Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

This Just In

New shit has come to light. Today I heard a dentist utter the words “chocolate is actually good for your teeth.”

I have a chunk of chocolate (Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet with Almonds) nestled meltingly atop my grateful tongue as I type.

O. had an appointment with his dentist this morning to get sealants on his molars. (He has apparently inherited my deeply-grooved teeth rather than my Old Man’s relatively shallow – thus not cavity prone – teeth.) Dr. Rose had advised me to let O. snack in the car ride over, since he wouldn’t be allowed to eat for two hours after the sealant was applied, so I gave him a baggie full of almonds. As the good doctor cleaned bits of almond out of his teeth, he told O. “Keep eating almonds. Those won’t give you cavities.” And (ever the eager student of all things oral) I said “That makes sense. I guess protein doesn’t break down into sugars like carbohydrates.” Dr. Rose said “Yes, that, plus the fats in nuts absorb so much acid that they actually help prevent cavities. In fact…” and it was here that he said the magic words:

Chocolate is actually good for your teeth. All that fat just soaks up acids, and there’s an antibacterial agent in cocoa that prevents plaque.” Apparently as long as it’s not adulterated with caramel, raisins, or other sticky agents, chocolate does not cause cavities. Chocolate with nuts would presumably be okay.

I didn’t get a chance to fully probe the intricacies of the chocolate-as-orally-healthful factoid because I was basking in the pool of golden light that bathed me, listening to the transcendent sounds of choirs of angels singing Mendel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Then suddenly the appointment was over and we were given a blue surgical glove blown up into a balloon and ushered out.

I still plan to brush my teeth after eating chocolate (just as I brush my teeth after eating just about anything). But never again will I face the dilemma of whether to cut a chocolate afterglow short with brushing or a vigorous swish of water around the mouth (the next best thing to brushing, in my book). From now on, I will let those beautifully murky cocoa notes linger, safe in the assurance that “chocolate is actually good for my teeth.”

I’m taking my young cousin JD for a visit to Dr. Rose next month, and at that time I will get more details and report back. Until then, consider yourself privy to the new shit.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Family that Rocks Together

My three-year-old son is a drummer. For his birthday in January we got him an honest-to-god drum kit with a bass drum, a floor tom, a snare, and a ride cymbal. It’s small (“ages four and up”), but it’s a real kit. He has already broken one of the drumheads rocking out.

Rewind to the Spring of 2002. As soon as we got pregnant, my Old Man and I began joking that we wanted the kid to be a drummer. We both play guitar and bass, and neither of us plays drums, so in order to fulfill our dream of having an in-house rock band, we needed a drummer. (Hell, we could even take it on the road. Can anyone say Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players?) So you would naturally conclude that we have pushed O. into his current drumming frenzy, but actually, we haven’t. Like the slackers we are, we sort of dropped the ball, figuring we’d get around to pushing him to begin fulfilling our dreams for him later – like maybe when he was four or five.

But our friends were more proactive. One friend, a drummer herself, bought him a little wooden drum with a mallet when he was only five months old (O. used this mostly as a toy wheel for the first two years we had it). Then other friends bought him a little skin drum with a wooden stick for his second birthday. At around two and a half he began losing interest in drums-as-things-to-roll and spontaneously started using his drums as things to hit with sticks, in rhythm. He dumped his matchbox cars out of the tin box we were keeping them in, turned it over, and improvised a third drum for his makeshift kit. He asked to watch the White Stripes live DVD over and over, imitating the beats and scoping out the kit of his favorite drummer, Meg White. He started calling the skin drum his “bass drum” and the upturned tin box his “crack drum” (the term he still uses for his snare). He started trying to figure out how to hang or prop the drums up so they’d be at an angle. He was clearly ready for a kit of his own.

Now it’s a common occurrence in our house to hear O. shout “Mama! I want to rock out in the basement!” or “Daddy, you play bass!” I’ve taught him to say “Louder, please!” instead of just barking “I want it louder!” when we’re listening to music. Yesterday as his dad was unbuckling him from his car seat (after a trip with soundtrack by Wilco), O. observed “Daddy, listening to Wilco makes me want to go in the basement and rock out.” So they went down and rocked. Weekday mornings before I leave for school often find me playing my until-recently neglected Fender Jaguar to the beat of O’s drums. I’ve played more guitar in the three months since O. got his drum kit than I did in the entire three years prior (i.e. from AB to AD – After Birth to Anno Drumkit).

I’m a mighty proud parent. Barely out of diapers, my kid can keep a beat and figure out the patterns in his favorite songs. He’s even come up with a cool drum part for one of my songs, which I often play around the house on my acoustic guitar. (I can’t claim credit for figuring this out – the Old Man, who has a better ear for drums than I, said “E, I think he’s playing a beat for Song X!” I played along, and sure enough, it fit like a charm.) And, O. is more socially adept and far less irrational than the drummer from the last rock band I played in. (Victor, wherever you are, I don’t miss you.)

The family that rocks together… (I challenge you to come up with a rhyming ending for that sentence that is in no way obscene.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

My Young Old Man

Okay, back to the question of the spousal pseudonym. I seem to have landed on one, with some help from the spouse himself. I really liked DoctorMama’s suggestion, “Mr. E.” And Lisa’s astute observation that it’s a homonym for “mystery” just sealed the deal for me. But I’m all about consent and believe people should have some say in how they’re represented when possible, so I checked “Mr. E.” with the man himself. I kind of assumed he’d dig it, frankly, since he’s the person who calls me “E.” more than anyone else. But for various reasons he balked, and I’m much less excited about the name if he’s not into it. So I said “Well, give me a better suggestion.” And unbelievably, his suggestion was: Old Man, as in “My Old Man,” as in the second track on Joni Mitchell’s classic record Blue.

My man (my Old Man) is a big Joni fan. The moment I first learned that Blue is one of his favorite records of all-time, I fell a little bit in love with him. So the whole “old man” thing has to be understood in the context of the song. Reader, if you are not familiar with Joni Mitchell’s Blue, go out, find a copy, and learn.

My Old Man is a funny name for my beloved, given that he’s fully four years younger than me with nary a gray hair on his dark head. He’s also not a hippie, not at all. (He’s more of an aging skate punk, indie rocker, and idealistically cynical intellectual.) And the Old Man of Joni’s song, while he may not actually be all that old, is certainly a hippie. It’s a hippie song. It’s the hippiest song on a record that is pretty damned hippie. Here’s some basic facts about Joni’s old man, as compared to mine:

My old man, he’s a singer in the park.

My old man has been known to sing, but not in parks. More in bars. He might be moved to do some busking if family finances got tight, but I think he’d prefer to stick to singing on a stage in a bar, preferably with other members of a band playing with him.

He’s a walker in the rain, he’s a dancer in the dark.

As romantic as walking in the rain may sound, my old man tries to avoid it. He did get caught in the rain biking home from school last week, though, and got right soaked.

A dancer in the dark? Is that a euphemism for sex? If so, okay, we’re good. If not? Well, he is a good dancer, and dances around the house quite a bit. Sometimes he dances with me, and I’m kind of a dork. So he’s more of a dancer with a dork than a dancer in the dark.

We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall,
Keepin’ us tried and true.

Alright, here’s the hippiest bit of the hippiest song in our CD collection. I happen to know that my mom and stepdad (before they tied the knot in an intimate living room ceremony where the guests sat in a circle on the floor while a Sufi minister named Waduda married them) used to think of this line as representing their unconventional lifetime union. I love them both dearly, and they are big time hippies. And of course, needing to rebel somehow, I never considered marriage a particular compromise (more a socially constructed institution to be radically revised), so my old man and I got ourselves a piece of paper from City Hall within two years of moving in together. But I guess our commitment and fidelity prior to our wedding shows that we don’t need it. Okay, so hippie as they are, these lines can stand.

Oh, my old man, keepin’ away my blues.

Yes, this works.

Okay, so here’s our version of the old man song:

My old man, he’s a singer in a bar,
He’s a biker in the rain, he’s a dancer with a dork.
We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall,
(but we got one, a wedding, too),
oh, my old man, keepin’ away my blues.

So, the next time you hear me mention my “old man,” you’ll know who I’m talking about. And you may suddenly find your head swimming with a handful of silly mental images set to the tune of a Joni song.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tripping with Toddler

So, O. and I are back from our visit to Santa Fe. A trip that from the flatlands of central Illinois to the mountains of central New Mexico is bound to have its highs and lows, especially when you’re traveling alone with a three-year-old. So here are some high points and low points of my Spring Break Trip with Toddler.

Air travel high points:

  • Finding that O. is now able to amuse himself for almost the entire duration of a lengthy flight, allowing me to read my own book for most of the flight on both flights out and back, with only occasional breaks to read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel aloud. On the flights out I read Kay Ryan’s Niagra River. (Ryan is the perfect poet to read on a plane. Her poems are like bon bons, small and pleasantly dense.) On the flights home I read most of Nicholson Baker’s Vox, a novel in the form of an extended session of phone sex. (Vox is funny and readable. At first I was surprised by how unsexy it was, given the premise, but as it developed I began to find parts of it quite sexy in some strange and endearingly dorky ways.)

  • Watching our short, stubble-faced steward grimace and make strange, humming noises while demonstrating the plane’s safety features. For some reason I was the only person on the packed plane who laughed at the muffled mouth sounds accompanying each of his movements as he donned the sample oxygen mask and tightened its straps.

Air travel low points:

  • Being privy to a painful extended conversation between an unwilling participant and a relentless blabbermouth across the aisle from us. The scruffy college dude’s body language (turning his entire torso away from his chatty neighbor and toward the window) and complete reticence unless pressed to answer a specific question sent a clear message that the clean-scrubbed and insistently bubbly woman talking his ear off seemed unwilling to receive.

  • Lunching with a screaming banshee during a three-hour layover in Denver on the trip home. Although O. was unbelievably well behaved on both flights there and back (prompting one nearby passenger to exaggeratedly mouth the words “he’s so good!” to me as we exited the plane), he decided to throw a full-on, unremitting fit the moment the food arrived at the sit-down airport bistro I chose in a moment of overconfidence. When it became clear that this was a don’t-you-dare-try-to-reason-with-me kind of fit, I attempted every strategy of compromise and containment I could think of, with no success. Finally I removed all food and utensils from his reach and let him continue to shriek convulsively as I sat back calmly munching down my pesto panini, thanking Christ that I’d never see any of the bistro’s other patrons ever again.

Incidentally, O. sacked out in a tear-streaked nap in his stroller immediately after the lunch debacle, and I promptly bought and ate the ice cream I’d promised to get him if he “had a good lunch.” When he woke up, he happily ate the spaghetti that had caused him so much consternation at the bistro and proceeded to charm the pants off the guy sitting next to us at our gate. Toddler, thy name is Jekyll and Hyde.

I was going to make a list of the high and low points of the actual visit with my friend K. in Santa Fe, but I find that in fact there were no low points. Santa Fe is beautiful, and so are the surrounding mountains and high desert. It was lovely to see my dear old friend again, and O. bonded with her immediately. He began talking her ear off as soon as she picked us up at the airport and by the time we had the car seat installed in her car in the airport parking lot, he was saying “K, I love you,” a sentiment which warmed my heart entirely. K. and I mused later on what might account for his taking to her so quickly, whether it was some memory of the last time he saw her (when he was only fifteen months old) or an intuitive sense of how important she is to me. Whatever the reason, it was wonderful to witness the little person I love most in all the world take so strongly to another person I love dearly. It made the fourteen hours we spent in cars, planes, and airports yesterday more than worth the trouble.

On another note entirely, do you find it irritating that this here brown floral template (which I chose because it reminded me of Jane Austen and I was teaching Emma at the time) uses flowers for bullets in lists? I do. That's a bit too fucking cute. Weigh in, if you would. And have a lovely day, and an excellent Spring Break, if you're lucky enough to have one.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Non-Pseudonymous Spouse

I have failed to come up with a spousal pseudonym, as I promised to do in my first non-fake post . I tried. “Oral Hygiene King” wouldn’t work because though my dear has great teeth, he doesn’t really share my obsession. (He has, however, gotten much more fastidious about oral hygiene due to my influence, a fact I find quite endearing. He even asked for his own electric brush head for the Sonicare a few months after I bought it. I was verklemt, I tell you.) “Oral King” would be funny and accurate (I am a lucky woman), but I kind of hate to reduce the complexity of the love of my life to his skills down under, important though they may be. That’s really been the sticker, the whole “reducing the complexity” thing. I have trouble with that. It’s why I’m always a little uncomfortable chanting at political rallies. I’m at Take Back the Night and everyone’s like “Yes means fuck me! No means fuck you!” And I’m thinking Or maybe no means "Thanks, but I’m really not in the mood right now," or "I like you fine as a friend, but I’m really not interested in taking things to that level," or…

(My favorite advice regarding the spousal pseudonym came from Tobias, who suggested “Knox Harrington, Video Artist.” While I loved the idea, it seemed 1. cumbersome and 2. likely to confuse any person not intimately familiar with The Big Lebowski, if such a person exists.)

Anyway, whatever his name is, I’ve been appreciating my husband even more than usual lately. Partly this is because O. has been sick, running a fever and just generally acting listless and sad, and my man, who is always a wonderful and tender daddy, has been even more sweet and loving to O. in his time of woe. It’s touching to behold or to overhear from the other room, and I find it quite a turn-on as well. I never liked that cheesy poster of the shirtless, bemuscled hunk holding the naked newborn in his big manly mitts, but a real man tenderly caring for a real child? That’s hot.

I’m also missing my man already in anticipation of the five days O. and I are going to be away from him. We are heading out to New Mexico tomorrow to visit my best friend, which will be great fun. But I’ll miss my dear. And the thought of O. being away from his dad exacerbates that missing in a strange, intense way. It’s like I’m missing O. vicariously, for my husband, or feeling sad at the very thought of them being apart.

All the while I’m feeling these tender feelings, though, I’m also thinking of ways for said husband to be productive around the house while we’re away. I’ve already thought up (and tactfully suggested) at least three fairly major projects he could undertake in the days we’re gone, in addition to the freelance work he’ll be doing to earn cash. He said to me “You have this idea that time will just stretch out endlessly while you’re away,” and I had to admit that was true. I haven’t been away from O. for more than two days since he was born, and have never been completely alone in my house for more than a few hours since then. Like many parents of young children, I think of my life BC and wonder “What the hell did I do with all my time back then?” I can’t believe I didn’t write a novel and sew a quilt and learn how to speak Chinese with that limitless free time.

I forget that I have always been exceptionally good at wasting time. And part of what’s cool about having a kid is that you get to sit around the house and goof off and play, and instead of wasting time you’re being a responsible adult and an active, involved parent.

So, I’m outta here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day one day early. Drink some green beer and then go find some snakes to drive away, like the beloved saint himself.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Meme Me, Smartypants

Feral Mom has tagged me, so here I go with Four Things:

Four jobs I've had:
1. Electrician’s delivery drone (first job ever, working for my stepdad)
2. Tour Guide at the Wisconsin state capitol (wore a bow tie & a vest with a crest)
3. Waitress at a sushi restaurant (amiable chefs taught me how to enjoy raw fish)
4. “Teaching Assistant” (i.e. underpaid college instructor, assisting no one but my cranky self)

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. The Big Lebowski
2. Flirting with Disaster
3. Waking Life
4. Freaks and Geeks (not technically a movie, but once I own the DVD set of this brilliant show's sole season, I treat it like a 16-hour epic to be watched over and over, each time reaching the final episode and crying "Why couldn't we get just one more season? Why? Why? WHY?")

Four places I’ve lived:
1. Chicago, Illinois
2. Sheboygan, Wisconsin
3. Maynooth, Ireland
4. Los Angeles, California

Four places I’ve been on vacation:
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
2. The Swiss Alps, near Lucerne
3. Quetzaltenengo, Guatemala
4. Glacier National Park in Montana

Four web sites I visit daily:
1. McSweeney’s
2. Common Dreams
3. Gone Feral
4. The Love Letter Connection

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Dark chocolate
2. Avocados
3. Almost anything Thai, but especially Pad See-Ew
5. Pie (of both the pizza variety and peach/apple/blueberry variety)

Places I’d rather be:
1. Curled up in a soft chair with a cup of tea, reading
2. Hiking in the mountains
3. Rocking out
4. In bed

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
1. Dawn
2. Naïve-No-More
3. Sweatpants Mom
4. Angel of God

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I Am a Feminist, and…

It’s International Women's Day and blog against sexism day, and I want to take this opportunity to put in a good word for feminism, sexism’s worst enemy. Feminism is that handy little -ism that’s so hard to define but so easy to love. Have you ever felt afraid of feminism? Don’t be embarrassed – many people have at one time or another. (As a teenager, I myself was occasionally heard to say things like “I’m not a feminist, but… I think it fucking sucks that women earn 68 cents for every dollar a man earns!”) Here’s a few general truths about feminism that may help to allay any residual suspicions you have:

1. Feminism has improved the lives of many women all over the world. Feminist movements have helped women in various cultures gain the right to vote, to work, to control their reproductive lives, to marry whom they choose when and if they choose, to divorce, to own property, to not be considered property, among countless other basic human rights. Feminism is still fighting for all of these things around the world and right here at home.

2. Feminism has a long and glorious history. Check out the great and readable overview in the new issue of Bitch magazine.

3. Feminism inspires smart, funny, pissed-off, culture-savvy magazines like Bitch. And ass-kicking bands like Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, and Luscious Jackson. And lovably crusty, unapologetic, erudite, culinarily tasteful blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy .

4. Feminism promotes the interests of women and men. Honest. Rigid gender roles suck, have you noticed? This is true for men as well as for women. Feminism wants to make sure that men can cry without feeling like losers, enjoy honest emotional connection with both men and women, and follow sports or not according to their inclination. Feminism works for a world where everyone, regardless of gender, can choose a career they really love, feel good about their as-is body, and get the respect that all human beings deserve.

5. Feminism does not try to sell you things. If something masquerading as feminism tries to sell you a diamond ring , a cigarette, a thigh-firming cream , or a boob job, you can bet that it’s not really feminism. (Okay, actually feminism may try to sell you things like washable menstrual pads, dildos, or shirts that say What Would Joan Jett Do . But we can safely say that feminism won’t hit you with slick ads selling nasty shit made by heartless corporations.)

6. Feminism promotes better sex. More choices, more respect, more honesty, more comfort with both bodies of whatever sex and gender, more possibilities to figure out who it is you really want to have sex with, more positions. And then there’s all those dildos… Truly, the idea that feminism is anti-sex is a myth. (The only kind of feminism that’s anti-sex is anti-sex feminism, but that’s a miniscule subgenre and we haven’t been hearing much from them lately because all the lipstick feminists and pro-porn feminists and GLBT pride folks have been partying so loudly.)

7. Feminism thinks about the big picture and reminds privileged Americans not to get too complacent. Feminism reminds me that in my own country, reproductive rights are under fire, two out of three adults living in poverty are women, and violence against women is rampant. It makes me aware of the horrors that are systematically committed against women and girls around the world, from female circumscision to female infanticide to suttee, and reminds me that globally approximately 90% of sweatshop workers are women. At its best, feminism understands that sexism is intertwined with and exacerbated by racism, nationalism, class privilege, corporate greed, and homophobia.

So run out now and subscribe to Bitch, or Ms. if that’s more your style. (Or both, what the hell!) Read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks, Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, and Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. Join NOW. Support Planned Parenthood or NARAL. Work your ass off to have George W. Bush impeached. It’s what Joan Jett would want you to do.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Saving the Earth, One Boar's Hair Toothbrush at a Time

I love my local health food store. I buy stuff there all the time even though I know it’s overpriced. But I regret one purchase I made there recently: an “alternative” toothbrush. My advice to you as an amateur oral hygiene expert: do not buy your toothbrush at a health food store.

Why was I drawn to this toothbrush? Was it made of organic hemp? Produced without the use of harsh chemicals? No. I was drawn to the toothbrush because it had a replaceable head. One you’re done with it, instead of tossing the whole thing, you remove the head and replace it with a new one, thereby throwing away a little less plastic. Less plastic headed to the landfill, less plastic needing to be produced using petrochemicals and creating industrial waste. Just a little less, yes, but every little bit counts, right?

It still seems like a not bad idea, generally speaking. And maybe if Metadent or Oral B decided to produce toothbrushes with replaceable heads, it would be. But this was not an Oral B. The bristles were not nice, slick nylon (or whatever they make normal toothbrush bristles out of). They were something else. Boar hair, I think. Or petrified sagebrush, or some other dirty, gritty thing. After I brushed my teeth with these bristles, they felt less clean rather than more. And even worse, the experience of brushing was totally ruined. It was like rubbing something really grainy and vile against my teeth, something like… well, boar hair. I shudder at the memory.

At that point I should have thrown the horrible thing away, certainly. But I did not. I immediately went back to brushing with my regular, fully disposable toothbrush. But I left the boar's hair toothbrush in my medicine cabinet. I don’t know why. I think I hoped that if I tried it again, I’d find that it wasn’t so terribly disgusting after all. Like maybe I’d get used to the feeling of having the coarse hairs of a dirty beast’s underbelly drug across my unsuspecting teeth. But when I tried again, it was just as gross, and finally I had to throw the thing away, along with its extra replaceable head.

Why oh why did I keep it after I learned of its nasty nature? Because I am a tree-hugging, bleeding heart environmentalist with a serious case of impending doom syndrome. I’ve always tried to do my part to keep the air clean, limit my garbage output, and conserve resources, but lately this has all begun to seem more pressing. Lately I’ve become convinced that between global warming and oil depletion we humans are in deep, deep shit. Suddenly I feel more desperate to do any little thing I can to buck the rushing tide of American consumption and ecological carelessness.

I want to say something pithy here at the end, but I think I’ll just shut up before I start ranting. Stay tuned and before long and I’m sure you’ll hear more. (But not about boar’s hair toothbrushes. I’m done with them.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Nice Ash

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Growing up, Ash Wednesday meant attending mass and having a priest impress the ashes of palm fronds on my forehead in the shape of a cross. In my northside Chicago neighborhood, where almost everyone who wasn’t black or Jewish was Catholic, walking around with a smudgy cross on your forehead on Ash Wednesday was fairly common and no big deal. But when my family moved up to a small, predominantly Protestant town in Wisconsin, I began to notice that “Christian” and “Catholic” were far from synonymous. I also began to feel a little weird walking around with a dirty forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Our move to Wisconsin coincided with the onset of full-on adolescence and an attendant upspike in my self-consciousness. I began to have very unlentlike feelings as I sat in mass on Ash Wednesday, feelings that would be more accurately described as vain. Please God, let him draw a decent cross on my forehead. Amen. To me, there was something potentially attractive about a thin trace of ashes clearly discernable as a cross. However, most priests and deacons have big thumbs and few seem to have the artistic talent and patience that a really good ash-cross-drawn-on-forehead-with-thumb requires. So rather than a cruciform brushstroke that might make a teenage boy say “Wow, you make devotion look so… attractive,” you get a greasy smudge right in the center of your t-zone that might make a teenage boy say “Hey, dork, you have dirt on your face.”

I didn’t attend mass today. My complex love/hate relationship with Catholicism is something best gone into over a few beers when you have at least a couple hours to spare. But as I walk around, I notice that I’m judging the forehead of the occasional ash-wearer I see on strictly aesthetic grounds. Too bad, kid. That ash looks like the work of a muddy puppy... or Oh, man. You got a nice one. I might’ve gone to mass today if I could've gotten some good ash like that.

And now, I must look heavenward and apologize to both of my beloved grandmothers. I hope they understand. But if not, at least I know they're praying for me.