“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Whoa, I need sunglasses. Your teeth are really clean,” said the dental hygienist to my four-year-old son, Tyler.
Tyler’s smile was broad as he looked over to me for approval and then back at the dental hygienist. She handed him a mirror, and he studied his pearly white teeth behind sunglasses. She told him that since he had been such a good boy during his first visit to the dentist that he could pick out two toys from the toy box. He was beside himself with joy—two toys and “sparkly” teeth!
He bounded away and returned with two plastic people. He sat on a stool and watched as I had my teeth cleaned. When the cleaning was finished, Tyler looked at my teeth.
His little face became sober as he thought something over. As we exited the office, his thoughts came spilling forth, “Mama, why aren’t your teeth ‘sparkly’? I don’t need sunglasses to look at your teeth.”
I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback. My teeth had that nice, smooth, clean feeling. I wish they were as white as the baby teeth in his mouth. “Well,” I finally said, “Mama’s teeth are old, and yours are nice and new so that is why they are so bright.”
“Oh.” He did a little hop. “My teeth are ‘sparkly,’ right, Mama?”
“Yes, very ‘sparkly.’ I wish I hadn’t sat on my sunglasses.”
He laughed. I was pleased that his introduction to dentistry had gone so well. Of course, I had had no qualms as my older son really likes our dentist too, but you never know how well a visit will go until you experience it.
Days passed and Tyler was thinking everything was ‘sparkly’: necklaces, windows, sun catchers. Then one day after he had finished brushing his teeth, I told him that his teeth were so shiny and clean that I needed to find my sunglasses, and he became hysterical as if I had falsely accused him of some wrongdoing against a brother.
“Fine, they’re gross and grungy,” I shouted over the noise. Instantly, you could hear the furnace humming, and the cat batting some toy around on the basement floor.
“I don’t want ‘sparkly’ teeth.”
“Fine, whatever,” I said, thankful for some peace.
I am not exactly sure what was going on in his mind, but I can take a guess. The stress of being ‘sparkly’ was just too much. He must not have thought he could keep it up. Hey, look what happens when you get older, he must have thought. As long as there is no pressure to be ‘sparkly,’ he doesn’t protest brushing. A simple, “good job” is all that is needed.
Aren’t we all like that sometimes? As long as we feel there is no tremendous amount of pressure, no fear of failing, we can do better at the task at hand. Bring on that fear of failing or letting someone down, and we crumble or get too caught up in being perfect, and the end result falters. We fulfill our own fears because we can never be perfect. If we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we might just soar like the mighty eagle.
I think Tyler made a very wise decision for such a little boy. In a way, he said to me that he wants to do a good job, but he doesn’t want to be perfect.
Of course, what he doesn’t know yet is that no matter what he does, he’ll always be a ‘sparkly’ star to his mommy, perfect, foibles and all.
This Reflections column is reprinted in honor of Tyler’s birthday. Happy birthday!