As I sit before my desktop, staring at a white screen (which is empty of words, deplete of prose, void of ideas), I begin thumbing through my writing notebooks to see if any of my recent ramblings will get something percolating….and then….as is often the case in this frenetic household….a story unfolds right before my eyes.  I attempt to memorize what I see and hear so I can write about it later.

Charlie buzzes past me with something white (a rock, maybe?) in his hand.  He’s headed toward my bathroom. Moments later, he’s already on his way out, rushing past my desk, the white thing in one hand and a brand new toothbrush (from my “toothbrush” supply drawer) in the other.

“Wait a minute!  What are you doing, buddy?!”  (Adding “buddy”  helps  to keep my inquiry light and friendly.)

“Playing dentist.”

“You and Gigi?”

“Yes.  I’m the dentist.  She’s the patient.”

We’ve recently been to the dentist for the first time since moving to Saratoga (the first time ever for Gigi) and so everything’s been very “dental” and “tooth-oriented” at chez Bollinger for the past couple of weeks.  Several sky-blue plastic square boxes of dental floss are piled high in the “toothbrush” drawer in the kids’ bathroom.  Scattered atop their bathroom vanity are many packets of odd dark pink tablets, one of which is to be chewed quickly for an instant plaque check test right after a brushing.  Any areas within your child’s mouth cavity that have not been scrubbed sufficiently are instantly revealed as the pink tablet residue adheres to the remaining plaque in the child’s mouth. A nasty pink splotch is formed and you, the parent, and the child instantly see where there is still scrubbing to be done. Four fresh, soft-bristled toothbrushes await use by each child and are stored, still encased in clear plastic, within the toothbrush holder by the edge of the sink.

“The toothbrush is supposed to massage your gums, Mom.  You shouldn’t scrub too hard or you’ll wear off your gums!”  This last brushing instruction was given by Charlie a few nights back when I “attacked” his teeth too harshly, he felt, during my micromanagement of his teeth brushing session.  The dentist had advised me to “get more involved” in Charlie’s brushing because the child was clearly not eradicating enough of  the plaque from the surface of his teeth.  Charlie’s lackluster scouring, the dentist pointed out, was clearly evidenced by his very pink mouth when the “Pink Tablet Test” was first administered at the start of  the dental appointment.  Ever since that shameful moment (I should be clear here: I was ashamed that we flunked the plaque test; Charlie could have cared less), Charlie and I have been having many heated discussions about his overall teeth brushing technique.  I give pointers about how to best hold the brush and the duration of the cleaning session.  He gives counter arguments to my suggestions by reciting verbatim what the dental hygienist and dentist specifically told him to do. (Charlie’s quotes from the dental professionals are then quickly corroborated by his older siblings, which I find most unhelpful.) All in all, we did get a lot of loot from the dental appointments, and despite the tooth brushing technique controversy that continues to fester within our home, I feel good about the fact that I won’t have to buy a ten-pack of dental floss at Costco for quite some time.

“What are you doing to the patient?” I ask with an obvious tone of skepticism and concern.  “What’s that in your hand?”

“It’s the cast of Grandma BJ’s teeth that she gave me….I’m doing an extraction on Gigi.”

When my parents came to Saratoga last April for a visit to our new home, they brought little gifts for the kids…as is their usual custom.  I have no memory of what everyone else received, but Charlie’s gift was a cast of the impression of my mother’s teeth.  There was some talk about what an odd gift this was but my mother explained that when the dentist handed the cast over to her after she’d had some serious dental work done, she knew immediately that her “scientist grandson” would get a kick out of having it.  She was right.

“What?  An extraction…not really, right?”  I ask.

There have been times in our family’s not so distant past when Charlie’s role playing has gotten completely out of hand.  Like the time he played hair cutter and set up shop using an old American Girl doll beauty parlor seat on which his salon patrons – Genevieve and various dolls – perched themselves for a haircut by Charles, hairstylist extraordinaire. This was back in Jersey, right before Thanksgiving and holiday pictures.  Charlie cut off one side of Gigi’s long locks with a pair of real scissors.  His cut was clean; he’d somehow achieved a nice beveled edge but the lopsided effect (he’d only cut one side before I happened upon the dreadful scene)  had me in tears, off and on, for the rest of the day.  So now, as this dentist story begins to unfold, I feel quite justified in pursuing my in-depth questioning of my son.  He is known, after all, to be a “master of mischief”  and those who really know him well, are very aware of  his criminal record.

I follow close on the heels of my boy as he journeys with haste to the second floor.  It is imperative that I get a firsthand look at this “pretend” extraction. We enter Charlie’s bedroom.  Gigi lays sprawled across the red comforter on Charlie’s bed….mouth wide open, plastic doctor instruments from the children’s toy medical bag (now turned into “dental” tools) encircle her little body about the bed. She looks over at me happily. Her blissful gaze does reassure me but I do a quick scan of her entire body and the immediate bed environment anyway.  There appears to be no blood.  I look closely at my daughter’s mouth.  All her teeth seem to be there. Nothing’s missing from the two rows of tiny whites, top or bottom, in her dainty mouth. The patient, mouth wide open, is calmly waiting for the dentist to proceed.  I confirm that none of the “medical instruments” are real.  There’s nothing within the “examination” area that looks sharp or metallic in nature.

“Are you in the dental chair, Gigi?” I ask, playing along with the drama.

She nods her little head.  A slight line of drool runs out of the corner of her mouth and begins to pool on the pillow that supports her tiny neck and head.

“Are you okay, honey?  You can close your mouth.  I think the dentist is almost done here.”

“No, I’m not done yet.  Leave your mouth open, Gigi,” Charlie instructs.  “I still have to do an x-ray, then the extraction and then I need to teach her how to brush her teeth properly,”  the dentist explains.  I note that he’s following the real dentist’s script from our recent dental visit (what I remember of it anyway) quite closely.  But, there were no extractions.  In fact, no one in our family has ever had an extraction. I’m puzzled about how Charlie knows the term.  “You can go now,” Charlie says to me, continuing the charade.  “I have everything under control here.  The patient is being very good.”  The patient looks up at her doctor and gives him a wet, drooly grin.

Since I’ve been dismissed by the doctor, I leave the room but not before casting a final glance over my shoulder to survey the patient once more.  The doctor peers into her mouth; she giggles. I run downstairs to grab my notebook and then plant myself on the stairs outside Charlie’s bedroom to begin writing about this moment in time.  I’m in no rush.  What with x-rays, an extraction and the tooth brushing workshop this dentist has planned, it looks as though I’ll be sitting in the waiting room for quite a while.

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