By Melissa Chapman
About the Writer:
Melissa Chapman and her brood of three live in the urban, concrete jungle of NYC – that’s two kids and her dog. Oh and she’s got a husband too.
Our kids look to us to be their beacons of strength and I needed to summon every last iota of mine recently when, on what was turning out to be yet another routine Monday morning, I got a phone call that changed the trajectory of my daughter’s life.
Essentially she’d been involved in a freak accident; she was at camp in the bathroom and thought she was trapped in a stall. Another girl kicked it in and at that precise moment knocked out her permanent front tooth. A tooth culled from the same teeth my husband and I sunk a cool $5,000 into when they were just baby teeth. We were told if we didn’t pull, fill and care for them her adult ones would suffer. So for the past nine years we’ve fastidiously spent each night flossing, rinsing and brushing these porcelain squares. Therefore upon hearing that her permanent tooth was, in an instant, knocked out and unable to be recovered (as it had been severed at the nerve) well it was almost as if the universe was playing a cruel joke on us.
But more so than that; seeing blood profusely dripping down her split lip, the look of terror in her eyes and having an understanding of the gravity of the situation, that unlike a broken arm or leg, this would not regenerate and heal-well it was almost too much too bear. I know what you’re thinking- and I am thinking it as well, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a tooth. In fact with enough money and a threshold for pain (or at least a heck of a lot of anesthesia) it can be almost seamlessly replaced with an implant or veneer and appear almost as natural as a real tooth. And in some ways I agree, but, still feeling a little dazed by the incident, and hearing my red-headed nine year old utter statements like; “ I want my smile back,” my heart sinks into my chest and I feel so helpless. I am a fixer- like most parents I want to believe that with a little gumption and the green stuff I can make any bad situation evaporate. I simply don’t ever want my child to feel pain. And now, she will forever have this thing; this issue with a very prominent feature on her face and the way she views herself will be irrevocably changed.
Yes, it is sexist, but the reality is if this situation had befallen my son, while I would feel just as awful, I would not be nearly as concerned with making sure he felt secure about his appearance. A boy with a broken tooth is a bruiser- he’s tough, he’s got an edge. Whereas a girl with a broken tooth is, for lack of a better word, unattractive and unkempt and in need of an extreme dental makeover. Of course I don’t want to further these stereotypes within my daughter- so while I crumpled inside I put on a brave face and told her beauty comes from within and that broken tooth or not she was stunning. Would I have had to go to such lengths to soothe and reassure a boy, in a similar situation, about his appearance? For some reason I’d be hard-pressed to say yes. Present-day society expects a female to boast those pearly white perfectly straight teeth and now my daughter, whether I agree with the societal norms or not, falls short.
I guess the only bright spot of this experience; because really people if you can’t find something good in a bad situation well then what’s the point of our existence, is that it has utterly driven home how deep my love for this child runs. More completely and viscerally than I can even put into words. In fact, if we don’t get her teeth back to even a shadow of their former sparkle I am determined to find a way to break mine too- if it means I can alleviate her pain.
It’s also crystallized the grim reality that although as parents we think we have control over our children’s destinies; we immunize them, strap them into car seats and take every precaution to ensure their safety so much of our experiences with our kids are not at all within our control. As a parent how do you let go; how do you strike that balance between giving them their wings and not desperately wanting to clip them, swathe them in bubble wrap and never let them out of your sight?