Don’t you just hate it when the dental hygienist cleans your teeth? I’m not talking about the polishing. I’m talking about that horrible scaling and excavating of your gums.
Liz, my dental hygienist, stopped her scraping long enough to wipe my face, allow me to sit up, rinse my mouth, and spit out.
“You wipe like a mother,” I said.
“I am a mother,” she said quietly.
I sat back in the chair and Liz continued with her cleaning. Liz was a no nonsense hygienist. She continued to probe and scale my gums, I closed my, eyes and probed the reasons for my comment to her.
Liz did wipe like a mother… my mother.
The rasp of the drill was the only sound in the room as Liz worked. She had stopped talking. I worried that I had offended her with my stupid big mouth. She’s a really great hygienist, and when she’s not gouging my gums, I really like her.
I leaned back, and Liz continued her relentless probing. Her drill screeched, but she was silent. She scaled my gums and some of the water sprayed my face, and some of it escaped the little suction thingy in my mouth, and headed south toward my neck. Again she stopped and swiped the paper towel across my face in that same quick back and forth motion. Liz was definitely not tender; she was efficient. Neither one of us spoke.
Her strictly business swipe of my wet face activated long forgotten sensations from my childhood. I closed my eyes and allowed the memories to play out. I was a little girl again, a little girl with chocolate ice cream all over her face. My mother wiped my face just like Liz did. Swipe, swipe, done! If no water was available, my mother improvised with a quick spit into her tissue. Swipe. Swipe. As I replayed the feeling of my mother’s hand on my dirty little girl’s face, I forgot my discomfort with the whole dental cleaning process. I was in the hands of my mother.
Other mammal females groom their young by gently licking, patting and caressing. We, female humans, approach our child’s dirty face with ferocity. We do not caress our kids’ dirty faces. If our kid’s face is dirty from ice cream, snot mixed with sandbox dirt, or drool, or a mixture of all of the above, we, human mothers, dispatch the dirt efficiently, even roughly.
Our kids scrunch up their sticky faces, try to resist, but they don’t even bother to cry. They endure the rough swipe of our hands because they know they don’t have a choice. It’s the easiest kind of tough love.
As they get older, our kids will get into dirt much more ominous than snot and sand. They will have to make difficult choices. We parents will pine for the old days when our tough love was instinctive, incontrovertible. We will agonize.
Liz was finished with my cleaning. I sat up and she handed me the cup to sip and rinse. She stood in front of me, instead of behind me, and she smiled. “Thank you, Rose,” she said. “That was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “I meant it that way. Happy Mother’s Day.”
“Happy Mother’s Day to you too.”