesn’t even have any teeth!”  And she went on to say her boys used to head butt her so much, that she had a constant bloody lip for years when they were small.  “It’s boys!”

And I can’t really disagree.

He goes at life with an entirely different energy than my daughter.  I write so very much about my daughter.  Disney and hair and beauty and senses of self that don’t involve eating disorders and cutting and feeling less and less and less.

All my fem theory and I am not quite sure I thought I’d have to think as much about boys.

Ridiculous, I know.

But he is moving through the world with a different force than I am used to. 

I come from a family of women, of girls, of strength in spite of, rather than strength because. If that even makes sense.

For here is a force that is determined and fierce and dangerous, if you ask my teeth about it.

Here is a force that I was taught could be tamed and should be tamed, and, perhaps, it is a force I was not sure really existed.  Testosterone?  Ha, I think I would have said a year ago.  He just needs hugs and kisses and oh shit, there is my tooth in my hand, shit.

So if you see me between now and tomorrow when I am due to have my front tooth replaced, just know I am a mother of a boy, who was once foolish enough to think brute force was a product of nurture, not nature.

I am pretty sure I was wrong.