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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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Had a Dad, Part III

One thing that was remarkable about my dad was that he almost always took my side. If I got in trouble with a teacher, he would listen to my side of the story. And he believed me. I remember hearing him say to teachers or other grown-ups, “E. told me X, Y, or Z, and she doesn’t lie to me.” He said this even though I sometimes did lie to him, which he must have known. But when it came to my word against some adults, he always erred in favor of believing me. I don’t ever remember feeling alone, with my dad on the other side, in league with the other grown-ups. There would be times he would say to some other grown-up, “Well you can be sure that I’ll deal with this when we get home,” which to the other grown-up meant “She’ll be punished,” but which I knew really meant “We’ll talk it over, and my dad will listen to me, and he’ll take my side of the story seriously.”

I don’t know if I realized then that my dad was crazy. A little crazy. I don’t think I realized that. When you’re a little kid, your parents are the status quo, the definition of “normal grown-up.” There were signs then, though. Even then he would go through these phases, hard-core phases. The four-hours-of-chess-every-night phase, the flax seed phase, the “electric zapper” phase, the stand-on-his-head phase, the root beer float phase. Then there’d be a no-sugar phase, and we would have no candy, no ice cream, no sweets of any kind in the house. And he’d talk to anyone who’d listen about sugar and why it’s terrible and try to get them to read Sugar Blues and insist to them that the whole profession of orthodontia would collapse if only people kept kids under five from eating sugar. But after the no-sugar-at-all phase, there was the Friday night candy binge phase.

When I was about seven, my dad had a girlfriend named Susan, and her five-year-old daughter Aubyn and I quickly became good friends, almost like sisters. Susan had also read Sugar Blues and was a big proponent of sugar-free kids. But somehow she and my dad decided that no sugar ever went too far, was contrary to the spirit of normal childhood or something. And they decided that a lot of sugar every once in awhile was better than a little sugar every day. So my dad and Susan bought a big old bag of candy, a Halloween- or Easter-worthy bag of candy. And, though we were barred from eating any sugar at all other times, every Friday evening Aubyn and I were allowed to eat as much candy as we wanted. It was amazing – a dream come true. And, in a way, this is an indication of what a great dad my dad was, that he allowed me to have that dream-scenario experience of all the candy I cared to eat. But, at the same time, hauling down a big brown paper bag full of candy for your otherwise sugar-free kid to gorge on for thirty minutes of pure confectionary excess. It was also kind of crazy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Had a Dad, Part II

I had the best dad. When my dad took me out for ice cream, he always let me get two scoops. He never spanked me or even yelled at me. He brushed my long hair, starting at the bottom and working his way up so it wouldn’t snarl or tug. He let me pick out my own clothes when I was four, even if I picked crazy combinations. When I got older, he took me to the movies all the time, and we got popcorn and milk duds. When we saw Meatballs with Bill Murray, we both liked it so much that my dad suggested we stay in the theater and watch it a second time. We sat in our dimly lit plush seats and talked ‘til the next show started. That’s the kind of dad I had. He didn’t have somewhere to get to, things he needed to do; he was content to spend his whole day off with me.

He encouraged me. I don’t think I ever remember him saying anything critical of me. He told me I was the prettiest girl in the whole world. He insisted that red hair was the prettiest color of hair. He always reminded me how smart I was, saying that I could do anything I wanted to. “You could be a ballerina and the president of the United States if you want to.” I don’t recall him ever adding, “if you work hard enough” or “if you really really try.” He seemed to feel that I would do wonders, just by virtue of being me. And believing in myself as much as he believed in me.

He did yell sometimes. I remember now. Not often. And almost never when I was little little. But as I got older, sometimes he’d yell. And when he yelled, it was scary. His face would turn red and his lower jaw would jut out and he’d grit his teeth. Sometimes he’d shake his finger in my face, and that scared me. He never struck me, but he’d shake that finger so close to my nose, it seemed like he was about to thwack me. And then, I guess, he did say things that were critical, when he was really mad. He’d sometimes call me a “little shit,” I remember, and I knew even then that it wasn’t right for a father to call his kid that. And sometimes he’d say “why don’t you use your head for something besides growing red hair?”

But that was rare, the exception. When he wasn’t apoplectic, he was gentle and smiling. Even when he was annoyed with me or I’d done something wrong, he was usually patient and he’d smile as he gently explained what I’d done wrong or how I could do better. He gave me time outs (though we never called them “time outs” – it was just “sitting on a chair” – “Now you need to go sit on a chair for ten minutes”) and he talked to me for a minute first and then said, “While you sit here, I want you to think about what you did.” My dad had a lot of patience and talked to me like I was a person, not a pet or a baby. He had patience and patience and patience, and then when his patience ran out, he lost his shit. I’m a lot like that myself.

So, he was human, but he was still the best.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Had a Dad, Part I

Here begins my posting of bits of an unfinished memoir, begun as a NaNoWriMo project. I have an impulse to introduce, but I think that's best resisted. Let's just jump in, in no particular order:

It’s a dark, cool, late summer night, and we’re sliding through the streets of the north side in my dad’s gold Buick LeSabre. He’s just picked me up from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, where I go after my day at Busy Beaver Nursery School when my dad has to work late, where I’ve eaten dinner and my grandma has forced me to finish the cold chop suey I hate and that makes me gag when I swallow it. We pull up in front of the synagogue on Pratt and Greenview. Holding hands, we go inside and enter a big hall with high ceilings that have bright tapestries and huge, colorful paintings hanging from the rafters. The room is crowded with grown-ups, little packs of kids threading their way around the clumps of tall people, who talk animatedly and hold pale drinks in short plastic cups. I’m not sure exactly what this even is or why we’re here, but I know it has something to do with a school, a new school that I might go to for kindergarten. Whatever this is, it’s exciting. There are rich colors and strange, beautiful things to look at, and all the grown-ups seem glamorous and confident and the kids remind me of the smart, creative kids with striped shirts and hair in their eyes on Zoom. My dad tells me that the kids from the school – the Gestalt Free School – painted the long, banner-like paintings hanging above us. I know this will be the perfect school for me. My dad found out about it, and now we’re here so he can talk to the teachers and some of the parents.

We go upstairs and look at the classrooms, and they are full of impressive and interesting things. Lots of overgrown plants, macramé wall hangings, life-sized hand sewn dolls dressed in real kid clothes, a little kitchen in one corner with big orange pottery containers on the counter, a rug area bordered by couches and a stereo with tall speakers. It reminds me more of the cozy apartments of my dad’s hippie friends than Busy Beaver Nursery School, which smells like sour milk and disinfectant, and is full of scuffed toys, and where there is no stereo, just a little faded red record player with Donald Duck painted on the lift-up cover. The teachers there don’t talk animatedly or let us paint giant banners in bold colors. They feed us PB&J on white bread and tell us not to scribble when we crayon and show us film strips on gun safety that give me nightmares.

Busy Beaver Nursery School is my grandparents – old, reliable, kind but stern, full of rules. The Gestalt Free School is my dad – vivid, hip, idealistic but unpredictable, making it up as he goes along.