Today was Sam’s second dentist appointment. He’s been looking forward to it all week, for reasons he never really articulated. Generally, I think he likes being the center of attention, no matter what form.
Once we were there, he sank into himself, a little, huddled just a bit in the chair. I could tell he was nervous, but I stayed in my chair, across the room, smiling, relaxed, and he relaxed too. He eyed each instrument as she presented it, then eyed me, before allowing it in his mouth. Once, startled, he pushed away the little vacuum suction thingy, but immediately agreed to its return, and she gently and quickly cleaned every little tooth.
Watching him as he sat, mouth open, anxious to cooperate, I thought about authority, and the social contract. Elizabeth Roca just wrote a great piece for Brain, Child about the agreement we tacitly make with doctors on behalf of ourselves and our children–hurt me a little, help me a lot, in effect–but I was thinking more about what made him agree to hold so still and let her put her fingers, not to mention a lot of weird metal instruments, into his mouth. Did he want us to praise him? We did. Did he just not know what else to do? Or did he acccept our explanation, that a little discomfort is necessary to keep those teeth healthy? If that’s it, it will be interesting to see how well he accepts the three shots I know are coming up at his four-year check-up.
After they poked him and prodded him, brushed on a little floride (which he didn’t like) with his new toothbrush (which he did), he was all done. And as far as he was concerned, he was done. He was pleased, I was pleased, everyone was happy, but the dentist announced…a visit to the “Treasure Chest”.
What kid could resist that? They produced a plastic chest and gave him his choice–any one thing that he wanted.
It was a pretty sad selection. They must be about ready to go plunder and pillage up some more treasure, because all there was in the box were some mardi gras beads and a few sad little word game books…and, on top, a fabulous, gleaming, grandly wrapped toy, its green translucent plastic drawing all eyes. Sam snatched it immediately. “What is it?” he demanded, his eyes big. “What does it do?”
It was a water pistol. A small, cheap, fire a sad little stream for three days and never work again water pistol. That’s what it was. Or, looked at another way, it was the final blow to his babyhood. Because once you pull that trigger, there’s no going back. This water pistol may not work long, but you know that once there’s one, there will be others. But I handed it to him, almost without hesitation. “It’s a squirt gun. You fill it with water, pull this–hold it like this, see?–and it squirts water.”
He was thrilled. He squirted it into the tub all afternoon.
Do I really care about this, the most innocuous toy gun possible? No, actually, I don’t. I had toy guns. I played shooting games and Charlie’s Angels and I would have killed (so to speak) for a super soaker. They’re fun. I’ll get one, too, and we can shoot at each other all summer.
But we’re one step closer to the moment he realizes–or asks–what a real gun is for, and I do hate the thought of that. Oh, well.
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