I know I’m not a perfect parent,and I know I never will be. And it’s not my goal. Honest. But everyday I try to make sure my kids know that they are loved, that we care for them, and that the times we tell them no or set boundaries are because of that love. I don’t know how much they’re absorbing at this young age, but I know it’s still important.
Because I’m flawed (see above), I probably let them do shit I wasn’t allowed to get away with when I was a kid.
Take Play-Doh, for one.
Sophie is big into Play-Doh these days. And can you blame her? A new can of Play-Doh is a beautiful thing. Open the lid and you can see where the machine sliced off the glob as it was deposited in the canister. It’s cool to the touch when you squeeze it between your fingers. It’s unused. Perfect. There is nothing like it.
Her latest obsession is watching people on YouTube mold it into various forms – mostly princess dresses – and shape it around small, plastic Disney princesses. Don’t ask; I had no idea (and still can’t believe) that this is a thing. While my kids admittedly spend a lot of time in front of electronic devices, thankfully they enjoy other activities that work their brains and bodies. (If it were up to me, there would be fewer princesses involved, but this is possibly karmic; I was completely anti-girly anything growing up.)
We didn’t play with much Play-Doh as kids. It was messy and could get ground into carpeting and upholstery; my dad was fanatical about preventing this. It’s possible my brother and I were allowed to, on rare occasions, play with it in the garage on newspaper over a tarp in rubber hazmat suits. I’m sure we owned a Play-Doh fun factory of some sort that was used once and abandoned in the corner of the playroom in the basement. And since it was one of the forbidden toys of my childhood, it’s possible I am an overly enthusiastic supporter of Sophie playing with Play-Doh and creatively using her imagination as much as possible. And I’m sure there are plenty of other things I let them do because of something from my childhood. It seems so Psych 101 cliche, but it’s truth.
Fun factory business aside, I know there are areas of my parenting that need improvement. And one of them is huge. It’s so huge it pains me to even write about it here, but life is rarely perfect and sometimes a mess, like the Play-Doh that your little brother has dropped on the floor that’s picked up dog hair and dirt and crushed Cheerios.
On Monday, Sophie went to see our dentist for the first time. Yes. First time. She is five years old.
I’ll give you a moment to pass any judgment you feel necessary.
When she turned three, I read that it was time to take her to the dentist. I looked at this little girl who couldn’t hold her shit together in the pediatrician’s office, who screamed bloody murder when we took her to the salon to get her bangs cut – not her entire head – just her bangs. The girl who’d panic and freak out if someone smiled at her at church or in a store. There was no way she’d be able to handle the dentist. Even the pediatrician advised me to wait. So we did.
And then before I knew it, she was turning five, getting ready to go to kindergarten and hadn’t been to the dentist. We knew we couldn’t put it off any longer.
The days leading up to the visit were filled with a lot of comments about being afraid and not liking the dentist. I tried to assure her that he was only going to check her teeth and maybe take a picture. I ended up picking up a small toy as bribery. (I know, I know. But I feared a complete meltdown in the office.)
Sophie sat like a champ, seemed to not be too freaked out about the chair, the lights, the dentist poking around in her mouth. Her little fingers were clasped together tightly; I could tell she was nervous, but she was so grown up. I was so proud and relieved.
As the dentist counted her teeth and rattled off dentist-type things to the hygienist, I could tell that everything wasn’t completely fine, which was what I was ultimately afraid would happen. Sophie might get her sandy brown hair from her father, but she definitely gets shitty, completely fucked up teeth from me.
I won’t go into all the decay details, because quite honestly, I’m ashamed. She has likely inherited some crummy teeth genes from me, but I also haven’t been a stickler with her regarding dental hygiene. It’s a battle that some days I’ve chosen to avoid (and yes, some days it’s a complete fucking battle). When the pediatrician recommended the kids take a fluoride supplement and they both were hysterical about it, I gave up and stopped filling the prescription. We’ve encouraged them to brush, but after handing off the toothbrush, I’ve walked away and haven’t been a great teacher.
The genetics, the teachable moments failed. I blame myself for all of it.
Sophie has a lot of dental work ahead of her. I’ve told her she’ll need to go back to get her teeth “healthy,” but that’s all she knows. She doesn’t know it will involve nitrous and novocaine and drilling and possibly a trip to a pediatric dentist if she can’t handle it in our family dental office. And we’re not talking one visit – God, how I wish it was just one visit – we’re talking at least four. I wish I had a time machine or that I could take on all the dental work for her. I would do it ten times over if I could spare her the misery.
The dentist visit was on the morning I received my GD diagnosis, so in all, it was a pretty rotten day. Inadequacies heaped upon inadequacies. Sometimes, this is parenthood. Sometimes I feel so completely unequipped for this. I feel like my parenting resembles anything but that perfect can of modeling compound.
I’m not sure how my daughter will do with her upcoming dentist visits. If there was ever a time I wish she could understand that I do the things I do to show her what I believe makes up a strong woman, it’s now. But she’s five years old. Then again, I could be underestimating her strength. Let’s hope.
And it goes without saying that my son’s ass will be in that dentist’s chair the minute he turns three.