The Dentist

The smell of the dentist’s office—so familiar it’s almost comforting, but yet repulsive and terrifying all at once. If impending doom had a scent, it would be the same as the dentist’s office.  Contrast that with the sweet voices of the receptionists at the dentist’s office. I have never encountered a dental receptionist that didn’t have the voice of angel. It must be a job requirement meant to distract the patient from the all-too-painful whirring of unidentified, electric dental tools.

Even the most faithful flossers begin to perspire as they walk into the dentist’s office. I consider myself well above average in the oral hygiene department but I still get nervous. And that dental office decor only adds to my anxiety because I can never stop wondering how they managed to get my grandma’s old sofa into this tiny office. I pick up the May issue of Glamour but the summer swimsuit collection isn’t really going to help me now that it’s November and 40 degrees outside. I decide to amuse myself by focusing on the guy across from me who looks really nervous. I look over and whisper, “I hope the tools are properly sterilized here or we could all get dysentery and die.” Nothing makes me feel better like making someone else feel worse.

That sweet-sounding receptionist gives me a scowl so I quickly get back to reading about which bikini will look best on the Thanksgiving turkey. I get up and walk to the bathroom to wash my hands because pre-read magazines always make me feel dirty. There is complimentary floss and mouthwash in the bathroom. I imagine the poor, desperate soul who uses this stuff. If you have been shirking your flossing duties, you’re not going to fool anyone here with this last-ditch effort. But they are travel-size so I grab a few and put them in my pocket—perfect for the flosser on the go.

Soon enough it’s my turn for the power chair and the sassy clip-on bib. The dentist and her assistant shove tools, hands, and enough cotton to knit a sweater in my mouth then begin asking me questions. I try to answer with a clever combination of hand gestures and eyebrow movements but I’m afraid the hygienist may think I am propositioning her. I switch all my answers to a throaty gurgling noise. Thankfully my dentist is fluent in throaty, gurgling noises. All too quickly my chair is back in the upright position and the dental verdict is in. “You need to see an endodontist.”

An endodontist, I learn, is a root canal specialist. In other words, a doctor who specializes in torture. Another appointment, another office. Only this office was not the same. Where my dentist had my grandmother’s couch from 1986, this office has a roaring fireplace, a crystal chandelier, and a self-serve wet bar. My travel-size floss pilfering seemed so amateur compared to what I could pilfer here: soda, water, little granola bars. This is how the other half of teeth live!

My excitement over the opulent office soon wanes as my appointment time comes and goes. I become more and more anxious as I come to terms with the fact that this office must have tools whose sounds I’ve never even heard before. My imminent root canal suddenly feels more like a death sentence and I start looking for an escape route. Too late, the nurse calls my name and before I know it, I’m sitting in that horrible dentist chair. Only this one’s not too horrible because it’s heated and and is massaging me. But not even a heated massage can distract me and my terror grows.

That’s when I was introduced to the three most glorious words in the English language: “free nitrous oxide.” The doctor saw how nervous I was and had the nurse get the nitrous. I was apprehensive because I had never had the stuff before, but the nurse smiled slyly and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll like it.”

Like it was an understatement. A little cover over my nose and a deep breath later, I was one happy root canal recipient. As it turns out, nitrous oxide is just like drinking your favorite cocktail but without the bourgeois hassle of lifting a glass. It’s unadulterated drunkenness and all you have to do is breath. I almost hyperventilated—twice.

That’s the day I no longer feared the dentist. I never miss an appointment and even though they assure me a routine check-up doesn’t require nitrous oxide, I request it anyway. If only this stuff was available at the gynecologist’s office.


Mommy Martyrdom

The other day at the store I saw a mother and her adult daughter in a tense discussion. As I got closer, I saw that the mother had a cast on her leg and was using one of those scooter-carts. The daughter was refusing to return the scooter once the mother rode it to the car. In all her martyr glory, that mother looked at her daughter and said, “Don’t worry; I can just hop to the car.”

There is a magical transformation that takes place when a mother first holds her baby. Women change from mere mortals to mothers with powers we never knew lived within us: the power to function on two hours of sleep, the power to wear our hair in a unwashed ponytail for weeks, and the power to be completely unfazed by the spit-up that covers everything we own. It is during this transformation into mothers that we are also endowed with the magnificent gift of martyrdom.

Moms sacrifice a lot for their families and we do it happily. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t wield that fact like a super power every now and then. We want our families to notice and appreciate everything we do for them and we are not above simple manipulation to get the recognition we so rightly deserve.

Last week I had a cold (the same cold my daughter and husband had the week prior but of course mine was much, much worse). Being sick puts a mom at high risk for playing her martyr card anyway but my husband only worsened the situation by telling me to stay in bed and rest. He said he could handle everything. He can handle everything?! He thinks cleaning means moving the pile of magazines from the living room to the bedroom and I’m pretty sure he has no idea where we keep the washing machine.

A non-martyr would possibly let him take a crack at the chores or just resign herself to the fact that she will have to do them later when she feels better. A martyr does things differently. I got out of bed, put on my robe and shoved a bunch of tissue up in my sleeve, grandma-style. I announced to my husband that I couldn’t stay in bed and rest when there was so much to do.

“Honey, I’ve got this under control. Go back to bed,” he said and as I looked around, the house seemed in order. But this only angers a martyr because she can never be outdone.

“I have to clean the windows,” I said and sniffled pathetically.

“The windows haven’t been cleaned in four years,” he replied.

“I know. I have failed my family for far too long. I can no longer force you to look out dingy windows. No, don’t worry about me, I will clean these windows today,” I coughed for effect and rummaged in a drawer for a towel and grabbed the Windex.

The only thing that can thwart a really great martyr-manipulation-moment is the husband who will call the martyr’s bluff.

“The windows don’t need to be cleaned right now but go ahead if you want to,” he said. This is not the response I was going for. I wanted him to weep with admiration and throw roses as I descended the stairs to clean so selflessly for my family.

Too stubborn to lose the momentum of this martyr episode, I walked outside and got to work on the first window. I saw my husband so I sneezed repeatedly and leaned against the window with all the passion of a high school theater student. My husband was completely unimpressed.

I ended up cleaning every window that day thanks to my husband and his refusal to be manipulated by my martyrdom. What I was hoping would be remembered as “The day mommy selflessly cleaned the windows so the family could truly enjoy the fall colors even though she had a temperature of one hundred and four” suddenly became “The day mommy went crazy and wiped all the windows with a dirty towel then fell off the stepladder, blacked out for a minute and came to with the dog chewing up all the tissue from her sleeve.”

If I’m still sick tomorrow, I think I will be forced to go out and chop some firewood. My husband will bow to my martyrdom when I start up his chainsaw and head towards the tree holding up his hammock.


The Elf on the Shelf

I had a nightmare about one of those little Elf on the Shelf toys last night. It seemed one had gotten into our house and kept trying to attack my daughter so I attempted to drown it in the dog’s water dish–it wouldn’t die. I then wrestled it to the ground and tried to reason with it–it wouldn’t listen. Finally, I had to dismember it’s stuffed body parts and scatter them William Wallace-style across the living room. There was also a penguin riding a tricycle in a Richard Nixon mask. I’m not sure how that last part fits in, but I wanted to be thorough in my retelling of this dream.

I think I am still recovering from all of the Elf on the Shelf antics from last year. One cannot nonchalantly enter the realm of Pinterest with hopes of finding a recipe for figgy pudding and a stiff holiday toddy without being inundated by the images of that Elf compromising himself in all kinds of shenanigans.

I have never seen a picture of that Elf on an actual shelf, but I have seen pictures of him playing in a box of cereal–oh, you cheeky Elf! I’ve seen him spill a box of crayons–what a scamp! And of course there’s the time he drank all the vodka, shaved the dog and blamed the neighbors then threw up all over the stairs. Yeah, this Elf is a rascal!

As I understand it, the Elf is designed to be a mystical presence that keeps kids in line during the holiday season with the looming threat that this Elf reports back to Santa. But how can he accurately report children’s misbehavior if he himself is constantly misbehaving? It certainly calls into question Santa’s standards and training practices. When I was a kid, Santa knew what I was doing every minute of every day simply with his Santa magic, now he has outsourced a good portion of his job to poorly-trained elves whose misdeeds end up plastered all over the internet.

That is why this holiday season I will be marketing: “The Elf on the Shelf That Watches Your Other Elf on the Shelf and Tries to Curb His Poor Decision-Making.” Clearly, the name is a work in progress, but the idea is solid. This Elf will come with a choice of three facial expressions: a motherly smirk, a disapproving frown, or the dreaded mom scowl. He will also come with prerecorded tried and true mommy phrases like, “Do you need a time out?” and “I’m counting to three!” and the mother classic of all time, “That’s it!” This Elf will keep that mischievous little other Elf out of your good china this year and spare that glorious new gravy boat your grandmother gave you.

I’m also working on a prototype for “The Elf on the Shelf’s Older Brother.” This one will ridicule the younger Elf on the Shelf mercilessly while punching him in the face with his own fist. It’s a bit more extreme, for those families with elves (and children) who are seriously close to getting nothing but coal (or jail time) for Christmas. For those families where behavior is a moderate concern, there will be a “Passive-Aggressive Elf on the Shelf.” This Elf will watch the other Elf with a judgmental, superior air and utter phrases like, “Well, if that’s what makes you happy.”

My goal is to make this holiday season a cheerful one, devoid of any Elf misconduct while still properly frightening the children of the world with that creepy little Elf face perched on a shelf near you.