Can’t We Just Brush It Under The Carpet?

Brush it Under the CarpetWhen it comes to questioning my mothering ability, nothing comes as close to opening up the minefield of guilt, incompetence and the ubiquitous I-should-haves as taking my kids for a visit to the dentist. Before I get to the point, though, I find it only fair to relate what a good start I DID make…

From the moment my precious sprogs showed the first sign of teething (and probably before), I prided myself on being proactive and sensible, flawless by the standards of any smugly written child-rearing text book  – no dummies/pacifiers, none of that business of letting them fall asleep whilst sucking on a bottle of milk which would certainly rot their newfound fangs, no fruit juices (unless diluted by 70% water) and thorough, supervised and assisted brushing morning and night.

Now, after a few years, there comes a delightful stage for parents during which your child’s independence is encouraged – even by experts – and, quite frankly, you think your six-year-old seems to have tooth brushing under control.

And then you arrive for the appointment. It starts off blissfully. Dentists these days have kid-friendly waiting rooms, specially decorated treatment rooms to appeal to any child’s taste, and – this has got to be what impresses me most – a choice of animated films in the child’s preferred language that replace having to stare into the Lamp of Pain. Even the numbing ointment and bitter fluoride come in flavours of their choosing. So, it’s all looking peachy for your child and you’re thinking that things are off to a great start, but not for long…

It starts with a muffled grunt from the dentist, who raises an eyebrow and taps at something significant. The assistant lowers her eyes in embarrassment and the dentist clears her throat to tell you that things are looking rather grim indeed. You’re summoned to hang over the chair and peer into your sprog’s mouth whilst the dentist grabs the sharpest looking tooth-scraper-thing and jabs it into your child’s gum with the gusto of a sushi chef. Why are they so surprised to see a bit of blood? If I did that with a toothpick to myself, it would be well deserved and they’d moan at me about that too. But all of a sudden I start to get the feeling that I’m getting the blame – and it takes a few seconds for the penny to drop, especially because it’s all happening in German. I’m fielding questions left, right and centre – brushing? how often? fizzy drinks? how often? S-W-E-E-T-S (uttered in the same category as a toe-crunching swearword)? Come on, show me a regular child who doesn’t like something sweet and I’ll call him/her a prize-winning poker player.

I swear I don’t remember my mother being subjected to this kind of interrogation. The only time I recall us getting a sharp look from the dentist was when he interrupted a high-jinks game of ‘I spy’ (no game is without wheezing and tears of mirth when it comes to my family) while we were waiting for the X-rays to develop and he must’ve thought we were giggling about him. So, I find myself wondering why they’re picking on me?

Then they drop the F word. Flossing. Completely to be expected, but – really – who has that nifty little dental chair at home to strap your kid down and get to the back molars without slicing the corners of their mouths or ramming your suddenly meaty knuckles through the roof of their mouth straight into the nasal cavity above? Flossing is not for sissies.

Some people might have a recurring nightmare in which they end up walking around naked in public or falling off cliffs or having to take their school-leaving maths exam again (or an exam on a topic they’ve never studied). Mine is having my perfectly healthy teeth falling out. Maybe it’s got something to do with the nine extractions I had for orthodontic reasons as a teenager, but it certainly is enough to send me into a blind panic when that dreaded silky floss wraps itself around the base of a tooth with the intent of a hungry python. Needless to say, Flossing and I have a ‘I’d rather leave it, if you’re going to take it’ relationship. The result being that I am not as thorough with it as I ought to be. Mea culpa.

After promising to police tooth-brushing and regularly administer fluoride (you know, it used to be in the water when I was growing up!) and ensure they Floss-Every-Day, I leave the rooms like a drunken on-duty mother who’s been allowed out on bail – without the luxury of the laughing gas. Oh, but first we have to make an appointment of shame to return in three-to-four months (because they’re worried that they won’t be able to save any teeth after the more forgiving six months).

This has just described one of our many visits, but today I managed to hit a new low in their mothering rankings. Sauntering 10 minutes early into the reception area with a newfound confidence (my child had actually allowed me to supervise and tweak two out of the last 14 days’ tooth-brushing-and-flossing sessions), I’m on my way to the waiting room when the receptionist clears her throat with a slight note of embarrassment, halting my presumptive swagger in its tracks. “Um… You will probably have to wait for five extra minutes… You see, your appointment was actually half an hour ago, so we are busy with another patient”. Of all the doctor appointments to get wrong, I managed to fail even further! Of all the places to be tardy – Germany, famed for its punctuality! Now, I can’t even make eye contact with the receptionist any more. The last person in the building who had a sympathetic smile just for me…

Maybe it was pity, but now it’s gone and I will miss it.


Hiatus and Hindrance

Hiatus and HindranceAfter a little creative hiatus, this is my fourth attempt at resuming blogging. This is by no means a proper post – as I’ve just said, it’s my fourth attempt. The thing is that I feel obliged to provide some kind of explanation after such an extended period of silence.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had a post brewing away in the darker corners of my grey matter. To get started, though, I have to overcome my resentment towards firing up the old laptop. The immediacy of a tablet has spoilt me. Waiting for Internet connections, anti-virus software and the usual range of technological events to get into motion turns me into a character reminiscent of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers fame. After much eye-rolling and arm flapping (comical to some onlookers, but not to me… at the time), I am eventually seated in front of the empty blog page. The space bar flashes impatiently as I grapple with putting the words into writing.

Then inspiration strikes and, as I am about to tap the first key, my son cuddles up against me and says the words I never thought I would hear on a school – or any – afternoon, “Mommy, please can you give me more words to practise?”. How can I refuse the request of this one in Kindergarten who could do with a bit more work on his phonics and overall eagerness to show a bit of interest in learning…

With a long-suffering sigh, I lower the laptop screen and devote my attention to the gap-toothed grin of my suddenly eager-to-learn munchkin. All I can do is hope that tomorrow will be the day when I finally tap out a decent blog post. Unless his sister gets to me with her zest and zeal to master her newly acquired knitting needles and transform a ball of wool into a fluffy pink scarf, of course.

A Terrible Case of Irritable Yowl Syndrome

Irritable Yowl SyndromeIrritable Yowl Syndrome. No typing error here. The naming of this increasingly common affliction, suffered by mothers mostly (this is not based on gender discrimination, but more from general observation that will be explained later on), takes effect from the date of this blog onwards, with full credit due to me.

While it has nothing to do with intestinal disorders or symptoms, it most certainly comes about after a bad case of diarrhoea – verbal diarrhoea that is. In my case, it all started on a Thursday morning…

“Come on guys, you’d better finish your breakfast. You’ve still got to brush your teeth and get dressed… and we’re running late this morning. I’m sure you don’t want to be late”. It was my best attempt at putting the ‘I’m-not-going-to-lose-my-cool’ hat on and keeping my voice steady, calm, in control and below the usual banshee pitch. The ensuing elephantine thunder heading up the stairs towards the bathroom reassured me that they were on track and so I kept attending to my own needs, which included trying to find the new underarm deodorant that seemed to have disappeared within the mountain of things that I still need to sort out. On top of it, the heating in the bedroom seemed to finally be on top form and the beads of frustrated sweat forming under my arms and on my face were not helping my case.

The strange muffling and occasional thumping sounds coming from little man’s bedroom broke my concentration as my fingers just managed to knock the deodorant further under the bed, a haven for dust bunnies of the world. The kids were clearly having a little bit of a disagreement.

Now, mothers will know that dignity goes out the window from about the time that the little being within you enters the world. However, over time you try to build it up again, trying to forget the moments the children just NEED to tell you something important while you are on the loo or when they say the things that came straight out of your mouth in the company of someone who should not know that you could ever say those things. I could go on, but you get the just of it.

Dignity. All of it gone as I stomped across the landing in my underwear, painfully aware of the extra kilos nodding along as if in agreement with my stomping. Flinging open the door, I had no choice but to adopt sergeant-major tactics, clipped tones, loud enough to be heard but not by the neighbours, “RIGHT! Both of you, stop fighting right now! OH MY WORD! Are you still in your pyjamas?! ARE YOU STILL IN YOUR PAJAMAS?! That’s it! I have had enough, you’re going to school in your pyjamas!”.

The threat of my mother just glaring at me with her ice-blue eyes when she got cross was usually enough to stop me in my tracks, but with this lot here? Oh no, the fact I was stomping around like an ogre in ladies underwear was not enough. The fact my eyes were bulging in an attempt to recreate the ice-blue scary mommy eyes was not enough. The fact that they’d have to go to school in their pyjamas seemed to be the least scary of all, resulting in a look from both of them that showed they thought it slightly novel and considered it a darn good idea for a bit of a lark.

Finally, after having glared at them for a while as I tried – as ladylike as I could – to wipe the little bit of saliva from my chin that had escaped when I tried to express my shock at their lack of motivation, little man seemed bold enough to respond. I expected… Hmm, what did I expect to hear? Well, an apology perhaps or a promise to get a move on.

He opened his mouth, “Mommy?”. “Yes?” I replied with my hands settling on my hips. “Mommy, do you know if sharks can eat fish in a fish tank?”. “No, sharks can’t eat fish in a fish tank because sharks are in the sea and they also can’t fit in a small fish tank”. “But Mommy, what if sharks could fit in a fish tank? Would they eat my fish?”. “Argh! That’s not the point – you’re supposed to get ready now. Just PLEASE get ready, you two, ok?”. Trying to regain my composure, I steadied my voice again, trying to keep it calm and reasonable, pleading without being too desperate, with a slight intonation at the end without turning into a whine.

Finally, I found a use for the feather duster and knocked the deodorant from under the bed, and applied it generously to attempt to mask my efforts after grappling with it and the two tykes in the other room. I heard toothbrushes buzzing and the general sounds of them getting ready. Enough to relax for a minute as I got dressed and put my makeup on.

As I was concentrating on getting sufficient mascara on that one eyelash that decided to change direction like a squint eyeball, little man flew into the room with enough energy to cause the mascara brush to smash into my eyeball like a toilet brush in jelly, leaving a trail of black stripes across my entire eye area. “Mommy! Did you know that a jet wawawawawawaa? A-n-d that it wawawawawawawaa? A-n-d one day, I’m going to fly the fastest jet which is a wawawawawa! What do you think about that?”. First of all, I had no clue what he was talking about. It was just technical enough for a five-year-old boy to grasp and just technical enough for me to have to consult with a robust, yet idiot-friendly search engine later on. “Mmmm” was the best I could muster in an attempt to match his excitement, cover up my ignorance and to stop my eyes from watering from that fiercely unrelenting stinging sensation in my left eye. “No, mommy, I’m asking you!”. I sighed as I pleaded reasonably, “Let’s talk about it later then, okay my boy? I think we’re going to be very late now, so let’s get going. Can you get your boots, hat and jacket on so long?”. His little shoulders slumped and in an attempt to restore his spirits, I offered up a bit of motherly praise, “But good job for thinking of such a good question! We’ll look it up when you get home”. I don’t think it worked…

Five minutes later, with mascara hastily reapplied and an extra layer of eye shadow to hide the marks of the first failed attempt, I got to the door where the two were hanging around, chuckling like hyena pups. My suspicions and hackles rose simultaneously, but I breathed out, clutching onto the front door handle as I hopped about, zipping up my boots.

“Mommy?” it was little girl’s turn now. “Yes?” I said, trying to show interest (although “WHAT!” was what I heard my brain say). “Do you know what so-and-so said to Ms. (Insert teacher’s name) yesterday?”. “No, my darling, I don’t know. What did she say?”. So, with that bit of encouragement, she launched into a blow-by-blow account of some rather interesting story that I should’ve heard the night before when we had oodles of time and nobody had the energy to speak to me because ‘nothing had happened at school and it was all very boring that day’. As I regained my balance as the boot zip finally closed at the top of my calf, my eye caught the clock. Oh no! We WERE going to be late after all my ‘crying wolf’ to get the kids ready!

I shuffled them (little girl used the word ‘pushed’, but that’s up for debate depending on which side of the shuffling or pushing you were on) out of the door, slammed it shut and then frantically checked my jacket pockets to make sure I had the house key (which is a little too late when it is a self-locking door).

By this stage, the kids were both throwing all kinds of trivia and juicy news my way without pausing for breath, while I was clutching onto the last threads of sanity that were melting like candy floss. I unlocked the car, flung the boot open (narrowly missing the tip of my nose and almost hitting my forehead as I threw my handbag in the boot along with their school bags). As I slammed it shut, I expected to see two heads sitting obediently in the back seat, waiting for me to perform a cross-check on the seatbelts. But no – there little girl was talking to the fairies somewhere in the hedge, while little man was stubbing the ice with the front of his boot. “Come on, we’re late!” I exclaimed in exasperation.

As little girl skipped in slow motion towards the car door – the other one on the other side of the car, not the one I opened for her like a chauffeur, forcing me to run across to the ‘wrong’ side, skittling along the ice – little man thought it would be a great idea to demonstrate how effective his ice-breaking method was and how far he could kick shards of ice across the driveway right up to our elderly neighbour’s garden gate, giving running commentary as he did so.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, my levels of irritation hit an all-time high, and I let out a yowl through gritted teeth that started like a humming wasp and ended in pure banshee pitch, “JUST GET INTO THE CAR!”.

When we got to school I looked into the eyes of at least 10 other mothers who seemed to have endured the same experience as me, all a little pale in the face but with red spots on our cheeks (the kind that you can only achieve through pure frustration), slightly pink and watery eyes, and husky, hoarse voices that betrayed the volume levels we’d achieved that morning.

And the fathers, you ask? Well, weren’t those just the people walking hand-in-hand with the deceptively obedient children who were skipping along, plotting their next move to make mom crazy tomorrow.