The Surprising Parenting Lesson I Learned at the Dentist.

Posted on Posted in Writing and Motherhood


I’d never had my teeth whitened in any way, until six months ago.

I was getting a filling on a front tooth replaced and decided, when they were matching the shade, to have my teeth whitened first. I’ll admit that even though it was initially a practical decision, that I enjoyed this rare extravagance of self-care. So when I returned to the dentist for my next check-up, I bought an at-home touch-up kit to “brighten” my teeth back up (since I might die without coffee or hoppy beer).

I’m going to admit something that embarrasses me to own up to (and I don’t embarrass easily)—I was anxious for a whole day when I thought about finding the time to actually use this at-home whitener. (I know, first-world problems, right?)

I was more nervous about finding an hour (for three days in a row) when I wouldn’t be able to talk than I was the 24-hour non-staining food restrictions. (Hey, I could have coffee through a straw, so I could do anything after that for just one day.)

It may be the holidays, but my husband has had long days, not shortened ones, and I was left wondering how the hell I’d be able to do this with my two little kids around, and only me. (I’ll note that we’d somehow managed a wonderful week together, my kids and I, but it’s true when they say that the days really can be long, and the years always short.) Of course, I could put it off, and that was my initial plan, but, like they say too, plans change.

I should also mention that my oldest got an early Christmas present—a cold from a playmate at school. This, combined with long days on my husband’s part, and my parents not visiting earlier in the week as usual (since they’ll be coming in for Christmas Day), and my general lack of patience had me seriously holding my tongue one afternoon. It was a day of deep breaths and self-control over filtering what comes from my brain, out through my mouth, and into the room with these two girls. (I should also mention I have a very thin filter.)

Anyways, I get this wild idea to use my new dental kit—this way I can’t talk.

So I put in my new whitening trays, and I turned on a cheesy holiday movie for my kids, and I wrapped presents. It was awesome—so awesome that I did the same thing the next day (well, minus the wrapping presents part).

Today, I’m skipping the third day and taking a few days off in between. (I’m too much of a foodie to avoid anything with color for this many days in a row without feeling like I’m hurting myself, instead of treating myself, as is the original goal.) And I couldn’t help but wonder how it might go if I pretend I can’t talk for 10, 20 or even 30 minutes when I’m having a stressful day, and that filter is getting finer and finer and finer.

What would happen if we made it a conscious practice to use more self-control with our words around our children?

To be fair, I’m already conscious of this, since I refuse to say phrases involving negative usage of the word “fat,” and I try really hard to own my feelings and not blame (i.e. “I feel frustrated” rather than “You are fill-in-the-blank.”). I try, but it doesn’t always work. (I am a fallible human being, after all, despite being “Mom.”)

So, today, on a special holiday eve, with my two girls and I cozy at home—despite unseasonably warm weather and a seriously runny nose, and my husband at work—I’m going to pretend that I can’t talk when I need to walk away.

Because, like my husband reminds me more often than he probably should have to, “She’s five.”

I’m a good mom, but my kids are little, and it’s a frustrating thing to be home with them all day every day by myself (especially when there isn’t even school to get out kid-energy, and for me to have a moment or two alone to, you know, pee or wrap presents).

So, yeah, a funny thing happened when I went to the dentist…


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