It was a Monday morning, Cathy checked in at the dentist’s office for her routine semi annual cleaning appointment. She picked up a magazine and sat in the comfortable sofa in the waiting area. In her mind’s eye she saw how her family had different visits to this same dentist’s office over the last two decades. At first it was Anna and then Dennis. Both her kids were now in college.
While they were little, Anna had easier time at the dentist’s office – she always wanted the dental hygienist to raise and lower the chair as if she was riding an elevator. Dennis, on the other hand, would run away from from the treatment chair and at times took longer in the bathroom to show his resentment towards the visit. He had once even bitten the hygienist when she asked him to open and close his mouth. This was embarrassing till Cathy learned to bribe Dennis with a visit to McDonald’s for good behavior. She didn’t have much trouble with his visits to the dentist after that.
She thought about the dentist, the remarkably patient Dr. Staten, how he would encourage the children to open their mouth telling them that he was learning how to count their teeth or ask them to close their mouth to make sure they did not have a crooked smile. There was always more work for her on days they visited the dentist. There was the regular meal to prepare and then the soft foods for the patient. There were extra hours nursing the kid who had a procedure done for a cavity or just a routine cleaning. Her family always celebrated the day when one of the children lost their teeth – the day the tooth fairy came. They all ate ice cream for dessert on those nights. The kid got a dollar for their lost tooth. The tooth always disappeared from under the pillow the next morning. In the early years, to make it all real, Cathy would also leave a trail of fairy glitter coming out of the children’s room.
This morning in the waiting area, across from her sat another client who looked like a “mom”, just like her. After exchanging cordial smiles Cathy started reading. She glanced up after a while and noticed the other mom, who looked rather tired, catching a snooze while she was holding a magazine and trying to read. A few minutes later she could hear her snoring. Her eyes were closed, her mouth was open, the magazine had slipped off her hand and now she was snoring without any inhibitions as if in the privacy of her home. It could have happened to me, Cathy thought, ‘I am a mom and I know what it is to nod off’.
After about ten minutes the silence in the dentist’s office was broken by a loud scream similar to the mooing of a cow. The other mom got up instinctively and ran to the treatment area. The screaming got louder for a couple of minutes and then settled down. Silence prevailed again. The other mom came out and sat across from Cathy as before.
“This is new to my daughter you know” said the other mom. She said “My daughter is very “special”. Her name is Sue. You see, Sue has Down’s syndrome and she is twelve. She has swallowed all of her baby teeth so far. The other day, while brushing her teeth, I noticed her second molar was loose. Dr. Staten said he could extract it for me. This is one of her last baby teeth to go. The dentist had to numb her with a shot before the extraction and so she was agitated earlier. I hope to give my daughter the joy of tooth fairy come by tonight”. She paused and added further, “I wonder if all that we do for our children or others, is it in the end meant to give joy to ourselves? Whether Sue will appreciate the tooth fairy coming or not, I don’t know, but I know I sure will feel good tucking a five dollar bill under her pillow”.
Just then the dental hygienist rolled Sue’s wheelchair back out to the waiting area followed by Dr. Staten. The dentist handed a small pink box over to ‘the other mom’. She held it in the palm of her hands and looked at it, as if someone had given her a precious pearl.
As they were leaving the other mom waved goodbye to Cathy and their eyes met. Cathy’s eyes were wet.