My panic about going to the dentist sets in on the car ride over. It's not a fear that my kids will get upset or hate it. They love the dentist. The giddy excitement the night before the appointment is akin to that experienced before a trip to an amusement or water park. The one time that Greg took Darla to Knott's Berry Farm after the dentist might have something to do with it. That happened three years ago, but Darla's still chasing that dragon and drops hints about doing that again every time I bring them to the checkup. As long as I'm driving them, there will be no post-dentist joyrides. I'm definitely not a good-time-mom; I'm a total a bummer-time-mom.
The anxiety around the dentist is all mine. I created an idea in my head that all judgement of me as a parent comes down to these appointments. If I'm a good diligent parent, Darla and Jude will have zero cavities and the dentist will give me a standing ovation for their amazing teeth. If I'm an awful, negligent parent, the dentist will loudly shame me in front of the entire room of parents. There's no middle ground when I imagine the visit.
It helps me none that they hand over a literal report card on my kids' teeth after the checkup. For someone who didn't get her first "A" until senior year of high school, I don't take these grades lightly. I know what it's like to have a GPA of 1.6. (I actually felt pretty neutral about this at the time. I didn't do any homework and spent every class perfecting writing Bikini Kill, Dead Kennedys, or Crass in lieu of paying attention. I earned that GPA). Once I got my first "A," though, I refused to back. Suddenly my standards shifted and an "A-" started looking like an "F." If my kids get anything less than an "Excellent" on their report cards, I've failed them as a parent.
This visit, I was still reeling from the chaos of Darla's first cavities. (Not just one. There were three!). The dentist had assured me that we did the best we could and that some kids are just genetically predisposed to get them, but I still left that appointment fighting off the shame. I knew where this predisposition came from since I had gotten my first filling when I was six. I had done this to her whether the doctor wanted to admit it or not. This most recent dentist appointment would be our first time back since that dark day in November. I thought the lecture I didn't get from the last appointment would be coming this time.
Despite how fraught the time before the checkup was, it all went smoothly. There were no public admonishments and I didn't have to sit in the corner with the dunce cap on. If anything, they downplayed their criticisms. When asked if both kids were regularly flossing, I stumbled and said, "almost. We're working on getting better." Their response was mild. "It's so hard to find time to floss. Maybe you can shoot for once a month. Does that work?" If this is the baseline, we're flossing overachievers in my house!
These kinds of responses remind me that I'm not the only parent who has come into the dentist's office prostrate and contrite. They must have had their fair share of parents who have whispered confessions of lapses in their kids' dental hygiene and apologized for the genetic mess they passed on to their kids. Why else would they tiptoe through the interaction?
By the end of the appointment, I had talked myself off of a cliff and reminded myself that I'm not alone. There must be at least a few parents who sometimes forget to floss their teeth. (Right? Please tell me this is true otherwise I'm going to feel awful for putting this out into the world). I mean, the few times we forgot to floss wasn't all that terrible. They still brought home an "Excellent" report card today. Although, to be honest, we only got a 90%. I'm hoping next round we take home the 100% gold. Only then will I be an amazing parent.