This past weekend we were at a birthday party. There were lots of kids ranging in ages from three years old to twelve. I looked into the playroom and found my middle son spinning another boy on an office chair. They were both laughing and it looked like a good time. But sometimes the mother in you says, “this is going to be trouble” and you have to be the bad guy and stop all the fun. I went in and told my own sons to stop (I don’t like telling other kids what to do or not do—it wasn’t my house and their parents were there. They can handle their kids as they see fit). My middle guy, Zilla, gets car sick. I didn’t want him throwing up all over the place once it was his turn on the ride. My boys looked disappointed but backed away from the chairs and I felt confident they’d stop.
By the time I walked the 20 feet into the kitchen I heard a scream that I was confident belonged to my daughter Belle. I turned around and saw her walking towards me, guided by my eldest son Duke. She was crying and blood was coming out of her mouth. I scooped her up and she tried to tell me what happened but I was mostly concerned with where the blood was coming from—her tongue, her lips, her teeth, what? I got the blood out of the way and saw it was coming from her upper gums. I felt the teeth and one felt loose. One of the moms said, “there’s a piece of wood missing from the dollhouse.” I decided to take her to the ER for a look-see.
I asked Annabelle what happened and found out that she had gone for a ride on the spinning chairs. I asked her, very calmly as not to alarm her, who gave her the push. There was no way she could have pushed herself fast enough to cause this kind of damage. She gave me the name and I was relieved to hear that it was not my own sons. I would have felt bad to have to kill them.
The ER doc seemed pretty uninterested. I get it.. a mouth injury is very bloody, doesn't usually amount to much, and moms traditionally get hyper about their kids and blood. But, I'm no ordinary mom. I’m a seasoned, been in the ER more times than you want to know, kind of mom. We’ve had broken arms, ribs, stitches, staples, severed tongues (so bad that doctors clutched their chest when they saw it) more stitches, and surgeries and I was right there for every one of them. This was not a hyper moment for me. But I was worried about her teeth and also if there was splintered wood from the doll house stuck in her gums. They xrayed and doc said, "here's some antibiotics, have her gargle with salt water." (Yeah, this guy had a firm grasp of 4 yr olds.) I asked, “what about her tooth?” He looked at me over his glasses and said, “If it falls out, it falls out. It’s just a baby tooth.” He told me to have a good night and walked away.
Annabelle complained for the next day and by Monday we saw the Dentist. More xrays. The gums were swollen and she thought maybe there was still wood in there. The worst news was that her front tooth is fractured above the gum line (almost to the root area). She touched it and Annabelle's eyes started to water. The dentist referred me to a specialist. The specialist concurred; fractured tooth, might be a splinter in her gums, we need to pull the tooth and hopefully we can get the root. No one seems the least bit concerned that my just-turned-4year old will have a missing front tooth for the next several years.
When I ask if we can save the tooth or if we can put a fake tooth in its place they shrug their shoulders and scoff. “It’s just a baby tooth! Be glad it’s not….” and that when they start to tell me the silver lining. You know what? I don’t want to hear it. It can ALWAYS be worse than what you have right now. I really do understand that—trust me. I have been to hell and back a few times. I’ve seen bad and even then, it was not the worst. People have this inexplicable impulse to tell you that your situation is okay because at least you’re not “that guy” and they point to someone worse off than you. Do not minimize what is going on by telling me it’s not as bad as it can possibly be.
Children are not “resilient” like people like to say. Why the hell are therapists so well-paid and visited? Because of all the crap that went on in people’s childhoods. No one forgot anything—it’s still there rearing it’s ugly head. Saying a child is resilient is a giant cop-out. At 4 years old I had my stomach opened up with a 14 inch long incision in order to save my life. I spent weeks in a hospital. I was stuck constantly. I had tubes shoved down my nose into my stomach while I was awake. My father never visited me. My brother was not allowed to visit me. I was threatened by nurses who couldn’t get me to nap that they’d enclose me in a cage. I had my 5th birthday there. I remember the day the doctors wheeled me into the operating room and the doors shutting behind me while my mother and aunt smiled bravely at me. The doors shut and my mother collapsed. I remember the anesthesiologist was the nicest person to me that day noticing that I kept hiding my arms from him. He said, “I’ll put you to sleep first, then we’ll do the IV.” And I remember the day the doctor pulled down the gauze to demonstrate how to change it and keep it clean. My stomach was covered in red and black dried blood, black string going in and out of my skin, tied in knots. I have forgotten nothing.
People assume Annabelle won't care about losing a tooth. How do you explain to a four year old that we are going to see a doctor who is going to take your tooth out? She will care. She covers her ears when we have to talk about what happened to the doctors. She is going to be aware of the person reaching into her mouth and ripping her front tooth out. It is a violent procedure. Once it’s over and the pain finally is gone, what do I say? "Oh, don't worry sweetheart, you'll get another one in 3 years or so.”
Somewhere a dentist is telling a sad mother not to feel bad that her child is getting a filling today. After all, you could be the mom who has to schedule the extraction of her 4 year-old’s front tooth.