“Brush your teeth.” I declared to my husband as we drove to Portland for our weekly date.
“What?” He obviously hadn’t heard me the first time.
“Brush your teeth!” I proclaimed with a flip of my hand. Maybe that would help.
Then there was a moment of silence in awe of my brilliance. Or perhaps it was because there is nothing to say in response to “brush your teeth” while you are:
1. driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour,
2. mentally recalling that you DID, in fact, already brush your teeth, and
3. going on a date with your wife, and in the spirit of love and acceptance, thinking long before mentioning the possibility that she is showing the first signs of early onset dementia.
“Hmm.” His wisest possible response, most likely.
“That’s what I want on my headstone.” We had not been talking about death, illness, or sharing our “last wishes” in the moments, hours or even days prior. It had come to me on a wave of inspiration.
My inspiration comes from my family: five beautiful monsters and a cat living together in a 900 square foot apartment with one bathroom. I use the word with fondness. My monsters are like the ones on the Muppets or Sesame Street: colorful, uncouth, driven by strange obsessions, but at the core lovable, if not always sweet.
Especially when you get close enough to smell their breath. Children are high-maintenance. Just ask a parent of infants and toddlers. You have feeding, washing, dressing, changing diapers. Then, as they get older, you begin to teach them how to care for themselves. You let them eat the cupcake with their hands. SCORE! You don’t have to hand feed them anymore, but the time you saved will be spent CLEANING UP after their food fight with themselves.
Growing up is a SLOW process. Anyone who says “they grow up so FAST” has forgotten the long days that make up the quick years. By the time they are 18, 15 and 12, a reasonable parent would expect that basic oral hygiene would be mastered.
At my house the ‘reasonable’ parent is tearing out clumps of her own hair.
Given their developmental challenges, I believe I have been patient with the process, having asked each child 20,000 times to brush his teeth. (YES, I have been counting.)
When they were little, we made up a cute song, set to the tune of “Frere Jacques:”
Brush your toofies, brush your toofies, brush your teeth, come brush your teeth.
Brush your little toofies, come and brush those toofies, brush your teeth, come brush your teeth.
Now we just invoke our toothless neighbor, Jerry’s name when they resist brushing.
“You don’t want to have all of your teeth pulled out by the dentist like Jerry, do you?”
“Look at poor Jerry. He didn’t brush his teeth, and now he can’t ever eat steak again.”
Instead of brushing their dang teeth, they offer reasons why they cannot comply:
1. I don’t have time.
2. I’m too tired.
3. I brushed my teeth yesterday.
4. Brushing teeth is boring.
Tired of hearing about it, their father says “Let them rot!”
Then I say, “When you live on your own, you can let your teeth rot out of your head, but while I have to take you to the dentist and pay the bill, you are going to brush your teeth.”
Yes, I expect them to brush their teeth. Every day. Twice. For two minutes. With their high-tech electric toothbrushes. And fluoridated toothpaste. They also need to floss. Don’t forget swish with mouthwash.
SOMEBODY CALL DHS! THIS MUST BE CHILD ABUSE.
Maybe by the time they are grown, my song, reminders and warnings will be cemented to their brains like so much tartar on neglected teeth. They won’t be able to RESIST the urge to brush, floss and swish. By the time I am dead they won’t need to see “brush your teeth” every time they visit my final resting place.
No matter. It’s good advice for friend and stranger alike. Don’t end up like poor old Jerry, who has to cut his corn off the cob. Brush your teeth.