I had a dream last night that Roo banged her head into me and whacked my left front tooth. Actually, this didn’t occur in the dream. As often happens with really vivid, realistic dreams, this dream had history, a backstory. Roo had
head-banged my left front tooth, hard, by the time the action of the dream began. In the dream, I was in a diner trying to get something to eat despite the fact the overhead menu board was obscure and hard to decipher. As I was grappling with the obstacle of the opaque menu, I could feel that my tooth was loose. I realized that it was because of this thing that had happened earlier with Roo, and I began to worry about it. Would the tooth die, remaining in my mouth but turning a sickly dark gray? Would it fall out? Just as I was beginning to get really worked up, I felt it come loose from its toothy moorings and descend onto my tongue, attached only by a few meaty threads of gum tissue. It was gross in a very familiar way, the way losing a tooth always was as a kid, but it was also new and alarming, because this was an adult tooth; it wasn’t supposed to fall out.
Needless to say, I got very sad very quickly. I pulled the tooth out and began to examine it. At this point a montage of action of the kind that only occurs in dreams or cinematic drug trips ensued. I was talking to the waitress behind the diner counter about my tooth and simultaneously consulting with a dentist. I mourned my ravaged smile to the waitress, holding up the fallen soldier to the gap in my mouth where it used to reside and saying, “I don’t know if you can tell now, but I have really nice front teeth.” (Which, in all humility, I do.) I grilled the dentist about options and possibilities for rectifying the situation. Was it possible to save the tooth, to reinsert it somehow? And if so, could he fix the tiny chip at the bottom (which inexplicably appeared during my last trimester when I was pregnant with O.)?
At this point the dream morphed and I was transported onto a beach, where the sun was setting and some sort of party was winding down. My tooth was still missing, but I became distracted by the pretty colors and the intricately festooned drink someone had pressed into my hand. Then I woke up.
The dream is obviously rich with symbolism. The question is: how to interpret it? There’s a school of thought that dreams are just the detritus of your subconscious, sort of an artful housecleaning your mind does at night. From this perspective, people, objects, and events in your dreams don’t represent anything per se, or if they do, they represent anything but the things they stand for in real life. As someone who interprets literature for a living, I have to reject this approach. Not to mention that my dreams often seem to connect to live issues in my life, to have some kind of clear relevance.
So, another approach would be a more Freudian analytic tack. From this perspective, my dream represents deep and hidden anxieties and wishes. The people and events in my dreams are symbolic of crucial issues relating to my identity, fears, and desires. A Freudian interpretation might posit that my left front tooth represents a foundational aspect of my self-concept, and my baby knocking that tooth out of my mouth is an expression of the threat that my children pose to my personal identity and my ambivalence about the self-sacrifice inherent in being an involved parent. Clearly, I’m afraid that having children is dangerous to the person I am, have always been, and want to be, the Oral Hygiene Queen. (The fact that my dream self expresses a wish to rectify the tiny chip in that tooth that I got while pregnant with O. – a chip my real-life dentist speculated might have occurred due to pregnancy’s temporary weakening effects on a woman’s teeth – only adds evidence to this interpretation.)
On one hand, this seems totally obvious. Of course my children threaten my identity and freedom. I can’t live the life I lead before O. was born, and I have maintained significant aspects of my pre-kid life and identity only by making a concerted effort and accepting the fact that I’m going to be a busy juggler for a considerable stretch of years.
On the other hand, reading this deeply into the dream is a bit too metaphysical for my tastes. I’ve never really bought Freud. And anyway, if I can unravel the symbolism of my own dream that easily, it’s probably not a good Freudian interpretation. I’m sure anyone who really knew their Freud would say that the dream is about oral sex. Or a nascent Elektra complex. Or both.
So I’m inclined to try a compromise between the above-mentioned interpretive strategies, something along the lines of the way my Old Man always interprets my more richly symbolic dreams when I bring them to him: look for an interesting and relevant meaning for the dream’s symbols, but don’t stretch it too far or read too deeply into it. Clearly the tooth is important, and I’m willing to assume that Roo actually represents Roo. So what does it all mean? Well, I’m aware that my brushing habits have not been as vigilant in the last few busy months. I still brush three times a day most days, but there are times when the brushing occurs well after a meal or snack. Needless to say, this relative laxity in matters orally hygienic is pretty unusual for me, the woman who keeps toothbrushes in my purse and backpack, in my office, and in the medicine cabinet at my mom’s place. But at home these days, I get distracted from timely brushing by any number of tasks, many of which revolve around Roo. I’m temped to see the knocked-out tooth dream as a memo from my unconscious mind to my waking brain: “Hey! Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you get to slacken the rigor of your oral hygiene regimen. You can
brush your teeth while holding a writhing infant! You have a rep to protect!”
That’s my interpretation, and I’m sticking to it. Unless, of course, you happen to have a more interesting one.