Aedan lost a baby tooth this week. It was the first to get wiggly, the first to be watched, the first to fall out on its own as he slept. It wasn’t his first baby tooth lost, though. It wasn’t even his second.
Brushing his teeth used to be a battle. I think it’s a battle I started, when I read on some parenting forum that moms pin their kids to the ground despite the tears, to get those little teeth brushed. So, I thought, brushing a kid’s teeth is a battle and I must sit on him to get it done. Needless to say, eventually Aedan would clamp his jaw shut tight. No amount of prying could get the brush in there. I could brush the fronts of his teeth, but never further than that.
I began to notice dark spots on his molars when he’d throw his head back and laugh. I’d peek in there when he yawned or cried. I told myself those dark spots were just food caught in his molars. I didn’t let him drink juice, I tried to keep him from eating sticky sweet raisins and dates. Those dark spots gnawed at my stomach just as they were gnawing at his precious little teeth. We took him to a dentist, but he would not open his mouth. The dentist shrugged his shoulders and couldn’t really offer anything more.
May 2015, the Friday night of the Victoria Day weekend, he started complaining that his tooth hurt. By Saturday night, his cheek was starting to swell. Sunday morning, we started calling around to emergency dentists. It would cost over $200 just to have someone look in his mouth. We decided to take him to the emergency room. And we sat there for hours, surrounded by other parents and their sick or injured kids. When we finally saw someone, we were told that his molars had huge cavities, were abcessed, would need to be pulled. That day. In the emergency room.
I remember clearly the feeling that came over me when the intern delivered the news: massive failure. Shame. Total embarrassment. How could I let this happen? Are they going to call child services next? My poor baby, who is totally dependant on me, has to have his first teeth pulled in the emergency room. I started to cry. The intern looked at me kindly, thinking I was worried about my son, and told me he would be okay. I nodded, and choked out: “I just feel so awful.” Forgetting all of the other things I’d survived with him: birthing him in the backseat of our car, staying strong through his diagnosis of neo-natal diabetes at 7 weeks old, learning to use an insulin pump correctly, then learning to prepare Glyburide for him. Big, heavy things I’d carried on my shoulders effortlessly because it had to be done. And then, there I sat in that E.R., feeling ashamed because my kid wouldn’t open his mouth when I tried to brush his teeth. There is only so much I can control, as a parent. This is not one of those things.
After they pulled his molars and referred us to a pediatric dentist for follow-up, they handed me those two rotten teeth in a little blue plastic treasure box. As if I wanted to cherish this memory of total parental failure. It was so bizarre to me. All I could do was laugh, thinking I would throw them out as soon as we got home.
So when Aedan’s front tooth came loose this week, I thought about celebrating his “first tooth” on Facebook. And then I paused. Because that’s not the truth. That’s not authentic, not our story. Our story is messy and non-linear and all ours. I can’t run from it. All I can do is embrace it and share it and hope that some other mom with a stubborn kid will read it and feel a little less alone, and a little less ashamed. We are not failures. We’re doing our best with what we’ve got in front of us, right?
I think I’ve still got that little plastic blue box with it’s anti-treasure. Maybe as a reminder that nobody is perfect, nothing in parenting or in life goes as planned. And also that pinning your kid to the ground is not a good way to start off their life of dental hygiene. Don’t do that.