We went to the dentist because Vesper has a cavity. This incredibly banal and normal situation ended up being a lot more emotionally charged than one might expect a dentist appointment to be.
I was feeling shame and guilt about my child having a rather severe cavity and the neglectful parenting that may have led to that. For added drama, the dentist is a high school classmate of mine [hello small town!] and for some reason, it’s worse to imagine the damning judgment of a dental professional who also danced sweatily with you at Prom in 1998. It’s like she’s thinking ‘I grew up and became a dentist! You grew up and became a person who can’t even floss her children’s teeth properly!’ She wasn’t thinking that, though. OR WAS SHE!?
My daughter was feeling the fear that I assume is a natural evolutionary reaction to being in the dentist with that light on you and those metal stabbing scraping tools lined up on a tray next to your face. She had the anxiety of someone who has never experienced a filling before and imagines it to be like some kind of drill into the center of your very being that passes through all of your nerves first. At least that’s what I imagine she was imagining.
After the exam, the dentist explained that the cavity was quite serious and that the tooth was somewhat cracked. She instructed us to brush [we know!] and floss [we try!] and schedule another appointment to get it fixed as soon as possible.
As my mind began to do internal calculations of the cost of uninsured dental care and the stress of this impending appointment and the possibility of it being worse than we thought, my child rudely interrupted my anxiety spiral with her own.
‘WELP.’ she exclaimed. ‘I guess that’s it for me. No more candy. Never again. Might as well not even go to the Fourth of July parade because what would even be the point without the candy. And I can’t go Trick or Treating, that’s for sure. As for candy canes at Christmas, those will just be a decoration on the tree from now on.’
It’s hard to say which factor made me so dumbfounded in that moment. Was it the fact that this entire string of illogical logic came to my child so quickly in the 15 seconds since the dentist explained the situation? Was it the somewhat embarrassing fact that she launched into this tirade before the dentist was out of the room, exposing our obsessive love of candy to this tooth expert who once did geometry next to me? Or was it the fact that she had an undeniably sarcastic tone combined with her sheer panic, and her ability to convey derision made me actually somewhat proud?
We may never know. But what happened next is the dentist left the room. I could feel my anger rising. Internally, I felt justified in my ire because she was being so ILLOGICAL. What does this candy rant actually accomplish? And I lost my cool.
All of my own stress and exhaustion and worry left my body in one breath, and I yelled at my child in the dentist.
I mean, I didn’t yell. Because everyone would have heard that. I did that kind of yelling you become capable of once you have children, where you are screaming while also whispering.
I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m reasonably sure it included some version of the phrase ‘pull yourself together’ which is quite rich coming from a full grown adult woman yelling at a nervous child in public.
Within a nanosecond, I felt that crushing regret I also never knew until becoming a mother, the regret of losing your cool on the person you love more than your own life. The person you’d kill and die for. The person who you truly believe deserves nothing but love and joy and peace and you’ve just shown them your ugliest insides. That regret is my least favorite kind.
I apologized. She took her free toothbrush. We left.
We went to my parent’s house from the dentist so they could watch the girls while I ran some errands and worked. When my dad greeted us at the door, I was feeling the full weight of my stress plus the pain of my aforementioned regret, and I started crying.
Crying in front of my dad isn’t the best choice. He feels for you, but he also finds it illogical. ILLOGICAL. What does the crying actually accomplish?
I wonder where I get it.
He asked Vesper how the dentist was, she said ‘great.’ I couldn’t hear sarcasm that time, but maybe she just hasn’t practiced enough.
I left my parents house and planned to pull my life together and move on with my day. But I couldn’t. Because I had yelled at my child. And she has a cavity so I dropped the ball on that, but what about the rest of it? What about the unnatural obsession with logic I’m imposing on her and the affinity for sarcasm she’s adopted at age 7 and the general list of missteps I’ve made as a parent?
I parked at the grocery store and called a friend. And I cried. I cried because of the dentist yelling thing, sure, but also because of ALL of it. And everything. And how hard it is. And how fast it’s going. And how long that takes.
My friend listened to the hiccup sobbing for a while and then patiently heard my dentist story which I ended with ‘how crazy is that candy rant!?’ to which they said ‘that sounds exactly like something you would say.’
So. There’s that.
A few days later, separated from the emotion of the day and with the weight of the yelling-regret lifted, I told this story to some other friends. We laughed. They related. It’s hard. And funny. This story, and parenting in general.
Later my friend texted that Vesper actually reminds her of Anne of Green Gables with the drama and the moods and the lofty dialogue.
I love Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to be like her and to BE her but didn’t have the guts. But someone I gave birth to has the guts. That has to be the next best thing.
Tomorrow we are going back to the dentist to have the tooth fixed. She’s nervous that will hurt, but assured me she won’t freak out.
I’m nervous that it will hurt her, but I told her I wouldn’t freak out either.