This week has been filled with the parental exhaustion that comes from overanalyzing every situation. To be fair, the issues at hand are a relatively big deal—considering putting the kids in regular school, debating the continuation of speech therapy for Anja, and the big one—Ingrid's teeth. After a few days of keeping things light on the old Insta (Knitting orange sweater! Coffee! Emerging butterflies!) today I chose vulnerability over the safety of a(nother) nicely cropped photo of my coffee with the #happymorningtime hashtag. (Not that those posts aren't genuine.... they just aren't always complete.) But today I'd just reached my limit and I needed to confide in my Instafriends. And so, I put up a caption about Ingrid's teeth.
Ingrid's teeth are terrible. They've been in a state of decay since they came in, except I didn't realize it was decay when she was a baby—I thought it was staining. I thought it surely was from some medicine I'd taken while pregnant or something. Or maybe the dTap (or tDap?) shot I'd gotten at the end of my pregnancy with her had caused the white stains. They never brushed off. Then one day, some months ago, they all came off over the course of a few days. All those white spots broke away and underneath was yellowish decay. Now, to be fair, it doesn't look awful. And I think the whole issue has to do with the weird way she holds her mouth.... but still. It makes me feel like a horrible mother. I took her to our regular dentist and the visit was super traumatizing for her. Lots of forcing things in her mouth, so many strangers... it was very difficult and resulted in the kind of three-year-old trauma where they talk it out daily. “I'm never going to the dentist again,” she would say every day. But if you asked questions about her experience she'd just start screaming. We were referred to another dentist who does work under sedation and were given a file folder with her X-rays. I'd made the appointment earlier this summer, but it just happened at the beginning of this week. They were very kind to her. They didn't force her to do anything, she sat on my lap the whole time (screaming and burying her face in my chest,) and the dentist was very nice to her and assured her that he wasn't even going to look at her. He looked at the X-rays and determined how much time he needed for the procedure, then told me that he would try to salvage the teeth if possible, but if the decay was too severe, he'd have to extract them. They do the procedures in Indianapolis and they take a lot of time to set up with insurance, so we may not even be able to schedule it for another month. In that time, I'm going to get a second opinion and hope we can find someone who can work on her gently and maybe not go the extraction route. In the meantime though, I'm feeling suffocated by Mom Guilt. Especially since while we were leaving, one of the gals working there asked me, “Do you brush at home?” Goodness. We aren't actually trolls. We do practice basic personal hygiene. Being asked that was so disheartening. She thinks I don't brush my children's teeth. At all. I wanted to show pictures of Elka's beautiful smile, and give them the rundown of Greta's very specific brush-and-floss routine that she does every.single.night. (And still gets cavities, by the way.) But I didn't. I just went home with Ingrid and felt sad.
Until this morning when I posted on Instagram. And do you know what happened? I got forty comments from other moms—some of them just showing sympathy, but many many many of them sharing their own similar stories. SO MANY MOMS have felt exactly the way I am feeling, as they've watched their little ones struggle with bad teeth that don't have any obvious explanation. It made me realize how much we all keep quiet about these subjects which make us so vulnerable. It's so easy to judge the mom whose toddler's teeth are rotting out, isn't it. Just like it's easy to judge... well, pretty much everything. But by opening up a little bit, where I expected harsh criticism, I was instead given all these virtual hugs by other women who really do know how I feel. It touched me so much, not just to have people care enough to comment, but that they would open up the way they did—that the sharing of my own dental woes prompted them to courageously share their own. It was very much a village moment and it eased my mind tremendously.
Similarly, but more privately, I experienced this over the summer when Anja, Greta and I all got head lice. Let me just tell you... I was absolutely horrified to discover we had lice. And it totally caught me off guard. In fact, it went on for longer than necessary because even though Greta was complaining that her head itched, I never imagined it could be lice until a friend (not even a local friend!) mentioned online that his daughter had gotten lice. Reading that turned the lightbulb on in my head (it wasn't a soft white lightbulb.... it was a red tinted one like in horror movies, suggesting imminent doom) and I Googled Image Searched “lice” then compared my pictures to what I saw on my girls' scalps, and sure enough.... * shudder *
Anyway, this isn't supposed to be the story of the head lice (which cleared up quickly and easily, thank goodness—though I still fanatically check their hair for nits every day and probably will until they go to college,) this is about how people don't talk about these instances that make us targets for criticism. Mention lice and most minds think dirty. I thought the same thing, which was why I was shocked that the dirty, bath-hating preschoolers in our family NEVER got it! (neither did Martin! And he's a total dirtbag!) Nope, that's because, evidently, lice prefer clean hair. Luckily, I had been texting my sister in law when this discovery took place, and her girls had dealt with it too. She told me what treatment worked for them and I started in immediately. The next day the girls were having a friend over, so I alerted his mom that we had lice and if he didn't want to come that was understandable. Turns out, she's had it twice and was totally not worried about it! Later that day when we were at their house, her in-laws were there and her mother-in-law was talking about when her daughter had had it! And when Martin told his coworkers that we had it, they responded, “oh, we had it last week,” and then they shared their own personal ways they've learned to prevent it. (Like wearing hair gel, or using tea tree oil shampoo.) I'd gone my whole life thinking I had never known anyone to have had lice, and then within twenty four hours, I encountered a boatload.
Sometimes you're just unlucky and you get lice. It doesn't automatically mark you as a disgusting human being. And sometimes your kids will have bad teeth for no apparent reason. That doesn't mean you put Mountain Dew in their baby bottles. Sometimes these things just happen. And they happen a lot more often than I'd realized. I don't know why we shy away from sharing the less-than-perfect with people. Maybe it's the age of the internet that has made the vulnerability level increase to an amount that makes us unwilling to divulge in the unfortunate bits of parenting, since it's out there for the universe to read instead of being muttered about over coffee cups. I wish it weren't the case. But at the same time, I'm so happy that the opportunity arose today for so many to commiserate as a group of moms who had been through such similar situations, and from all over the globe!
To all those moms who spoke up yesterday in the comments of my post, THANK YOU. Your words of comfort and experience meant so, so much to me. And to those of you who ever think that you must be the worst mother in the world because of something like this, be assured, you are definitely not alone.