It happened in the bathtub on a Wednesday night.
My husband was out performing a live show, and I was handling the bedtime routine on my own.
We have a vintage cast-iron tub that the kids love bathing in. Even before they finish dinner, they’re jabbing their chubby little fingers pointing at the bathroom. When the faucet turns on, they applaud. It is, in comparison to other parts of parenting, a total breeze.
So on this night, I was complacent. I bathed the twins uneventfully. They were playing tug-o-war with a plastic lobster as I picked Stella up in a towel. Christina Aguilera’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was playing on repeat in the background. Nothing could go wrong.
Suddenly, as I sat down on the cold bathroom tiles to dry Stella off, a giant splash erupted from the tub with a massive metallic thud. It was a worrying thud. The sort of thud that might be made, for example, when a 15-month-old boy’s face strikes a slab of cast iron.
I lunged towards the bath, tossing Stella aside like a rag doll.
Cooper’s screams pierced the air. I grabbed him. Blood trickled out of his mouth. I became an instant EMT, verifying his psychological vital signs. “Are you okay? Talk to me! Where does it hurt? What sound does a dog make? Who’s the prime minister of Norway?” He was useless, responding only with shrieks.
I knew the next step. A documentary once taught me to check a bleeding child’s teeth and tongue. (The title of that documentary, if you wish to find it, was “Grey’s Anatomy.”) I forced my fingers into Cooper’s mouth… and shuddered. All over his tongue were shards of some kind of sharp powder. In the front of his mouth, where his two front teeth belonged, there was nothing but jagged fangs. He’d shattered his two front teeth in half.
I ran out of the bathroom and into the living room.
“What am I even doing in the living room?” I screamed.
“Phone, phone, phone. Where is the fu**ing phone?”
I dialed Josh’s number while running back to the bathroom. Josh was halfway through a live performance in front of 300 people. There was no way his phone was on.
“Pick up, pick up, PICK UP!”
What else was I supposed to do?
“You’ve reached Josh, blah blah blah at the tone, you know what to do.”
I did know what to do, and I did it.
I sat down and cried. Stella and Cooper joined me. Three crying babies.
I’d like to say I was crying out of empathy for Cooper’s pain. But I wasn’t. I was crying out of vanity for his smile.
Cooper had a perfect smile, and his perfect white baby teeth were what made it so. Now that was ruined. Forever. By me.
The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I shouldn’t have left Cooper in the bath. I could have picked him up at the same time as Stella. We should have added more padding to the base of the tub. We should never have bought this house. I wish Josh didn’t have his show. I hate his fu**ing show. If only Josh had never been born, then he wouldn’t have a show and our son wouldn’t be a hideous toothless monster.
And then, something surprising happened. Stella reached up and stroked Cooper’s leg. And he stopped crying.
Instead, he smiled. A big, toothless, adorable smile.
That’s when it struck me. Cooper doesn’t know what my idea of a “perfect smile” is. He doesn’t even know what his idea of a perfect smile is. He doesn’t know what a smile is. Or what “perfect” means. No wonder he couldn’t name the prime minister of Norway.
I realized that as long as he was healthy, my only job was to enjoy his new smile. Sure, I’m from America and I watch reality TV, so bright glossy teeth seem “perfect” to me. But they don’t to Cooper. What’s perfect to him is whatever we tell him is perfect. Maybe his chipped teeth are perfect.
Since then, I’ve even started looking at myself in the mirror differently. My pimples seem smaller. My nose less embarrassing. And my own chipped tooth is a badge of honor that connects me to my son.
So next time something bad happens to your kids, ask yourself whether any part of you is sad for your own selfish reasons. Maybe you want them to achieve your idea of success. Or to affirm your worldview in some way. Or not to make you look like a bad parent.
If those are your motives, give yourself a break. Try to see the situation with a child’s lack of pre-judgement. Give your kids a hug and tell them you love them. That’s all that matters to them.
And if you believe that’s true (which you should), then isn’t it all that matter to you too?
Until next time, stay crafty.