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Friday afternoon, I wiggled around all the wiggle-room my schedule has so I could see every single student who is owed a speech session.  Surprisingly, I was focused on my sessions.  I was present, and I was engaged with my students, until the end of the lunch-time session I had with a student.  At that moment, at 12:50pm, I kicked into high panic mode, and did everything I could to get myself out of the building. 

I had a 2pm appointment with an infertility doctor on Friday afternoon. 

Euphemisms are funny things.  I’ve always enjoyed the line in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” when the hostess excuses herself to go to the “euphemism”.  Why the word bathroom needs another euphemism – when it has so many other synonyms to begin with – is beyond me, but I guess that’s the whole point.  Polite conversation, avoiding making prudish people like my mother blush, referring to things on TV that would otherwise be censored: euphemisms serve many purposes.  An oft-unstated benefit, however, is that the euphemisms can sometimes help people who are otherwise too embarrassed or ashamed of their “issues” to seek medical help. 

See: every single commercial or ad made for erectile dysfunction (once simply “impotence,” it is now often “E.D.” or “performance concerns”),  urinary incontinence (“Do your pipes leak?”), and herpes (“outbreaks” sounds tons nicer than “sexually transmitted infectious viral blisters”).  Yet if these polite terms for otherwise embarrassing conditions help people have the “Detrol discussion” with their doctors, then who am I to question the advertisers’ methods?

Beyond embarrassment or shame, there are also those who are reluctant, diffident, and, shy about any supposed conditions.  There are those like me who discuss their medical issues with so few people that tongue seizures and cranial malformations can go undiagnosed for 8 years.  I know I am not alone in my struggle, too, with acknowledging the seriousness of something, particularly something unknown.  For me, calling the doctor with a complaint, or making an appointment for a condition I would tend to minimize, deny, or place on a back burner makes it real.  Once I am sitting in an office, face to face with a doctor who is about to take me very seriously, it forces me to take myself seriously.

Maybe the euphemism of “fertility” helped me breach that last obstacle to seeking help.  I finally called to make an appointment, the names of specialists firmly gripped on a referral in my hand, and was told that the doctor only sees new “infert” patients at 11am.  Would I have called if that slip of paper in my hand said “infertility” instead of “fertility”?  It’s not even so much a euphemism as a careful wording. 

In my line of work, we speak all the time of a child’s strengths and challenges.  We reframe “weakness” into challenge, or we talk about areas needing support, as in, “Johnny can understand a grade level story given decoding support, reframing, use of a story plot map, and one-on-one discussion with a teacher.”  No longer is it said that “Johnny is not reading on grade level,” but it gives the level of support and scaffolding necessary for him to be able to read on grade level, and thus we avoid the dreaded “not”. 

So, too, did my referral avoid the dreaded “in-”, a Latin prefix meaning, of course “not”.  Like the students I work with on a daily basis, I, too, am in need of support.  If fertility, like reading ability, is on a continuum of independence and intervention, then I am looking at it optimistically.  I am choosing the view that we may need some support to become pregnant, rather than needing intervention because of infertility.  Which framing do you think will help more women/couples make the difficult phone calls so they can face awkward conversations and pursue challenging tests and treatment? 

After waiting in near panic for a half-hour in a tiny exam room with only “TIME” and “Family Fun” magazines, I finally met the doctor.  I have a list of a half-dozen tests and procedures that await me/us in the coming month.  I am terrified of what we may find, and what we may not find.  I am concerned about the long road ahead, but I am acting bravely.  More important, I am acting.  I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of labels or acknowledging what is wrong.  I am addressing whatever “challenges” or “weaknesses” or “shit-rotten luck” has faced Mr. Apron and me in the last 18 months, and we are going to kick its ugly hairy infertile ass.

No euphemism needed.

Parents embarrass their kids.  This is an immutable law of the universe.  They ask you (loudly) if you have to make.  At Kohl’s, outside the dressing room, they ask you (loudly) if there’s enough room in the crotch of the pants.  They try to walk near you in public.  They dress unfashionably.  They say “I love you” at inopportune moments and demand hugs as they drop you off at school.  They try to sit near you in the movies, and then talk (loudly) through the whole film. 

But are they trying to make your adolescence miserable?  Are they trying to stunt your climb up the social ladder?  For the most part, I think they mean well.  Maybe they hover a bit, or dwell on potty-training a bit long, but their efforts are usually well-intentioned, and embarrassment may be, at worst, unintentional. 

What, then, of my parents’ decision to paint our house pink?  Not a subtle pink (if there is such a thing), nor a historically precise Victorian pink, but a Pepto-Bismol pink, with the windows trimmed in even more fluorescent hot pink.  We lived in a small town, where we already were different because we were Jewish, because my mother worked, and because both my parents had been to college.  The Pink House, as it became known throughout the town, only served to exacerbate my feelings of difference among my peers.  The house itself became something of an urban legend, with speculation running wild about how it came to be that color.  Rumors were that they had let the daughter (me!) pick the color, or that vandals or pranksters had thrown a gallon of pink paint at the house, necessitating a cover-up.  In truth, I hated everything about it, from the nauseating paint smell that never seemed to go away, to the long walk down the driveway, from the notoriety, to the identity of being “That Girl”, to the mail we’d get, simply addressed to “The Pink House.” 

While I had many friends from many walks of life and the full range of social strata, from trailer parks to new McMansions, I always sensed my family was different.  We came from Elsewhere.  Other kids had older brothers or sisters come before them, and teachers would eagerly welcome Eric’s younger brother, or Michelle’s younger sister into their classes.  It seemed I was the only first-born among my friends.  My parents spoke differently.  They learned to imitate the Northern New York Cricker dialect to our amusement, but there were some subtle and not-so-subtle cues that we weren’t just different; we were better. 

The elitism, which I didn’t recognize as such until much later, took its cues from the limited educational and cultural offerings in our town, in contrast to the vast and storied opportunities in other places we had lived.  We weren’t content with the local offerings, so my parents made sure we had our cultural education from Elsewhere.  We went to Colorado every other year because the skiing was better than in New York and New England.  We took trips to visit museums and see concerts and plays – down to Albany, over to Burlington, and all the way to Boston, where my father’s family lives.  On one ski trip to Colorado, my godfather took me to see a professional ballet, and I was never the same.  The early grades of the local schools were acceptable, but my parents had said that they’d considered boarding school if we stayed long enough for me to reach high-school age.  The subtext of Temporary was never too far away, and we all sensed it.  My father often said in his regaling us with another Cricker anecdote, that when the children came home saying, “Jeezum Crow” (the local variant of Jesus Christ), it was time to move.  We were never meant to live there long enough to settle in, to fit in.  Though the vast majority of my early memories are from our nine years in that town, I guess I never did fit in, and I always knew it. 

We moved to Minnesota, to another small town, one which, ironically, given its higher median socio-economic status, didn’t even have a local 4-year college.  Now, even the menial cultural offerings we’d had in our old town, courtesy the local SUNY branch, were absent.  We compensated by lauding the superior public schools, and I hoped for more social compatibility.  More families there were transplanted; few outside of those with Nordic lineage were actually native to the area, so we hoped they’d be more open to outsiders.  There were Indian restaurants, two synagogues, and a youth theatre.  Entering my freshman year of high school, I did my best to fit in. 

At school, fitting in had a narrow definition.  Outside of the few freaks (the Marilyn Manson girl, the few goth kids, and the guy who always wore fatigues), no one dared show a shred of personal expression with clothing, hair, or make-up.  Back packs were Jansports, shoes were brown 3-eye Doc Marten’s, winter coats were yellow Columbia parkas, and mittens were from Winona Knits.  In Minnesota, even mittens conformed.  I waffled between expressing myself and trying to fit in.  With my strategic incorporation of vintage wrap-skirts and brocade smoking jackets into my wardrobe, it would seem I wasn’t trying very hard.  Yet I would have rather died than be the only one dressed up on Halloween.  Another “fashion” trend I bucked was the wearing of white socks with Birkenstock sandals.  I made the mistake of expressing my opinion on the ghastly combination for an editorial assignment in my oratory/debate class.  While the class was populated mostly by my compatriots, my teacher cruelly ordered the taping and subsequent broadcast of my editorial over the school’s TV network.  I sat in my homeroom, head on my desk, as the piece played.  That editorial followed me the rest of my high school career.  Any hopes I had of fitting in, or at least not sticking out, were dashed.  I hadn’t kept my mouth shut; I had identified myself as an outsider, and unlike in my earlier years, this time, I had done it to myself. 

Among my friends, those who cared less about clothing particulars and shopping at the mall, I was still an outsider.  They had all gone to elementary and middle schools together, and had a massive shared history I could never make up.  My own history, my own world knowledge clashed in subtle ways.  Once I mentioned FAO Schwarz, the legendary toy store, to which I had been exactly once on a family trip, and was met by blank stares.  I explained, and it was assumed that I would know about such a place because only rich people shopped there.  It didn’t matter how much I tried to persuade her (a girl whose identity was wrapped up in being poor) that no one actually shops there: it’s more of an experience, a tourist destination, an item in the cultural lexicon of millions.  She didn’t believe me, and I had once again donned the elitist, outsider badge, even among friends. 

I keep my mouth shut more now, if I haven’t completely assessed my human surroundings.  I wait people out, trying to see if they’re going to castigate me for being “smart” or “rich” or “privileged” or “elitist”.  At my last job, the role of “smart” came unwittingly to me, as people sought my advice on everything from Lyme disease, ringworm, and GERD; to spelling and grammar; to GPS, cell phones, and formatting Powerpoint.  I don’t think I put myself forth as an expert in matters medical, orthological, or technological (I’m certainly no Modern Major General), but people still treat me as such.  In putting me in that position, I’m partially flattered, but in selecting me as an expert in anything, they are singling me out, and yet again, I am an outsider.  I tried to mitigate this effect by seeming less confident.  Oh, I think you can add a picture this way.  Better talk to your doctor about that.  I’m pretty sure “commitment” spelled with two “m”’s, one “t”.  But they probably see right through it.

In my current job, I kept my mouth shut initially.  I wanted to feel out the vibe here, if intelligence was to be prized or hidden.  I kept my Halloween costume low-key, to strike that balance between fitting in/showing spirit, and self-expression (the only one in costume).  I dressed all in black, but put on a pink tu-tu, not strictly a costume piece, but something I could remove if necessary.  I wasn’t taking any risks. 

Last week, I had a most marvelous experience that let me know I may be close to fitting in here.  A student was asking his teacher why “sign” was spelled with the silent “g”.  Without going into the morphology, his teacher explained it was because of the word’s origin.  Many of the words that don’t follow sound-it-out spelling conventions can be explained away by blaming one of the languages that influence Anglo-Saxon.  French is legendary for all those unpronounced letters in “bouquet” and “ballet” and “hors d’oeuvres”.  The teacher said he thought that “gn” digraph was of Anglo-Saxon origin, related to the word “gnat”.  I demurred, saying it was more related to the “gn” cluster in Latinate words like “cognizant” “agnostic” “benign” and “malignant”, pronounced with or without the “g” depending on the specific word.  We consulted the Google.  Lo and behold, I was right.  That wasn’t the exciting part.  The exciting part was that I allowed myself to be right about it, to rib the teacher a little.  The thrilling part, on later reflection, was thinking about the fact that I had debated the etymology of the spelling of the “gn” digraph in the word “sign”.  At work.  And not been ostracized or felt like an outsider.  I felt smart, but I felt accepted, which was more important.

It’s a good thing so few people read my blog, or I’d never have the nerve to put up this kind of post. 

Ah, the mood-stabilizing caffeine is finally kicking in.  Or maybe I’m just safely out of the public sphere.  I should not be allowed out of my bed, much less the house, when I’m in a state like this.  I should have known it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses, even on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day.  I accused the erratic heating system at work of causing my migraine yesterday, but I was in denial that a migraine is usually the harbinger of my period.  Or, more precisely, the dashing of my hopes of pregnancy for yet another cycle.  When I awoke this morning to a continued headache, surprised I had been able to sleep at all, and dribbled toothpaste down my new shirt, I just knew.  These things come in threes.  Sure enough, no baby this month.

Were my hopes any higher this cycle than usual?  My digital, idiot-proof fertility monitor had actually green-lighted ovulation 2 weeks ago, so I was optimistic.  Mr. Apron and I tried our most dutifully to make a baby.  After some wrangling, I’d made a (back-up) appointment with a fertility doctor.  And yet, this morning, as I saw the wall of chances come crumbling down, it still crushed me as hard as ever.

I tried go out, pick up my new glasses, buy our special peanut butter, do some bullshit shopping, just to keep myself busy and occupy my mind, rather than sitting home and wallowing in self-pity, but there’s no use.  The littlest things are setting me off, and I’m seething with vitriol at my body’s failure to do what I’ve commanded it to.   A woman at Bed, Bath & Beyond directs me to the “other side of the store” to find the dog beds.  I find nothing except doggy stairs (to let the dog access the human bed), couch/car seat covers (for when the dog is lying on those human furnishings), and doggy towels (microfiber towels with a dog-print on it, so you know it’s for dogs).  As I head out the door by the register, the cashier tosses off her mandatory, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”  and I bark back, accusatorily, “You don’t actually have dog beds, do you?”  “What?” She is taken aback.  “I mean, for real dogs.  You don’t have them, do you?”  Of course they don’t.  But she told me they did.  I go into Starbucks to try to get the caffeine jolt that usually lessens the stubborn migraine’s grip on me (now entering its 23rd hour).  My usual caffeine intake is restricted and so minimal, that a junky, girly Frappuccino is enough to send me into a hyper, happy buzz, and hopefully kill the headache as well.  Why would the drink-making chippy ask if I wanted whipped cream after I specified I wanted soy milk in my Frappuccino? Especially after the register-chippy already wrote a line through “WC” on the cup? I should have stayed in bed today.  As my eyes tear up, I grab my drink and rush to the car, only to find myself boxed in by 2 enormous SUVs. 

I hate that Starbucks, with its impossible parking lot.  I hate the oversized SUVs the WASPy tooth-bleaching moms drive in my neighborhood.  I hate having to explain common-sense things to people; and I hate when they lie to me about what their store carries.  Maybe I could tolerate this bullshit any other day, but not when I’m fit to burst from disappointment and frustration. 

On these days, when I hate my body, I want to punish it somehow.  As soon as I find out I’m not pregnant, I want to go on an anti-pregnancy bender of sorts.  If I were a drinker, I bet I’d be reaching for a bottle.  I want to purge all the precautions from my body.  Caffeine?  Feta cheese?  Eating well?  Vitamins?  Exercising?  I want to simultaneously make a clean start and scrub it all away, and trash all the things I’d been doing, on the chance I’d be pregnant.  Which I never am.  As my body is punishing me by denying me the baby I want so dearly, I want to punish it for failing me.  I want to ignore my Good Girl GI diet and eat greasy disgusting things to make myself sick.  I want to skip my prudent breakfast, and eat nothing but two rolls for lunch.  As a non-drinker, I don’t have a full toolbox of methods to actually make myself sick, but I think I’d be drinking it all away if I could. 

If I go out, if I pretend everything’s okay, and go about my business, am I denying myself the opportunity to be sad?  If I stay home and bathe myself in self-pity, marinating in my own filth and self- loathing, is that any better? 

As I do my errands, I am reminded acutely that all am I doing is distracting myself again with bullshit.  I look around my house and see more claptrap nonsense: the stand mixer (still in its box) my mother gave us for Hanukkah that we’ll probably never use; the first season of “The Wire” that I have no interest in watching with my husband; the dogs and their fur-covered trappings; the feeble attempts at suburban homey-ness; and all the crap we use to keep ourselves busy.  Right now I don’t want any of it.  What I want is a baby, and no amount of bargaining or mourning or self-flagellation is going to bring it to me.

Mr. Eggleston endeared himself to his 4th grade class with a kindly smile, non-nonsense demeanor, and a very special game.  A much-anticipated part of 4th grade, Mum-Ball was a hallowed activity, one taught to eager younger siblings by older brothers and sisters who had already passed through the 4th grade.  Trouble was, you couldn’t quite replicate it outside a classroom.  We tried.  Once, at a party, in someone’s basement, we all hopped up on mats and chairs as someone’s older sister tried to explain the magical game that such allures, but it couldn’t be done without rows of desks and chairs, and a classroom full of eager kids.

Mum-Ball had a number of lesser rules, but the basic tenets of the game were that you had to be absolutely quiet (hence “mum”), you had to throw and catch a ball according to specified dictates (one hand or left handed catches two hand throws), and you had to stay up on your desk.  Any grazing of the floor or the seat of your chair, and you were out.  Any murmur leaves your lips, and you sat down to watch the rest battle it out.  There were additional rules governing no-throw-backs, and no throwing over anyone’s head.  These last rules could pretty quickly end a cut-throat game of four, or a check-mate scenario of 3 kids in a row. 

And then there were the ever-changing variables.  Mr. E., as we often called him, kept a cache of every type of ball imaginable in a corner behind his desk – Kooshes, dodge balls, soccer balls, foam balls, ping pong balls, even the ball with a balloon inside, the Balzac.  Kids would bring in new types of balls; we were always adding to the mix.  Mr. E. also loved to change up the game midway through.  He would start the game with a leisurely “two-hand catches, two-hand throws” and suddenly switch to “left-hand catches, two-hand throws”.  Try keeping that all in your head as a projectile zooms about the classroom.  Unlike in the gym, where the female contingent was usually plastered along the wall trying to pretend they didn’t exist, in Mum Ball, the girls were as likely as the boys to make a last-ditch dive off the desk, struggling for balance lest they catch the ball but fall to the floor. 

I was thinking about Mum-Ball this week and, unfortunately, dissecting it into its many virtues.  Now that I’m tasked with motivating a single student or classroom full of kids, I am beginning to understand the brilliance of Mum-Ball.  From a teacher’s point of view, it’s a great way to command silence instantly.  Beyond being simply a game for “following directions,” Mum-Ball requires students to activate working memory.  While the main rules may be learned and stored in long-term memory, the sudden rule changes (e.g., from two-hand throws to left-hand catches) keep the kids constantly alert and focused.  There is strategy with the no-throw-back and no-overhead throw rules, and kids must pay attention to where the ball is at all times.  From a physical standpoint, Mum-Ball also hones balance and ball-handling skills, as kids are accountable not only for successful catches, but also for accurate throws.  Imagine a game kids beg to play where they have to stay quiet – that is the beauty of Mum Ball.

As I was out walking our puppy Molly, a few months ago, a neighbor who was, I’m sure, only trying to be helpful, saw me being dragged down the path, saw my furrowed brow, saw me struggling, and made an unsolicited comment.  She asked if I watched “The Dog Whisperer.” I managed a grimace of acknowledgement and continued our walk-drag.  Perhaps I found this especially unnerving because I had back at the house the business card of a dog trainer I was totally intending to call.  I so was.  I dislike the implication that my dog is so severe she needs the miraculous musings of an Oprah minion.  For the record, I immediately disregard any/all advice given by Oprah’s minions, including Dr. Phil with his condescension and his “How’s that workin’ out for ya?”s, Dr. Oz, with his scrubs and his wine-cork jaw exercises, and Cesar Milan, with his…well, I don’t know.  I’ve never watched him.  We don’t get that channel.  But I do know that I don’t appreciate someone else’s assumption that if I can’t handle my 28lb dog and/or she isn’t obedient enough to walk on a leash, it’s time to bring in Oprah’s minion. 

Molly is essentially developmentally delayed.  She had, to our knowledge, no structure, no obedience, and no expectations in her first 8 months of life.  No house-breaking, either, from the look of it.  It’s not just a delayed puppy hood – it’s dealing with the repercussions of an extended period of laissez-faire puppy hood.  She has her issues, but is basically a sweet puppy.  Much as I imagine people get pretty huffy when others judge their parenting skills in public, I was not happy with our neighbor’s assessment.

As I sat at lunch today with my coworkers, the topic turned to corporal punishment of children, or, as the proponents would call it, “spanking”.  Just a little tap.  Just enough to scare him.  And then they used the “I turned out okay” argument and I bristled.  Then they used the “Well, you can’t reason with a small child” argument.  Then they stated the futility of negotiations when a kid is running into traffic.  As one who has learned her basic child discipline beliefs from a Quaker school, I sat there mute, stunned into silence.  I couldn’t even begin to launch into the logical fallacies they were using.  False dichotomy between spanking and treatises, the idea that “fear” of the parents equals respect, the idea that the child even understands what the spank means, the complete absence of logical consequences. 

For my coworker who blessedly does not yet have children, this meant a parallel into doggie discipline.  She described in horror how at the vet she saw a dog owner “spank” his dog.  Okay, I thought, at least she’s properly horrified.  But then she launched into a detailed description of how she disciplines her dog when it barks at other dogs by “tapping” it on the nose.  As for when the dog “defies” her by pooping on the rug “right in front of me,”  she shoves its nose in the shit to “shame” it, and the poor beast responds by running away and avoiding her for the rest of the day.  I wonder why.  Could it be she is not repentant but upset that her human shoved her nose in her own shit, and dogs instinctively shit away from places they sleep?  Or put their noses, for that matter. 

She gave the dog a toy, a dolly to carry around.  When the dog ripped its head off, she said, “no,” and took the doll away.  Unspoken in my mind was, “Well, she’s a 2 year old dog.  What does she have to chew on?  What do you expect her to do with a doll?  Play house?”

I had no polite responses for this woman, who was in the “I was spanked and I turned out okay” camp.  All I could do was talk about my own positive experience with our puppy, who now walks on a leash without yanking my arm out of its socket thanks not to Cesar Milan, but to a real dog trainer, not some Oprah-proclaimed miracle worker.  She didn’t get nose-to-nose with our puppy and figure out her puppyhood trauma.  She spent 2 hours training her with 3 basic commands so Molly will now walk gently (“Gentle”), stop when we ask her to (“Wait”), and turn around (“Come About” – she’s apparently a boat).  Molly usually listens to us, and sometimes even watches to see where we are leading.  Not because we choked her (my coworker also has a choke collar for her ill-fated pooch), yelled at her, spanked her, or tapped her nose, but because we sought real and professional help, and used methods that didn’t give Molly any credit. 

Molly was too stupid to know that pulling on the leash isn’t getting her “there” any faster (wherever “there”) is.  We didn’t waste time trying to teach her that, or expend energy trying to scare her into a fearful compliance.  When she has accidents, we blame ourselves, because we usually have forgotten to take her out in time.  We have to meet her where she is.  She is currently on a 3-hour timer for walks, when we’re home.  We can’t one day expect her to make it 5 hours, without giving her the tools for success, nor can we punish her for having an accident when we failed her.  We especially can’t punish her by rubbing her nose in it or by smacking her on her nose, anymore than we can punish her by taking away her food and water.  My coworker gives her dog too much credit, ascribes too many intentions on the dog’s part, and as a result, she sees her dog as willful, naughty, and disobedient.  In fact, she’s given her nothing to obey.  Here’s a toy, but wait! you can’t chew it.  I’ll punish you for shitting in the hallway, but not go out of my way to help you have success in house-breaking.  And I’m going to send you confusing messages by going against your very instincts (chewing toys, keeping herself away from her poop, defending her people by growling). 

I don’t want to be like my neighbor and make assumptions about how someone else “parents” her dog.  What is clear to me, however, as my coworker describes her own childhood and her dog-rearing ideas, is that her “I turned out okay” assertion was far from a simple truth.

I survived the dentist last night, with a clean bill of dental health and I don’t have to go back for six months.  After a period where it seemed like I had cavities every time I went in, or at the least decay the dentist was “watching,” this is a welcome stay of execution. 

As I was sitting in the chair, ignoring the awful scraping of metal on enamel, I began to reflect:

Just don’t talk to me.  Talk to yourself if you must, narrate what you’re doing, but leave me out of it.  And definitely don’t ask me how I’m doing.  If you don’t see my fists clenched or tension wracking my face as I wince, I’m probably just fine, or at least coping alright. 

When do they expect us to swallow?  What is my tongue doing?  It’s hard enough to focus on keeping my jaw cranked open constantly without worrying about my tongue.  When she’s “polishing” my teeth, it’s a constant logic puzzle.  I have to guess where she’s likely to go next, so I can work on keeping my tongue out of the way, lest I get buzzed by the tool or the dubiously minty flavor of the polish. 

Why is a metal tool the one chosen to scrape my teeth anyway?  At my dentist, they use a WaterPik.  It took me several visits to figure out what tool they were shoving in my mouth that sent needles of sharp pain at my gum line.  Whoever figured out that you can use water to accomplish this is a marketing genius.  “It’s only water,” he would say, “but it comes out with so much force it only feels like needles.” So therefore it must be harmless.  Right, just like the water the carved Niagara Falls, and the freezing rain that’s encased my entire block in a sheet of ice and taken down trees and power lines in my neighborhood.  It’s only water. 

I think the hygienists must have a pool to see how many can speculate where the cavities are, and what their accuracy in prediction is.  They poke around, tapping, scraping, digging, and mumble, gravely, “Oh, I think I see something here.”  Then they report to the dentist, “I saw some decay in number 8 and number 17.” And, damn! If they’re right, it must just send a shiver of pomposity up their spines.  As if all they had to do was go to dental hygienist school and not dental school to figure it all out.

“Are you flossing?”  “Mmmph,” I mumble assertively.  “Every day?”  “Mmph Hmph.” I affirm.  They never believe me.  I’m the most religious flosser I’ve ever known.  I get popcorn, broccoli, pasta, crackers, orange pulp, and spinach caught every place they can think to hide, sending me straight for the floss.  But they want to have contempt for my habits and my gum line, so the accusations and doubt hang in the air. 

At least I don’t have to go back for six months.  When I was a kid, I considered which I disliked more – going to the dentist or the doctor.  I was infrequently sick, so I only had to go to the doctor once a year, compared to the dentist’s twice a year dictum, but at the doctor there were often shots and nakedness.  For me, the dentist was less traumatizing, as I never had cavities back then, and the hygienists always told me I was their best patient.  I opened my mouth wider than anyone else, and I was much better behaved than the adults.  So they said.  And I chose to believe it.

Also, as a child, I would come home with my mouth feeling too clean.  I wanted desperately for it to feel and taste normal again.  I would hit the candy and junk as soon as I was out of sight of the dentist’s office.  I could never understand the appeal of the promised “Fresh from the dentist’s office clean” some toothpastes assured.  Now, every time I go, I feel guilty for whatever I’ve done to deserve the scraping, poking, and criticism, not to mention the cavities, and drilling that sometimes follow.  I leave the office with renewed promises to be a good girl.  Despite how hungry I may be from my early dinner, I don’t want to put another thing in my mouth and “ruin” what the hygienists worked so hard to accomplish.  My resolve usually lasts 2 hours. 

Now, however, the dentist is always in my calendar, 6 months out, whether I’m sick or not.  And it’s only by going there that I find out I have cavities.  And they have the WaterPik.  At least with the doctor, nowadays, I go when I’m sick or have some sort of mysterious issue, and my mind (if not my body as well) is always relieved by seeing my kindly old GP.  In comparison to my brain surgery and subsequent recovery, needles and nakedness are small potatoes.

I love the quiet moments before school starts.  I love being able to hear the clock ticking and the pipes banging as the heat decides to turn on for the morning. 

On a regular morning, I come in around 7:40am.  The other speech therapists usually aren’t in yet, so I have the room to myself. Kids drift in from their various school districts and carpools, congregating in the hallway by their lockers.  They speak in hushed tones, sipping tea or hot chocolate, still half asleep. 

By the end of the day, these same drowsy teens will be bouncing off the walls, eager to burst out of classrooms a minute early.  They’ll be trapped in advisory, unwilling to even sit down, ready for the climactic final bell that signals their release back to the bus and carpool mayhem. 

But for now, it’s quiet.  It’s calm before the storm.  It’s a time for me to recollect the things I forgot to finish yesterday, to have a moment’s peace to check my e-mail before the insanity kicks in.  

I’m by no means a morning person.  When the 2-hour delay was called this morning, I was the first one to hit the couch, setting the oven timer for another hour of sleep.  I tossed my glasses on the coffee table, peeled off my shoes, and relished another hour of slumber.  After I’d finished scraping my car out of its icy casing, I left for work.  I took my time on the unpredictable roads, but still arrived before 9:30am.  School probably won’t start officially until 10:15am, but the kids are already trickling in, a little more alert than usual.  Still, I have my time, my alone time without the clawing and licking from the dogs at home, nor the pressures of the workday at school.  Yet.

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February 2011