The Cheek of a Mother

I’m at the dentist.

The hygienist Deb and I are making small talk, which means she’s talking and I’m nodding, mouth wide open, trying my best to nose breathe. Book’s out, right? she asks.

Ehh hehh, I answer.

She talks of her new granddaughter, reminds me to floss. Asks me about Scout, how he’s attaching, how big sister is faring, how mother is.

My answers are short, fixed, brief. I rinse, spit. The dentist comes in.

A list of small, short things to worry about before 9am:

Can a toddler subsist on bananas and cashews alone?
Am I reading enough with her?
Is he getting enough formula?
Is he getting enough sleep?
Are we?
How’s our marriage?
Is the world crumbling?
Is this the end? The beginning? A terrible middle?

All looks good, I hear the hygienist say to her boss. But her cheek’s a bit raw; can you take a peek?

My dentist settles in on her stool, adjusts her gloves, re-positions the magnifying lamp. I open wider.

A smile creeps from behind her dental mask. Do you by any chance bite your cheek when you’re stressed?

I laugh. It appears so, I say.

Me, too, she says with a pat on my shoulder. Nothing to worry about, honey. I’ll see you in six months.

Scout came down with a bad case of hives a week or so ago. We washed blankets and his sister’s hair, wiped down kitchen stools and teethers.

Is it the pollen? My face wash? Red dye from the Benadryl?

We wash another blanket, check his belly. More hives.

Is it the detergent? Tree nuts in the air?

We disinfect with vinegar.

Is it the vinegar?

It’s what we do. We mothers worry over small and large, carrying a heaviness that reminds us of this weighty, precious life. That reminds us it mustn’t be squandered.

Don’t worry, we tell ourselves.
Deep breaths, we say aloud.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? we read.

Still, we close our lips. Bite our cheeks. Wring our heads, furrow our brows.

We know we’re the lucky ones.

My hygienist returns with a travel toothbrush and sensitive paste. Everything OK with the cheek? Deb asks.

Oh, everything’s fine, I hear my dentist say. And as she removes her gloves, drops them into the garbage, heads for the door, she offers with a wink:

That’s just the cheek of a mother.

The lucky ones indeed.

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