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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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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Absentee Mom at the Dentist

Yesterday I took my teenage cousin JD to the dentist. Ever since his mom, my aunt Kay, died twelve years ago, this has been one way I help out my other aunts in the impossible task of trying to fill the gaping hole in JD's life left by Kay's death. Taking JD to the dentist is always a trial for me, because his oral hygiene is terrible, and no matter how many times I lecture him, no matter how many times Dr. Diamond upbraids him, he just doesn't brush his teeth regularly or well. Or floss. Ever. And in addition to inheriting my whole family's cavity-prone gene, he has cerebral palsy, which makes his teeth even more vulnerable to decay and his gums more vulnerable to periodontal disease. So his mouth is a mess and every visit to Dr. Diamond is an exercise in frustration and dismay. I gnash my fastidiously flossed teeth and try to remember to take deep breaths.

Yesterday, however, my usual consternated focus on the usual bad report from the hygienist and the dentist was distracted by an instance of the worst parenting I've ever seen. Or, more accurately, the most egregious example of absentee parenting I personally have witnessed.

When JD and I were checking in at the front desk, a woman who'd just checked her young daughter in was negotiating with the child over whether she could handle being on her own for her appointment with Dr. Diamond. The girl was ten, at the oldest. She did not want to be left alone. The girl's brother was there, a boy of twelve or so. The mom said "Buck will stay with you, okay?" No, the girl insisted, she wanted her mom to stay. "Buck you stay with your sister. Be nice, okay?" And with that, she left, as one of the hygienists brought the long-faced girl and her somewhat sullen-looking brother back to the examination room.

This whole thing didn't strike me as all that terrible at first. I mean, I wouldn't leave my kid alone at the dentist with her not-much-older sibling when she was explicitly asking me not to, but I also try not to judge other people's parenting decisions, especially when I don't know them or their situation, and especially not using the "how I'd do it" model.

But then, as JD was getting his fluoride treatment, I saw Dr. Diamond and his assistant setting up to treat this girl, who was a couple of chairs down from JD, and I realized that they were getting ready to pull a tooth. They had numbed her up, and now they were fitting one of her molars with a stainless steel gripping tool. She was whimpering. Brother Buck was sitting on the nearby bench playing his Game Boy. As Dr. Diamond proceeded to wiggle her tooth out from the root, the girl cried and screamed. It only took about ninety seconds, but it was hard to watch. Harder to watch was the girl sitting and crying afterward as she bit down on a bloody wad of cotton, with no one to give her a hug or stroke her hair. Buck was useless as a comforter, completely ignoring her (no big shock, given that his role model of nurturance was this mom who took off, leaving her kid to get a tooth yanked solo). I had a strong urge to go up and put my arm around her myself, but wasn't sure comfort from an utter stranger would be helpful to the child, and I worried it might freak her out instead. Maybe I should have tried it anyway.

After we collected JD's new toothbrush and yet another flosser that will go unused, we gathered our coats to leave. Buck and his tear-stained sister were sitting in the waiting room as we left, and I wondered how long it would be 'til their mom reappeared.

Where was she during all of this? The family looked well-off. It didn't seem likely that it was a situation where keeping or losing a job was at stake. The woman didn't say where she was going, didn't make any speeches like "You know I can't leave Grandma alone at home, and she was too raving with dementia to get in the minivan, so this is how it has to be!" or "If your father wasn't in the intensive care unit, I would stay, honey!" I don't know. She must have had her reasons. I hope they were good. In any case, I feel for the kid.

I should have given her a hug.


Blogger Orange said...

I think she was either sneaking in a tryst with her lover or visiting the reproductive endocrinologist to beseech him to transfer at least six embryos. I could be wrong, though.

11:35 AM  

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