Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall Arrives: Hope in the Turning of the World

You may have noticed.  

I need some levity these days.  And the last place I expected to find it was at the dentist’s office last Thursday.  But find it there I did, like the precious diamond glinting out of a patch of mud at the Murfreesboro diamond fields in Arkansas.  Where my mother once went and came home saying, “It was like making mudpies all day, sitting in that field trying to find diamonds.  If I wanted to play with mud, I would have gotten a time machine back to childhood.  Never again.”

The dentist’s office levity?  Their names were Eli and Addie.  They were brother and sister.  I’ve had my stint in the dental chair, a bloody hour spent lying so rigid my neck is screaming with pain even after the filling is over and done with.  An hour in which the dentist repeatedly had to ask me to open my mouth wider, and his assistant had to remind me I was biting down on the squeegee thingy that suctions the blood and gore from the sad patient’s mouth.

I come out and sit waiting for Steve to have his usual A and three gold stars checkup—No cavities again, Mr. Schafer.  What wonderful teeth you have!

And there are Eli and Addie, she perched in a little rocking chair in an old ladyish plain rose sweater, he lording it over her on the sofa nearby, interrogating her about what she had been reading while he was in the dentist’s chair.  Their mother has just gone in for her check-up.  I learn their names because they call each other by name and their mother uses their names, too, as she goes into the dentist's office.

Eli is in pink crocs with knee-high white socks that seem to have some opalescent glitter painted across the white.  He’s in fifth-grade.  Addie never mentions her grade level, but I’d put it at about third.  She has a precisely, accented, determined way of speaking, he an overly emphatic one intent on making drama out of the tiniest thing around him.

Eli: You’re reading about teeth in the dentist’s office?!

Addie: Yes.  It’s interesting.  It tells you what people around the world do with their teeth.

Eli: If it’s so interesting, then how come you haven’t finished that little book?

Addie: I’m a slow reader.

Eli: What did they give you when you finished?

Addie: A toothbrush.  

Eli: What color?  Mine’s yellow and purple.

Addie: They gave me purple and yellow.

Eli: That’s no fair!  The same color.  But I got a pair of sticky hands.

Addie: They gave me sticky hands, too.  What flavor of dental film did they use for you?

Eli: Bubble-gum.

Addie: I had mint.

Eli: That’s no fair!  They didn’t even tell me they had mint!

Addie: They didn’t tell me, either.  I saw it and asked for it.  They said they don’t usually give it to kids because kids don’t like it.  It tasted like root-beer.

Eli: Want to fight with our sticky hands?

Addie: No, it’s a dentist’s office.  We’ll get into trouble!

At this point, Addie sneaks a peek at me, the only adult in the waiting room.  Eli never looks at me.  The difference between little boys and little girls: the latter are socialized early on to be aware of what others are thinking, doing, feeling.  The former have the luxury of not caring about those matters.

And so the fight begins.  I’ve never heard of sticky hands and still have no clear idea of what they are, but they appear to unravel and stretch and whop around in a wicked way that can make Addie scream, when Eli invades her personal space with a hand five feet long. 

And so, predictably, we end up with a real fight on our hands, because personal space is personal space and “He touched my face when I told him not to, Mom!”  

And this is how the world turns, this November day in the year of our Lord 2010: bossy, assertive little girls who know their own minds, little boys who dare to wear pink crocs and glittery socks, mothers who seem totally unruffled by the gender transgressions on both sides.

This is where hope lies, in the turning of the world to what is new.  And perhaps—who knows?—better.

One lives, at least, in hope that it will be so.

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