Motherhood & Words

have you hugged your hygienist today?

Yesterday afternoon Stella and I went to the dentist.

Earlier in the morning, as Stella was getting dressed she said, “Mom, I don’t need to sit on your lap today.”

“Oh?” I said, not really knowing what she meant.

“At the dentist,” she said, exasperated. (How a 3 1/2 year-old can be so exasperated with me, I don’t know.)

Then I remembered that at her first visit to the dentist, six months ago, I had to sit in the dentist’s chair and she sat on my lap because she was nervous and didn’t want to sit in the big, reclining chair all alone. We hadn’t talked about it since then, but it had obviously been on her mind.

But now, since she’s 3 1/2, she has decided that she’s too big for that sort of thing. And she did great, sitting in the chair all by herself. So grown up. So much attitude.

I got my teeth cleaned, as well. I love this. I love getting my teeth scraped and polished. And I love when the hygienist and the dentist confer and decide that my teeth look fabulous. (I’m obsessive about flossing and this seems to be the one situation in which my hard work actually does pay off. Twice a year, I get a glowing dental report.) This is a very sad thing: that my depleted self-esteem can be buoyed, at least momentarily, by my dental hygienist.

I’m back in my funk now, though, clean teeth and all. So, I’ll turn back to O’Brien’s The Light of Evening, which I’m reading ever so slowly.

A passage I love:

“It was snowing in the vast cemetery in Brooklyn, big bulky overcoats of snow on the tall tombs, draping the headstones and the flat tables with their long loving recitations. Not a soul about. The paths cleared for visitors to walk on: the Ravine Path, the Cedar Path, the Waterside Path, the Sunset Path. We walked and walked. On the heads of the marble angels and archangels caps and skullcaps of snow, so jaunty, so jocular, and the silence so immense and Gabriel and me. We came upon a little house, a little vault with steps down to it and an entrance door with a woman’s face carved on the outside, a woman with a mourning expression and strands of long marble hair that fell down onto her shoulders.”

There is something so desolate here that I love.

I think one reason I’m having a hard time with O’Brien is that the mother-daughter relationships in the story (Dilly’s relationship with her mother, Bridget, and Dilly’s relationship with her daughter, Eleanora) are so passive-aggressive, so filled with love and loathing. They suffocate each other.

And this scares me, of course. Will this happen to Stella and me? Do I do this, suffocate her with my love? Is that why she shrugs me off, prefers her dad?

Last night, I sat in the bathroom as Stella pulled a long strand of dental floss through her teeth. She was doing very little in terms of removing plaque, but she was so proud of herself and her new skill. I smiled and told her I loved her.

“I know Mom,” she said.

Posted in ,


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.