Broken: one smile, one heart, one shared sense of safety

14 11 2014

Unbroken: Evanny’s old smile, crinkle-faced, toothy, and if Tatha’s face is any indication, fascinating.

First off, thank you to everyone who has commented, messaged, or tried otherwise to reassure me in real life about Evanny’s injury (and my despair about it, which I talked about first because I couldn’t bear to tell or show the truth of what I’ve done to her). I don’t feel okay about it, and I probably never will. I also think (because the ego, from its darkest mountain pulpit, is so loud) that my kid’s boo boo is worse than yours, but it’s nice nonetheless to know that we’re all careless sometimes and taken unawares even when careful others, and even if hers is worse, that’s mostly luck and circumstance, because it could have happened to your kid who fell off the x or rolled down the y or got whacked by the z instead. It was a stupid mom moment; everybody has them. I’m a bit of an ingrate about it still, too miserable to convey my appreciation properly, but I do appreciate you all, so thank you for not minding your own business and instead pushing some kindness into mine.

What happened: because Evanny asked nicely, Matt put the flop-down latch-front toddler swing up in the kitchen doorway, like we sometimes do, even though he didn’t want to bother, because I was all “but it makes her happy!” He latched her in, pushed her for a bit, then went to do something in the basement. She told me she wanted to get down, so I undid the latches, preparing to lift her out around Tabitha, who was asleep strapped to my chest. Then she changed her mind and wanted the latches done again, but shoved my hands away because she wanted to do it herself. Doing anything herself takes a while, and I was thirsty, thanks to my little nursing barnacle. So I took two steps from her and turned my body to pick up my glass of water, and as soon as my eyes left her body, she went THUD face first into the floor. I got to the floor quickly, baby and all, to pick her up, and held her as she cried until Matt got there and took her, having a whole lap to offer. And being who he is, he had to look to see what the damage was. Is. Might be forever. At least one–he says two, but the other to a lesser degree–of her teeth has been shoved halfway up into her gum. Just typing that hurts me, makes my skin cringe, makes me want to slink out of the house and away from the creepy, awful idea forever. It’s a little easier to look at now, two days later, as much of the swelling has gone down, but at the time it was a bloody mess, she cried long after we hoped the Tylenol would kick in, and Daddy was calm and good, holding her and comforting her and putting her movie on repeat while I paced around panicking and crying and tearing at my hair, because the horror, and the guilt, and the guilt, and the horror. These twin evils have made it very hard to fall asleep the past 2 nights. And because I have a nurseling too, I get up 2 or 3 times each night to feed the baby, and then it’s hard to fall asleep all over again. I’m not wasting my time reliving those 3 fateful seconds of stupidity–maybe 5 or 6 times, but not a thousand. I know what happened, I know what I did wrong, and I don’t know what I was thinking, as I could not have caught her, one handed, anyway, had I succeeded in picking up the water, not without crushing her sister; all I can say is that when I looked away, she was sitting perfectly still, concentrating on the latch mechanism in her hands, and it never crossed my mind that she would fall out.

What keeps me up at night is a series of successive ripples. First, the basics: according to the Internet, there are a few possible scenarios for what happens now. (1) The mashed tooth (or teeth) turns black and dies, thus having to be pulled, and my beautiful daughter has a giant gap in her face for the next 5 years, instead of for the usual couple weeks in 2nd grade. (2) The mashed tooth gradually makes its way back into place, and she has only a slightly crooked smile for the 5 years until we see what the damage to her permanent teeth is. Because (3) it’s possible that her big teeth might come in okay regardless of whether thing 1 or 2 happens, and it’s also apparently very possible, if not even likely, that (4) the mashing will have done damage to her permanent teeth, so that when they do come in, they’ll be streaked with brown or grey from being injured (this is apparently more common when tooth-mashing happens before one is 3), and her smile will be discolored and look grubby and off-putting forever. So, second, everything that can damage. High school crushes, job interviews, all kinds of future appearance-laden impression-making ventures, not to mention every photograph she smiles in ever again, all made that much harder by the likelihood of the smile that has charmed literally thousands of people already, if we count up all the compliments she’s gotten on our every grocery store trip, being forever twisted by Mummy’s selfish, careless few-second lapse. It’s shallow, right, to care what she looks like? But that’s part of what I’m sad about: she was so beautiful, and I feel like I’ve broken her beauty. And in a vicious, nasty social world where beauty counts in everything girls ever do (we can talk forever about how wrong that is, and how we’re all working for change, but there’s no sensible denial for how it is, right now, the world), where so many are never blessed enough to have that capital at all, and some have so much that they’re crippled and discounted in the opposite direction, to have lucked into just enough and then to lose it hurts. And to be the one whose stole that from your first-born daughter, well, that’s a regret that can keep a body up at night. So I lie in the dark and look at pictures on my phone of her perfect, beautiful smile before I broke it, and I cry, because I ruined something beautiful, something that I loved and treasured and may never see again.


Evanny’s new smile–fortunately, she’s just as smiley as ever, except when she forgets, and whacks herself in the tender teeth with her sippy cup or tries to bite a piece of food.

Matt says I’m being ridiculous, and that it could turn out fine, but it could also not, and I have a childhood photo album full of pictures of a little girl with an ugly, crooked-toothed pre-braces smile. I don’t want that for her. There are things you have as a child that, even though you know they weren’t necessarily healthy or good, you can’t imagine childhood without and you want to give your kids. And then there are things you can’t imagine your childhood without, until your kids are born different from you, and this whole world of possibility blooms. Imagine, being lovely instead of always chunky and awkward. Imagine being a kid strangers and teachers and other kids smile at automatically just because of the infectious glow of your smile. She had that, and now she has a (best spin) quirky, somewhat awkward, (worse spin) creepy-little-kid-vampire smile instead, before she was even old enough to remember it being any other way. A handful of people have cheerily reminded me that cosmetic surgery can fix all sorts of things wrong with big people’s teeth, if it comes to that–“and you have time to save up!” they add, when I bemoan the 5-year limbo of waiting to find out how bad it really is. Which sounds great, for people for whom saving is a thing; at our house, we’re falling deeper into debt each month despite the working-our-butts-off approach we’re taking to the whole affair, so that’s really just not what the world looks like from here. It’s more like “you have time to watch the adjuncting circuit flicker and flirt with failure, to beg for more classes even as the numbers keep dropping and the benefits the state offers are whittled away, and pray, pray, pray that you even have dental coverage at all 5 years out.”

And then, of course, there are the very practical repercussions of damaging one’s front teeth: she can’t bite things. She’s been very good about soft foods these first few days; it helps that many things she loves are in that category already, and many others can be cut into little enough pieces that she can chew them with her back teeth after we poke them in past the sore ones in the front, but it comes with little hardships, like being the only different kid at nursery school, with fruit purée and tiny cheese cubes where the other kids have cheese sticks and crackers: she wasn’t happy about that at all. Yesterday I went to snack on an apple and realized I had best wait until she was napping, because she always asks for bites. Apples were one of her favorite things, and her first big-kid foods that she could gnaw for herself before she could manage a spoon. She’s stolen bites of mine since she was too small to walk. She can’t bite apples anyone. And if the bad scenarios are the true scenarios, she might never bite apples with her own front teeth again.

I feel rotten every time I look at her. And rotten every time I look at her sister, too, just for good measure. There’s that whole thing where they start out perfect, but I broke Evvy’s perfect, and it’s probably only a matter of time before I (or her sister, with her full-contact wrestling sort of love, might do it) break little Tatha’s too. I can’t even bear to think about Tabitha teething; how in the world can I be charged with looking after another set of teeth, after doing such a crap job with this one. When I look at Ev’s damaged face, I feel responsible and grieve for the perfect beauty she wore only a few days ago; when I look at Tatha’s flawless one, I feel inadequate, daunted by all of the ways that I might fail her in days to come, and terribly guilty. I feel like I’m lying to her: she sees me as a source of protection and safety, and she’s wrong to believe that. As is her big sister, who missed the memo about it being my fault, and insists on lavishing me with love and flying tackles that I struggle to catch in a way that won’t further bruise her tender face.


24 hours (and several doses of children’s pain medication) after the incident, Evanny demonstrates her newly cautious, fearful approach to life–you can’t tell through the blanket pile, but her feet are well up in the air, and that’s a 3-story drop out the window behind her. Clearly, the toddler recovers faster than her mum does!

In the big picture–if you zoom out far enough, past that clutter-heap of ego and wounded pride and flagging confidence and worry about how I might have accidentally set my love up for hurts at the hands of others and from her own mirrored gaze that she wouldn’t otherwise have to have known–I know this is nothing. It’s a child’s tooth. It’s a mostly cosmetic injury to a healthy, happy, delightful child. I have friends whose children have physical and mental disabilities to contend with, limits to fight against far more daunting and pervasive than being simply unable to bite an apple and maybe having one ugly tooth in a beautiful face years down the road. I have a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her beautiful children, all three of them, are old enough to know and fear exactly all of what that might mean for their family; no un-dimmed, blissful toddler ignorance is flinging its way through their embraces today. I know, I do, how ridiculously lucky we are that I get the privilege of being this upset about so small a thing. I’m sure I’ll make it back to posting gratitudes soon. But her little face: it hurts her (at least when she isn’t too busy jumping on the bed to notice). And it hurts me all the time.




2 responses

16 11 2014
Brandy Colebrook

I’m sure you’ve heard this several times already, but it’s going to be okay. My heart goes out to you and just remember all parents have made big mistakes. I know you might not have noticed but my teeth are discolored from too much floride. I ate a tube of toothpaste when I was younger and now I have white and brown streaks in my teeth. It does not stop me from smiling whenever I have a chance and the only time I remember it is when a dentist or a child points it out. You could say it was my parents fault for not supervising me, but that’s not what I remember. When people ask I just tell them I ate a tube of toothpaste and if Evanny’s teeth are discolored I’m sure she will only remember that she fell from a swing. That might not make you feel better now, but I hope it helps a little. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

17 11 2014

Thanks, Brandy. That DOES make me feel better, especially since I hadn’t noticed your teeth anyway. We always think everybody is looking at whatever we worry about, don’t we? Silly humans. She proudly told the dentist today “I fell outta fwing!” Of course, I was there to explain/confess, but he and the tech were both like “oh please, it happens,” and soon enough, she’ll get to tell people when I’m NOT there, and her version will become the only one 🙂

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