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.