Saturday, May 12, 2012

A tooth brushing dissertation

I took this photo last week while helping David brush his teeth. And while it might appear here that tooth-brushing is a joyous event, it has often been a quite miserable one. While editing this photo in Photoshop, I started thinking long and hard about the journey of toothbrushing with David. It's amazing that such a simple activity could have such intricacies. Read on.

It didn't occur to us, as David was sprouting his first teeth in the latter part of his first year, that these teeth might need some deliberate care. We took the obvious precautions such as avoiding bottles at bedtime and such, but for some reason actually brushing his teeth hadn't been on our list. After asking a dental hygienist when we should start and being met with a shocked look that we hadn't already (gasp!), we sheepishly went to Target, shelled out the dough for a baby toothbrush and paste, and got started.

At first, with David as a passive recipient of the activity, the job was pretty easy and concise. Brush, rinse, repeat. Those were the days...

As David gained mobility, independence, and (ahem) attitude issues, it became much harder. The activity began to necessitate more enticing props, such as Thomas the Train toothpaste and a Winnie-the-Pooh toothbrush, in order to be adequately appealing. And then it began to require a stool to stand on, since operating the faucet was the main draw to the nightly event. Then, when given a toothbrush by a pediatric dentist, two toothbrushes were required: one bristled and one rubber, in the shape of a banana. Eventually, singing and chanting (by me) would be required in order to spur on the activity. All of this... exhausting.

It became even more exhausting during the times in which he was actively teething, which was pretty much from 9 months on. His tender swollen gums were unforgiving, and poor David could not be convinced that tooth brushing had to continue regardless. At these times, brushing teeth became a non-negotiable event, meaning that lots of tears (on his part) and muscle (on mine) were required. Exhibit A on why I am known to do just about anything to get him to do it himself. Forcing him to do it = no fun for either one of us.

At times, it has been a battle of wills. Simple stubbornness keeps him from getting up on that stool and turning on the sink. He uses toothbrushing time as an opportunity to exercise his newly minted power to be difficult. Once again... exhausting.

But all of this exhausting work has had a payoff, to see the growing independence of a toddler-slash-boy, to see him do something mostly on his own while still clinging to the security of a routine. And the other payoff is the obvious: a mouthful of healthy teeth.

So here is the routine as it is now (I know you're dying to hear it in detail). I tell him it's time to brush teeth. He runs to the bathroom, puts B and blankie on the counter, opens the cabinet and pulls out his stool, closes the cabinet doors and climbs up. If he has long sleeves on he pulls them up. He turns on the water (cold, of course), and shouts "Thomas" when he sees me put the toothpaste on both brushes. I set them down on the counter and he goes to town, at times distracted by other things in the bathroom like his own reflection in the mirror or the hand towel holder, but he still does it primarily by himself. When he  is done, he hands me the toothbrushes to finish the job while he opens his mouth. This cooperation is rewarded by a drink of water. He dries his hands, climbs down, and helps me put away the stool. Then the job is done.

So, you see, this is why the picture above is so special to me. Obviously it's cute, but it also symbolizes a LOT of training and persistence. For both David and us.

Happy toothbrushing, everyone.

1 comment:

Patt said...

Congratulations on your patience! When he's older and doesn't have to have fillings, I'll remind him what a good mommy he has. Love, GrammyPattpatt

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