November 28, 2007
I hate going to the dentist. Oh, how I hate going to the dentist. I went for a cleaning last week and wriggled and twitched uncomfortably through the poking and the scraping, my tongue constantly and involuntarily getting in the way, while I fixated on the bulb of the overhead light, hoping that my dry burning eyeballs would distract me from what was going on in my mouth.
The hygienist pulled out the polishing toothbrush and I cringed -- this was the worst part, I always thought. The WORST.
And like every cleaning before, I realized that it wasn't -- that it actually barely bothered me at all.
When I was very little, that vibrating doohickey made me cry. I had to be physically held down in the dentist chair for years. It made me scream and kick and flail and gag. One time I screamed so much I threw up all over myself -- just like Noah did after the nurse restrained his hand for all that time on Monday, squeezing out drops of blood after a completely painless finger prick.
Just like Noah.
If I order a sandwich, it cannot contain any of the following: lettuce, pickles, raw onions.
I like lettuce, pickles and raw onions. But I can't eat them on a sandwich. Last week in a fit of laziness I took Noah to McDonald's. He won't eat fries (he doesn't like crunchy-outside-soft-inside things), or nuggets (same thing, only worse because it's meat), or apple slices (are you soft or are you crunchy? make up your mind, fruit!), so he dipped his fingers in the caramel sauce and drank some milk. I figured that it served me right, but dammit, I was in the mood for a burger. I ordered a quarter pounder with cheese and forgot to ask for no pickles.
When I took a bite it felt like someone was scraping their fingernails on a chalkboard. Only the chalkboard was inside my skull, right between my ears. And so I, a nearly 30-year-old woman who prides herself immensely on gourmet cooking and adventurous dining, spat out a bite of hamburger onto a tray and picked the remaining pickles off.
I was the last one in my class to hang upside-down from the monkey bars and I hated sports so much I would cry when I was forced to participate. Field Day was my own personal circle of hell. I couldn't run very fast or jump very far or kick or throw or hit a ball in pretty much any sport.
It was okay though, because I was girl. I was supposed to be cautious and prefer books and quiet toys.
I refused to wear turtlenecks for years. They gagged me. I would pull and stretch on the necks because I was sure I was choking. Eventually my entire body would start freaking out and...I don't know, but I still remember that desperate itching, like the fight-or-flight instinct kicking in and I would have to pull the shirt off, and those brief seconds while the elastic-y neck was over my face I thought I was going to die.
I remember that feeling because it came back a few years ago, when I started having panic attacks. My panic attacks always included gagging -- the feeling that I was not getting enough air. I was choking. I was being strangled. My chest was being crushed. I was drowning. Jason would shake me, force me to focus on the overhead light, and remind me that the only thing stopping my breathing was me.
I talked about this feeling in therapy a lot. We tried to dig for the reason -- some childhood trauma, perhaps? The older brother who wrapped a telephone cord around my neck? Who kept my torso trapped between his knees that one time until I cried? Did he maybe do other things that no one saw and I don't remember? Think about your other brothers, your neighbors, your uncles, find someone to blame for the way you are.
Looking back and connecting the dots like this is both helpful and frustrating. On the one hand, I outgrew most of my ticks, or at least learned to deal with them. I don't like the dentist, but I go. I use an electric toothbrush every day. Twice a day! I can wear a turtleneck if I want to. Which I don't. But I could! I played tennis in high school and even got pretty good, and while the thought of playing volleyball at the beach still fills me with a sense of dread and you-people-be-crazy-how-is-that-fun, no one is forcing me to play volleyball at the beach these days. I absolutely cannot ski, which breaks Jason's heart, but he loves me anyway. I eat a wide variety of foods and textures and there are worse things in life than pickle-less hamburgers.
On the other hand, Noah got all this stuff from me.
Even if your childhood is all-around pretty okay, you still want your own children to have an easier time than you did. You still want to correct whatever mistakes you think your parents made, and you still want your children to excel in the areas you lacked.
I'd love for Noah to be good at sports -- I don't care really, but let's face it, it just makes life easier for little boys. Jason would love for him to ski, although at this point we'd both be happy if he'd just let us drag him around the floor on a towel without howling in terror.
I'd love for Noah to eat more foods, to let us brush his teeth and rub his face. I'd love to hold his hand while we walk instead of carrying him everywhere, out in public and up and down stairs. I'd love for his first memories to NOT involve puking in a doctor's office because someone is doing something to you that drives your brain crazy in a way you can't explain.
I still hope all those things can happen for him -- he's so young -- and obviously we love him regardless, completely as-is.
Find someone to blame for the way you are. Well. Hi. Here I am.
I'm really sorry. But it'll be okay in the end.