so ready for us, the creature fear

One nice thing about having inexpensive things is nothing is worth much except the use we get out of it. So this afternoon when I take up the purchased-from-Ross bowl I’m washing, near clean, and lift my hands and smash it into the sink with all my might, well, even given the impulsivity of the moment I know I’m not breaking anything dear. It’s a cheap outburst. Practical, really.

Sadly, my plans are foiled. The thing rather stubbornly breaks cleanly in half with an astonishingly muffled percussive noise – considering I’d aimed it at a stainless steel sink – and gently both pieces bounce and roll across the counter, not at all the shattered disorder I’d hoped to grimly and uselessly clean up piece by tiny piece. It only takes one second to put each half in the trash and then it’s all over. I’m tidy like that.

I am totally fine with walking and riding the bus today for errands, or maybe more accurately, I need a few moments to be fine with it as it was kind of sprung on me, a funny-silly car becoming a likely-tragically-not-running car, pushing our vehicular repair plans and expected expense up a notch quite suddenly (please do not make one helpful suggestion regarding the use of cars. We have a car plan. It’s just taking a while. Because of stuff like rent and food. But you should see our plan! It’s totally all awesome and on the level and going to work out just great. *shifty eyes* ), and I have all these groceries I’ve gotta get because one-day grocery shopping is not so fun with our local transit, and I’m already feeling the dark closing in on me tonight, and I’m feeding the kids but they don’t want to eat the chicken noodle casserole my mom brought over that is totally fine and they need it in their tummies because it’s going to be a long trip, and if you’ve ever gone somewhere with small children and they’re hungry and you can’t get them food yet you might understand how my anxiety ramps up at the very thought, and I’m intuiting somehow GHTransit will fuck me over (and I’m right as you will see).

Today in a moment of weakness I tell Nels I think I have to put him in school. He says, “Never”, and there is a storm in his eyes. I tell him I can’t take care of him. It’s not him. He is doing great. He’s a champion. He’s fucking stellar. It’s me. I can’t take care of him right. I keep missing what it is I’m doing wrong and he seems Unknowable but deeply-experienced (to me and by me) and feral and sweet and complicated but totally fine. You should see him. I make him food and he doesn’t want it but later he mixes up banana and milk and happily munches carrot sticks and forks up bowls of meatballs, pushing his hair out of his eyes and fastidiously wiping his hands (usually on his shirt, which he then changes after washing his hands). I give him hand-knit fingerless gloves for Christmas and he says they don’t feel right, they are scratchy. I hate myself because I actually knew he was sensitive to wool and I just didn’t think ahead.

When I can’t hit the right note with him I begin to see him as Wild, and I recognize he’s doing great, but I just feel so bad sometimes, so guilty, I’ve raised him well enough he sometimes seems not to need me, I’ve done a job many parents are afraid to do, and sometimes it hurts. Today he puts his arms around me and tells me he’ll be okay, he can take care of himself. His body is all bones under smooth skin and his hair smells so sweet and he says, “Mama, you know I can find myself something to eat,” (explaining the aversion to the casserole) and when I get home later in the evening he has the bowl in his room and runs out and says, “I changed my mind, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious!” and he’s a happy clam in the sand, and there’s not one thing I did right by him today, but he’s still going to love me and put his arms around me and beg to bathe and sleep together as if I’m someone who’s worth it.

Late afternoon: waiting for the bus takes forever. Because the 3:50 came and left early so we have to wait for the 4:30 and it’s cold and the shelter has busted-out windows and the bench is damp (but speckled with a pretty and brilliant orange fungus). Phoenie and I look up information on tornadoes on the new phone and I mess about with my camera. It’s a good time, really. She is cheerful but she is eventually cold. Avoiding the wet bench she lays on a section ofdry sidewalk for a while.


Finally the bus comes and we get out on errands and get hot coffee and hot chocolate. Every word that comes out of my daughter’s mouth is wonderful, like music. Phoenix and I wander around the Dollar Tree and I think about all the different people there, those who shop there by necessity (make no mistake, there are lots of them) and those who get to pick and choose when they can “slum it” and when they can get exactly what they want, and I’m kind of not even sure which world I inhabit, which confuses me for some reason. The thought of so many people worse off than I, in need, struggling, it depresses me, because sometimes it seems no one cares.

Phoenix is a ray of light and confidently grips her hot chocolate in her wool-encased paws and when I mutter I need pot holders and then lip balm* she knows exactly where these things are and after helping me a bit she tells me she’ll be in the toy section. Ralph meets us there and we take our groceries home and I make a lovely Mexican Chicken Soup and quesadillas and homemade refried beans and all that chopping and stirring and mixing and correcting seasoning, okay, I’m doing a little better.

December 29, 2010

My mom visits and stays until near-midnight. Ralph eventually goes to bed. Giving up on sleep at a mortal hour, I cut a dress for Phoenix from sale yardage that is pleasingly leaf-green and I hope I don’t fuck it up, I mark carefully with chalk and set aside pieces and imagine the finished dress (maybe the imagining is my favorite part of all), and I just tell myself to get through each day and each night of this winter, I know I can survive it, even though it stretches out ahead of me like an unknowable abyss.

* Just as I post this my daughter wanders over to my desk, un-caps the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Scented I came away with and puts her freckled nose to it, then pronounces: “Hm… smells creepy.” EXACTLY!

in which i am not always at my best

Office of _______ Pediatric Dentistry

Dear Parents:

In order to improve the chances of your child having a positive experience in our office, we are selective in our use of words. We try to avoid words that scare the child due to previous experiences. Please support us by NOT USING negative words that are often used for dental care. These include:

DON’T USE: needle or shot; INSTEAD: sleepy juice
DON’T USE: drill; INSTEAD: whistle
DON’T USE: drill on tooth; INSTEAD: clean a tooth
DON’T USE: pull or yank tooth; INSTEAD: wiggle a tooth out
DON’T USE: decay, cavity; INSTEAD: sugar bug
DON’T USE: examination; INSTEAD: count teeth
DON’T USE: tooth cleaning; INSTEAD: tickle teeth
DON’T USE: explorer; INSTEAD: toothpick
DON’T USE: rubber dam; INSTEAD: raincoat
DON’T USE: gas; INSTEAD: magic air

This will help you understand your child’s description of the filling experience. Our intention is not to “fool” the child – it is to create an experience that is positive. We appreciate your cooperation in helping us build a good attidude for your child!

Today I have been through something almost bigger than words. It was like having my world briefly torn in half and now I’m working on mending. To many, it might not seem like much. To me, the struggle I have now is in trying to write it all out concisely and accurately although there is no chance, really, of me forgetting it.

The above “Practice Terminology” was given to me almost three years ago when I first stared taking my children to a recommended pediatric dentist. The handout gave me pause – big time. But hey, I’m no dentist. After all, this was a highly-regarded pediatric practice – absolutely posh compared to my childhood tooth doctor. The first appointments flew by and the kids were happy. Over the years I had no reason to reconsider our practitioners, even if I was a bit confused at the de rigueur application of nitrous oxide – whoops, “magic air” – and the times I’d pass a room and see adults looming over children and holding them firmly and speaking in STERN-VOICE. Fine, whatever; I hung out with my kids during the procedures – cleanings, x-rays, and fillings – and everything seemed fine and friendly and none of that stern voice unpleasantness was involved.

But today I got to see first-hand how the staff treats a child who wants to direct an aspect of their own care.

After cheerful and hilarious teeth-cleanings during which my children happily participated, Nels told me he understood he needed fillings – sorry, there isn’t a “whimsy word” for those – but that he didn’t want to have the rubber dam (“raincoat”) installed. He never wavered on this (I realize now) and the possibility of proceeding without one was never discussed by the staff.

Over the next forty minutes or so as we proceeded with this attempt of a filling I watched as an increasingly unpleasant and confusing (to me) negotiation took place. Mostly this was done by grownups coming in the exam room and talking quickly, or at times sternly, or bargaining, all the while dialing up, and up, and up, the applied mask full of nitrous oxide (apparently there are no side effects to this?). The assistant began to speak faster and faster and crank the dial up and bribe him with extra quarter-vending toys (Seriously. What the hell? Maybe that works for some kids but have you met Nels?) and plead a Trustworthiness my son obviously found unearned. In response to my son’s questions about the “raincoat”, the assistant would tell him they weren’t talking about that now, just to lean back and open his mouth. Nels said, “I think you’re trying to trick me.” Then he pointed to the “raincoat” and said, fear swelling in his voice – “I can see it!”

It really would have been comical if it weren’t that, over time, he became more convinced that what I’ve told him all these years: “Remember Nels, it’s your body” – would not, in fact, be respected; that he would instead be forced to undergo something he found utterly terrifying.

After a while Nels began to cry. He asked me to go home. He said, “I love you!” and held my neck. Even then I truly thought he’d change his mind (as he had when he voluntarily received vaccinations half a year ago – although then it was a far briefer episode of trepidation and he was not drugged during this event). Eventually I was asked out of the room by the dentist (asked nicely, I might add). In the hallway he assured me children did better without their parents (I’ll bet). He told me they wouldn’t physically hold down my child. Okay. Well, instead of retiring to the waiting room as they suggested (out of earshot) I stated my intention to sit right there outside.

And I sat down.

The dentist re-entered the exam room and for a long while I heard nothing. I called my husband on the phone and said some stuff. I hung up. Tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window. A hygienist passed by, did a double-take, and asked, “Are you okay?” I shook my head and said No. She asked if she could get me something; I shook my head and said No. She silently handed me a box of tissues and I said Thank You.

Ten minutes later to my surprise the door opened and the members of the practice emerged. They were sort of laughing, but rather grimly. “That is a strong-willed little boy you have there,” the dentist said, flatly. He had conceded defeat but he wasn’t happy about it (like most practices they run a very tight schedule and, after all, he’d just had his time “wasted”). My son emerged and – even entirely looped-out on Novocain and nitrous – he was still himself. He was calm and sure.

See, he did not want a “raincoat”.

I realized the adults were entirely surprised at his resistance given the massive doses of gas administered and the two- (or three?)on-one adult treatment they’d done in that little room.

And I realized – at that moment –

I realized I’d sold him out.

But he’d prevailed anyway.

He is six years old.

While Nels wandered out into the waiting room the doctor talked words at me. I could hear him but I was also non-responsive, feeling the entire body-blow, the fact I’d betrayed my son and humiliated myself by failing my own strength. After a few minutes the roar of blood in my ears died down enough I could hear the doctor telling me that although my son said he would return later to get his fillings, it was a concern the same episode might happen again. The doctor told me about a medicine, an even stronger one, he could give my child. The dentist was smiling when he told me it was “kind of like giving a child a six-pack of beer”. Occasionally the medicine had the effect of making the patient angry. Of course parents couldn’t be in the room during the procedure. The staff needed to “focus” on the child. “There wasn’t enough room,” he explained further.

My brain started working again as I paid attention to what the man was saying. At that point an assistant busied up to us. “Two Versed procedures, right?” she briskly asked the dentist, pushing blue forms at me to sign for the next visit. I signed them, knowing it was the easiest way for now. I thanked them for their time and acknowledged the missed opportunity they had (I couldn’t quite bring myself to apologize for my son, as I’m sure most parents would have).

As my pen finished on the form the assistant just mentioned, is all, that children under sedation would get happy “floating” hands so they’d use these light straps to control the hands. And she pushed the blue forms at me.

I have them here now. It makes me ill to read. “No food eight (8) hours prior to sedation…… we suggest bringing a change of clothes, since it is common for children to lose bladder control during a sedation… Keep your child’s head upright and slightly flexed backward…. papoose safety wrap may be determined necessary.

That fucking “wrap” is going to be used most every time because the child will be flailing in a nightmarish, horrible, drugged and fear-laden state and that’s why there is no way they’d let a parent see the procedure.

It was when the doctor spoke of the “kindness” of the medicine as having an “amnesiac” effect that I recognized the whiff of the horrific “Twilight Sleep” (and let me tell you what a total goddamned travesty it is how few articles delve into exactly what this really was; the pictures in this one give me the chills). And I was right, because when I got home – after Nels sweetly asked for cuddling and fell asleep, and while our other child warmed up from our outdoor exertions – I looked up the medicine, and was horrified to read of experiences (verified by both user experience and the U.S. National Library of Medicine and lots of other places). At first I felt shocked a practitioner would so lightly ‘splain this medicine and gloss over the experience of patients. But later, I felt only sadness: this man has performed such procedures on many, many children. It must be a part of his job he dislikes immensely – unless by now he is deadened to it all.

Almost tangentially – in what otherwise would have been the preoccupying subject of my day – the same office also recommended a tooth extraction and lower lingual arch for our other child, who agreed to this. We’ve been discussing the treatment. After Nels’ experience I barely had room for a second procedure except to feel deeply grateful for both my children and both their abilities at self-validated choices. As far as Phoenix’s prognosis goes, we don’t know anything about extractions or devices worn by children, so I guess we need to do some research.

In the car, however, after we’d left: I felt safe enough to sit quietly. Nels hummed to himself and sat on my lap.

He turned to me and asked me what they wanted to do next. I said, “They want to give you lots of drugs and tie you down.” Flatly, but almost in wonderment. Raw emotion passed over Nels’ face at this… then he said, “I never want to go there again.”

More power to those who take their children to this practice and are pleased with the results. I completely acknowledge the doctors’ intentions are good and many of their skillsets are impressive. Sheet of Lies aside, until today I’d had nothing but positive experiences.


My body memory now reminds me of a brutal hazing I saw in a movie once: pulling sheets over a slumbering person and beating them with socks full of oranges.


After our dentist visit I was due almost immediately for a rendezvous with our friends S. and K. – first we ate at Ace BBQ (unassuming website, delicious and inexpensive fare) and then a rather long nature walk at Tumwater Falls Park. In a short period of time I gained a semblance of “normal” and genuinely enjoyed the company of my friends, my children – and the lovely, wild falls – while my mind did me the kind service of dissociating from earlier events of the day, to later live them out.

And when I got home Ralph asked me for the full story of what had happened, when I was finally able to break down and cry.

Because you know, don’t you, what it was that scared me so much? It wasn’t that Nels was hurt and frightened. It was that I almost let someone hurt and frighten him so much more before I came to my senses.

My husband respected me enough to confirm I’d let our children down today. I appreciate his honesty more than I can say. But then he told me something I hadn’t thought about. He told me I had created conditions that allowed them both to stand up today. Phoenix had autonomously agreed to treatment today – knowing what the treatment would be – and on the drive home crossly expressed annoyance at the Sheet of Lies(TM) – which made me smile. And then Ralph said, “Nels stood up to a a roomful of highly trained and educated medical professionals who’d drugged him and tried to force him to do something he didn’t want to do.

Or as S. said only a few hours before, in appreciation as we climbed alongside the roaring falls: “Nels, that is pretty punk rock!”