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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Friday, June 30, 2006

Six is Company - Six is a Crowd

So, here I am in New Jersey, spending what amounts to a month with my husband's family. Someone out there may be wondering Why in the name of Christ and all his long-haired friends would you do that? When I've mentioned our East Coast summer plans to friends or aquaintances, the response often amounts to that.

In fact, this is the fourth summer that my Old Man and I have packed up the Saturn, strapped O. into his car seat, and headed out to spend a month on the Jersey shore with my in-laws.

The why is a bit complicated, but basically simmers down to two reasons. One: my man grew up less than a mile from the ocean, and now we live in a landlocked part of the Midwest. He needs to spend time near the ocean in order to retain his sanity. I love him very much, and I know he needs this. Two: my Old Man's parents love their only grandchild to distraction and get to see him just a few times a year. I want O. to really know his grandparents in a way that you can only know people you've spent expanses of time with. O. is lucky enough to live near my folks (though, given that my mom and stepdad are hardcore Westcoasters, how that came about is a post of its own), and this trip gives him the chance to live with my Old Man's folks.

The actual visit is wonderful in some ways, and hellish in others. The pros outweigh the cons, or else I never would have come back after the first (and hardest) month-long summer visit. My mother-in-law is sweet and very easy to get along with, my father-in-law is completely well-meaning and annoying only in the relatively minor ways that make me realize how really petty I am for being driven momentarily insane by them. My Old Man's adult sister is warm, funny, and unabashedly weird, and over the years we've grown so close that she feels like a sister rather than an in-law. The advantages to having these good people in-house are easy to rattle off: the Old Man and I sleep in together almost every morning we're here, we have free childcare just about any time we want it from people who love our son, and people are constantly cooking for us (and if we're not careful, cleaning up after us). Add to that the perks of our location in a hip Jersey shore town: we're a ten-minute drive from the ocean, a 45 minute train ride from NYC, and close to more excellent dining than we could ever hope to (or afford to) enjoy in one month.

I admit that I also love the crowded chaos, most of the time. I grew up in the same house as grandparents and aunts, a house where it wasn't unusual to find second cousins sleeping on the laundry room floor because every available bed and couch was taken by some other family member. My family is loud and loving and sometimes pushy and annoying, and cramming a bunch of us into one house for an extended visit was always fun, even if tears were sometimes shed and doors slammed. Sitting around the overcrowded dinner table with my son, husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandmother-in-law, sis-in-law, and brother-in-law-to-be, with everyone talking over one another and affectionate jokes competing with mildly cutting sarcasm - it all feels very right, more often than not.

But it's hard, too. This isn't my family, and that makes it easier for me. It is my Old Man's family, and that makes it much more challenging for him. These people do not push my buttons, but they ride his. I think the hardest thing for me about this set-up, harder than the relative lack of privacy, sharing a computer with four other adults, or trying to read a book while my father-in-law persists in making inane small talk with me, is seeing my beloved man at his most adolescent. Sometimes he's unrecognizable. And I get so irritated, at the same time that I do not blame him. I try to imagine spending a week under my father's roof, much less a month, and I know I would be so much worse. Still, it's a strain on our relationship. And that much more because we can't even have a decent argument in the privacy of our own home.

So that's when you have to fight adolescent regression with adolescent therapies. This evening, I found myself grabbing my Old Man by the hand and dragging him out the door for a long walk and a serious talk. It's only day three of the visit, but already we needed it. We ended up sitting in the grass in a field not far from his folks' house like a pair of teenagers in relationship-crisis-mode. We got the space we needed and reconnected. (But before we could do that we had to do something I never had to worry about as a teenager: ask his mom if she'd watch our kid while we went and dealt with our angst.)

After my man and I had worked shit out, I came back in and had a couple glasses of a very nice pinot noir. So let me end with props to the unacknowledged ingredient that allows us to pull off this marathon visit: my in-laws' well-stocked wine rack.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What the Fecking Heck?

After fifteen hours of driving, most of it through torrential rain in Pennsylvania, we arrived at my in-laws' Jersey shore home yesterday. O. was greeted with great joy by his excited grandparents and adoring aunt. My Old Man and I both slept in this morning (woo hoo!). Soon after I finally spilled out of bed, as I made my way to the bathroom, I heard the my boy's voice echoing up the stairs. "What the hell?" he was exclaiming in the dulcet tones of an indignant toddler.

"Hell" - not so bad. At least he got through the whole "shit in the buttocks" phase before we made this trip. Given that I swear like a sailor and the Old Man swears like a syphilitic sailor on a twelve-hour shore leave, we're lucky he's not busting out blue streaks left and right. Still, we've been trying to get him to drop the word "hell" in preparation for the extended visit to the East Coast grandparents.

A couple of days before we left, my Old Man was reminding him that "grown-ups say 'hell' and kids say 'heck.'" O. had an admission to make: "Daddy, when I'm in the kitchen and you and Mama are in the living room, I say 'Hell yes!' But when you and Mama come in the kitchen I say 'Heck yes!'"

I appreciate his honesty. And I'm trying not to get too bummed that at three my kid is already exclaiming "Hell yes!" when his parents leave the room. I guess we should be happy that we at least get a "Heck yes!" when we return.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hitting the Road

I have thirty seconds to write this post in between trying to cram the potty seat into the big suitcase and rushing off to make cashew-ginger sauce with soba noodles to eat at the hotel tonight. The Oral Hygiene family is heading out on a five-week road trip. Here's our itinerary:

  • Two days on the road to the Jersey shore to see my Old Man's family
  • Three weeks living under the same roof as my Old Man's parents and adult sister
  • A week in Cape Cod hanging out at the beach and writing poetry (I'll be writing poetry in addition to the beach, thanks to a grant I got to study at a small, windblown artists colony; the Old Man and O. will just be beaching it)
  • Back to the Jersey shore for another week with the East Coast grandparents and aunt
  • Two days on the road home to the Midwest

  • My thirty seconds is up. I'll be posting from Chez In-Laws when we arrive in New Jersey.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Party at Chez Feral

    Recipe for the Perfect Kids' Birthday Party:

    Mix a roughly equal proportion of wisecracking adults and adorable kids. Allow children to scamper freely and remove clothes to taste. Add liberal amounts of beer and wine. Throw in two homemade pastel birthday cakes for the kiddies and one sinfully rich chocolate cake from the local upscale bakery for the adults. Set aside party favors and magician for a different recipe. Stir children and adults in varying combinations for four to five hours. Add a bath for the birthday girls, throwing an additional small guest or two into the water for good measure; remove when pruney. Fold in an impromptu blues trio of two kids and an adult and simmer until it forms a quartet. Strain out happy guests when kids begin to droop. Knead sulky feline as he emerges from the shadows. Tuck freshly bathed newly-two-year-olds into a bed of crisp linen. Dim lights as the remaining pair of parents sneak off to the basement to continue the party.

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    A Cymbal of Our Love

    I have already mentioned my son the drummer and the little drum kit we got him for his third birthday. At first, we hesitated to get it for him, because the catalogue indicated that it was for “ages four and up.” Maybe he wouldn’t be ready for it. Quite the contray, it was not ready for him. Within the first month, he busted the head of the snare drum. We brought it into the local drum shop and they worked hard to find a replacement head that fit, finally landing on the ingenious idea of using a banjo head. About a month ago, the cymbal broke, though this was no huge loss given that it was always the weak link in this cheap little kit, sounding tinny and thin even in its prime. We shelled out a little over a hundred bucks for the kit, and I guess we got what we paid for.

    Last week, O’s replacement cymbal came, an honest-to-god Zildjian cymbal and stand. O. was beside himself with excitement, and since then he has told just about every person he’s talked to about his new cymbal. Ever since the day he got his drums, O. has gone through the same ritual each time we walk down the basement stairs to go “rock out.” He crouches as he gets to the middle of the stairs, as if to be able to see his drums just a moment earlier, and then exclaims “there’s my drums!” as though he wasn’t 100% sure they’d still be there. Now he’s added a new element to the ritual, the earnest profession “I love my new cymbal.”

    I can see why he loves it. It truly is beautiful, both to look at and to hear. Instead of a thudding little tin shot, it has a clear, sonorous ring and responds to different intensities of impact with a variety of sounds, from a soft, clipped tsk tsk tsk to a full, echoing crash. It’s a good thing it sounds so nice, because it was damned expensive. It would have cost about $100 if it hadn’t been for our friend’s discount at the music supply company he works for (thanks big O!). As it was we paid merely $50. It’s a good thing I didn’t realize how fucking expensive drum parts are, or I might not have been as exuberant in my desire to encourage little O’s percussive proclivities. But really, it wouldn’t have mattered. This is any rockstar-wannabe mama’s wet dream.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    In Which I Cop to Being Sentimental

    Not long ago, NPR ran a story about a new medical theory that suggests that babies’ cells remain in the mother after birth and help her body repair itself when she’s ill. Actually, there are a number of theories about what these cells-o'-offspring do in the mother’s body, but the fact that they hang around seems to be established.

    I was thinking about this idea today as I found myself in tears while playing my guitar. Ever since I had O., I cannot play the song “Unwed Fathers” by John Prine without breaking down in the third verse. Every single time, it happens, and I’ve played this song a hundred times in the three years since I gave birth to my boy. I also played it many times prior to his birth, often while I was pregnant with him (when I was playing shows in an old-time country trio I was in, my guitar getting sidewayser and sidewayser as my belly emerged), and though I always found the song moving and very sad, I never actually shed tears.

    The song (a great, quietly intelligent song with a huge heart) tells the tale of an impoverished teenage mother leaving home to have her baby, and the verse that brings on the waterworks goes:

    In a somewhere-else-bound Smokey Mountain Greyhound,
    she bows her head down, hummin’ lullabies.
    “Your daddy never meant to hurt you, ever.
    He just don’t live here, but you’ve got his eyes.”

    I am getting misty as I type this, damn my eyes! There’s just something so poignant about the image of this young woman full of love for her newborn baby and magnanimity toward the out-of-the-picture teenage father who “can’t be bothered” and “runs like water through a mountain stream.” And also probably a deep melancholy that she is not able to give the baby a dad. She’s already explaining it to the tiny child.

    Now that I am a mother, the image hits me in a deeper, more visceral way than it ever did. Not that I think it’s necessarily a tragedy for a kid not to have a dad in the picture. In some cases, no dad at all is better than the dad you’re dealt. And I am all for two good moms raising a kid, or a single mom or single dad with the help of family members and/or close friends. But I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a young girl raising a baby on her own, and I know it’s always a heartbreak for a child to deal with the void left by losing a parent, however and whenever the parent is lost. I guess the song also hits me hard because I am so lucky to have a child with my Old Man, who is a wonderful parent and a very loving dad. The thought of O. not having his dad in his life due to whatever circumstance is heart rending to me.

    But the tears that come unbidden each time I play this song don’t come from thoughts like those above. They just come, and they always surprise me. I know it’s not little O. cells floating around in me sending me the message to cry. But it kind of feels that way, it’s that reflexive. I only play the song every so often, so when I do I always assume that this time I’ll be able to get through it. I haven’t yet, though. I've always been a sap deep inside, but clearly motherhood has made me sappier still. Not that I think that’s a bad thing.

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    On Eagle’s Wings

    Ah, the eagle, that venerable symbol of freedom and spiritual power. I didn’t even know that my son knew what an eagle was, but this afternoon as I was lounging about with O. and my Old Man I learned something new about eagles. New and rather disturbing. Here’s the transcript.

    O: (apropos of nothing ) Mama, eagles poop in your butt!

    Me: What?!?

    O: (changing his story) I said that eagles poop in your butter.

    Me: Whoa!

    O: Yes. That’s why that is for. (points up.)

    Me: The roof?

    O: Yes, the roof is for stopping eagles poopin’ in your butter.

    Me: (stunned silence.)

    My Old Man: Wow. I’ve never appreciated the roof so much. It also keeps the rain out. But it’s been doing a great job with the eagle poop.

    I’ll never look at eagles the same way. And I'm keeping the lid on my butter, roof or no roof.

    Friday, June 09, 2006

    The Tooth Trip: It Need Not Be a Bummer

    As promised , I’m back to share with you some of the wisdom of my favorite hippie dentist, Dr. Thomas McGuire, DDS, author of The Tooth Trip. While it’s tempting to just quote far-out passages full of trippy language and good vibes, my first obligation is to acknowledge that this book is a treasure trove of useful information about oral hygiene. It was written in 1972, so some of the details about the technology of dentistry are outdated, but mostly Dr. McGuire’s advice is of the timeless, commonsense variety. That said, it’s also worth noting that the guy plants his freak flag firmly in just about every paragraph. Money is always “bread,” any concern or preoccupation is referred to as a “trip,” significant others go by the worthy title of “old man” or “old lady,” and good things are inevitably “groovy” or “far out.”

    It Need Not Be Bummer

    So, to acknowledge the double appeal of sound advice and hippie prose, I’ll share with you a few of the good doctor’s maxims, then reward you (in advance) for following them with a choice excerpt from his book.

    • Brush after every meal and floss daily. (Basic, but the question is: do you do it? If so, pat yourself on the back and take a congratulatory toke from that roach sitting in the ashtray next to you.)
    • Brush thoroughly – Dr. M. recommends two and a half minutes per brushing, no less no more. (Though two minutes is industry standard, in my experience.)
    • Don’t drink soda. Full of sugar and phosphoric acid, “both bummers,” in the parlance of 1972.
    • Rinse your mouth with water after drinking anything else. Rinse with water after eating if you can’t brush.
    • If you like to suck lemons, do so in moderation and rinse thoroughly with water afterward. Citric acid can dissolve the enamel and dentin of your teeth very quickly.
    • Don’t ignore bleeding gums, a clear indication of the first stage of gum disease. Step up your oral hygiene program, and if the bleeding continues, see a dentist.
    • Eat whole grains rather than heavily processed grains whenever possible. Eat raw fruits and vegetables daily, especially crunchy varieties.
    A significant section of The Tooth Trip offers detailed advice on how to suss out a good dentist, and how to get the best care from your dentist once you’ve chosen one. As the caption to the illustration above shows, Dr. McGuire believes that “the first appointment need not be a bummer.”

    He also believes that potentially painful dental work need not be a bummer. And one way to prevent pain is to embrace some friendly, fully legal drugs:

    The better the dentist, the more likely are the chances that he will use gas (nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas). Gas is an anesthetic and when used in moderate amounts is safe and really is effective in helping to relieve dental anxiety. Try it – have him start on “low”; you can always tell him if you want more. Mentally it’s a trip and if you like getting stoned, you’ll really get off on gas.

    Good advice: you can always tell him (or her) if you want more.

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    I'm the One Who Took Your Rug

    I took the quiz. I learned the truth about myself.

    Why don't you check it out? Or we cut off your Johnson!

    I came across this quiz on Sandwich Flats, and I could not resist. And, I shit you not, I watched The Big Lebowski just last night. If I had to guess, I'd say it was my twenty-third complete viewing (partial viewings would be too many to count).

    In reality, I think the Lebowski quiz is only partly correct. I am actually a blend, equal parts Maude and the Dude. It's a little confusing at times, but it's a good place to be.

    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Unconventional Undergarment

    Let’s say you are a teacher, and you’ve been at school all afternoon and now have a formal-ish dinner event to attend nearby, and you’ve brought a dress and shoes to change into for the formal-ish event, but then you realize that the dress is rather sheer and you’ve neglected to bring a slip along. And let’s say you make this realization five minutes before you’re supposed to arrive at the event in question. Do you:

    A. Say “formal, schmormal” and go, wearing the red capris and pocket t-shirt you’ve been wearing all day.

    B. Call your spouse and beg him to rush over with a slip, pronto.

    C. Go in the see-through dress, hoping no one will notice the outline of your black underpants against your fishy white thighs.

    D. None of the above.

    If you are me (and given the fishy white thigh description, I’d say chances are good that you are), the correct answer is D. I am in my office, holding a black patterned vintage dress that is much more sheer than I realized. I put it on, just to check, and sure enough: the contrast of my black drawers with my white flesh is quite observable. I can handle a bra outline, but at an event where students will be present, the panty outline is unthinkable. My response? I'm sure I can find something in this office to craft a makeshift slip out of! I have five minutes. I can do this.

    Three minutes into my search, I’m getting desperate. I have rejected an orange plastic bag, a cardigan sweater, and a ream of white paper as possible materials. I have even picked up a single sock and contemplated it for a split second. I am starting to think I might have to give up and actually call my Old Man to rush me a slip when I find an abandoned t-shirt languishing on the back of a dusty bottom shelf. Color: teal with yellow lettering celebrating a fundraising event of yore. Size: large. Status: never worn. I feel a rush of adrenaline. I know I can make this t-shirt work as a slip.

    I rip open the neck to make it roughly waist-size, turn it inside out, cut off the tag, and stretch the thing up over my ass. When the dress falls over the t-shirt “slip,” no trace of teal is visible. It looks black. However, the t-shirt’s sleeves are creating a decided poofing effect on each of my hips. I hike the skirt back up and cut off the sleeves of the t-shirt. This solves the poofing problem, but creates a two little gaping spots that reveal white thigh flesh, destroying the whole slip effect. The skirt is again hiked, and I grab my handy Swingline stapler and staple the gaping closed. Skirt falls back down, and from above, all looks fine. Put on shoes, speed to the bathroom, check in the mirror. I definitely look legit.

    I attend the event, receiving many compliments on my dress. No one seems to be staring at my hips or my hemline. I do believe that I have pulled this shit off. And wearing an inside-out teal fundraising t-shirt in lieu of a slip has somehow made attending the event much more fun. A supreme MacGyver moment.