Every now and then, we all reach a point where you are confronted with a question pertaining to the direction of your future that hits your so suddenly and unexpectedly, it makes you pause. For some, it could be an unexpected marriage proposal. Or perhaps at the start of newly formed relationship when your partner throws out a hypothetical question that could result in your life going in a direction you never imagined.
This moment came to me suddenly while sitting at the end of my son’s recovery bed at a hospital in Baltimore, where he had just awoken from. And then suddenly, a question pertaining to my future, or as I like to call it: a parentential crisis if you will, was presented as the the nurse handed me a specimen container inside of a bio-hazard bag. Inside of the container were two teeth, which seemed to ask:
What kind of parent are you going to be?
This question settled in my head as the teeth rattled around the cylinder container. I never really thought to ask this question in relation to discarded teeth keeping, but if I had thought to ask it, I definitely would have imagined this question being approached with a partner, casually, one day in the kitchen when planning out a future, as we plot out our own real life choose your own adventure kind of scenarios amidst other things that I imagine those who reside outside of singleton life, discuss: Do we want kids? If so, are we going to vaccinate them? Are we going to force religion on them?
Are we going to keep their teeth once they fall out?
Perhaps this is something you never even thought to really think about. But I happen to have both a peculiar fascination, as well as mildly uncomfortable attachment to discarded teeth. I’ve been sort of a voyeur for amateur tooth collecting ever since I was a child. It all started, as most weird attachments do, with my mother. My mom had a glass trinket box that resided on a wooden hutch that housed all five of her beloved children’s discarded teeth. It was both odd and gross, but still, me and all four of my siblings took that trinket dish out far too often, guessing which teeth belonged to who and making claims to the teeth we wanted to think once belonged to us. The bigger the tooth, the better. The only thing that trumped a big tooth, was a silver tooth. As I grew older, the odder this practice of teeth keeping- at least the kind that was no longer in my mouth, seemed to me. It never really dawned on me that one day I would have to decide if this was a weird Worden thing I would leave behind, or if this was something most parents do. Perhaps there is a special meeting within mommy groups where everyone brings their children’s old teeth for a good ole dental show and tell. I don’t know. I’ve never really been one for mom groups.
Later that evening, I emptied the contents of the specimen container that housed Max’s teeth to inspect the enamel surface; a pitiful attempt to pin point where the life of this tooth went wrong; as if it were a single incident where I let my son down, causing him pain and resulting in a dent in his mouth, my wallet and my sick leave bank. But quickly I realized that I wasn’t kidding anyone, I couldn’t even recognize the damage when the dentists pulled up the x-rays, attached the papered evidence against a light box and then placed his finger on the spot where the cavity was. “Oh, wow,” I would say, nodding my head to show that I certainly saw and understood completely what was wrong. I might as well be a Hans Christian Anderson Fable, because much of my parenting endeavors have played out like a character- one where I am a fool and pretending that I know what I am doing. I remember being pregnant with Max and sharing an image of my sonogram with my friends. “See? It’s a boy” I’d say while pointing to a portion of the pictured blob. “That’s his head” my friend replied. “Well obviously..” This stuff just didn’t come naturally to me, and I did not plan accordingly.
If parenting were approached in more of a career setting, perhaps I would have more answers and more of a plan to tackle this on. Were parenting to be approached in that manner, I imagine I would have monthly check ins with, well I’m not sure with who, but someone. I’d approach yearly reviews with care and a big folder where I would undoubtedly pull out all my exemplary parenting feats. “This,” id say as I point to a receipt of an expensive medical procedure and a copy of a bank statement displaying a low balance, “is where I found a solution under an extremely stressful and seemingly impossible situation.” The “Ooohs” would surely follow. Or “this,” id say pointing to a picture of crayon markings on the wall, “is an example of a time when I didn’t lose my shit when it would have been warranted.” Cue the “Ahhhs.”
I’d be sure to include some really great examples of times I failed, but I’d frame them in such a way that would highlight my excitement to grow and commitment to see these failings as opportunities, instead. Perhaps then I would have more of a plan on what it means to be a parent, and I would be spared from signing my kid up for soccer on a whim (like I did earlier this week) and I wouldn’t feel as if every decision, both large and small, had to be decided on as I run in a circle in the middle of a four way intersection, knowing the traffic light is about to change.
But we know that parenting is not approached in such a way. You are either a good parent, or a bad one, and in 2020 parenting simulation, your Facebook friends are the jury on this and they tend to change their mind. A lot. And frequently.
So, what kind of parent am I? The question persists, so I go through a mental checklist, checking invisible boxes that I imagine would appear on such a list if it were to exist.
I check the box, “a present one.”
….Well, as present as I can be as a single parent who works full time and carries the sole responsibility of making sure there’s a roof over our head, bills are paid and food is in the fridge. Maybe present is a bit of a stretch, as I remember the countless times this week I ignored my sons request of playing the Wii with him.
I leave the box “a fun one” unchecked, since I resolve to be honest on this self-inventory and being fun 40% of the time is a below passing grade.
I also leave the box unchecked for “an informed one,” as I recall every doctor visit at the very beginning stages of Max’s life, when I would exasperatedly place the wrapped baby burrito- or the car seat he was carried in on the doctors chair and say “load him up and put in extra!” referring to the vaccines they carefully stuck him with, under the promise that it would cover a multitude of diseases. when I would bring him back for follow up appointments they’d ask me what vaccines he would be getting today, and in return I’d give them blank stares, operating under the assumption that it was their job to know what my son needed. “Is that something I’m supposed to know or be keeping track of?” I’d sob into the phone to my sisters after such appointments, not realizing I had done a terrible job at doing something that I didn’t know to do, though to other people, probably seemed like something so obvious.
Not a very good one it seems, when I catalog all these scenarios that play out in my mind, and file them back in their respective folders, ranging from very good to very bad. But I am a parent, nonetheless. And despite these failings, I do try. And while trying is not always enough when there is a little person looking up to you and depending solely on you, there is something to be said for someone who still does try and there is a multitude of grace that can wash over these failings when someone steps up to the plate. And not everyone does show up to stand at the plate, as I have learned.
The only thing I’m certain of in this parenting experience I’ve blissfully, sometimes begrudgingly and often ignorantly endured, is that I’m not really certain of anything.
I don’t know what kind of parent I am, I will be, or even aspire to be, besides a good one. I relish in the fact that these teeth don’t get to dictate that answer either way.
But for now, I’ll keep them.