Missing tooth takes a bite out of guilt

For nearly three years I’ve been waiting for this moment. Our oldest granddaughter, age 5, has lost a tooth. It’s not the first tooth she has lost, just the first tooth she has lost naturally.

She lost her first tooth when she was 2. At our house. On the patio. She was running and fell face down. Blood everywhere. Blood and crying. Blood and crying are like the chicken and the egg; you don’t know which comes first and it doesn’t matter. They come together—profusely and loudly.

Should such a thing happen on your patio, let me save you time. Don’t bother finding the tooth, submerging it in milk, or finding a dentist who will call you back on a Sunday. The tooth is history.

The toddler will live with a gap and you’ll live with grandma guilt. That’s right, just when you were shedding the last remnants of mother guilt, you now wear the weight of grandma guilt.

Every time she smiled I felt responsible. Sure, I didn’t have anything to do with it and her parents and other adults were present, but it happened at our house. Grandma’s house is supposed to be a fun and happy place, not a place where you to go get your teeth knocked out.

I was so sorry it happened and especially sorry that if something like this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at her other grandma’s house. But then her other grandma doesn’t have a concrete patio. She does have a lot of gravel and steep hills though. Oh well, it happened here.

Our son and daughter-in-law got over it quickly. They never let it become an issue. The smile with the missing tooth gradually became part of who she was. She’d smile and the missing front tooth would say, “I have charm, personality, and do not mess with me on the playground.” If others noticed the missing tooth, they didn’t inquire. (Thank you.)

And now she has lost her front bottom tooth, directly below the missing top tooth, which means one really great thing – she has a gap. A marvelous, wonderful gap.

Do you know what fun a gap is? You can do great things with a gap. A gap is the kind of fun you should have at Grandma’s house.

She’ll be the centerpiece of every Christmas celebration this year singing, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”

She can insert straws in the gap, do tricks with her tongue, shoot water and perform dazzling feats that will make her the envy of everyone at the kids’ table.

She can whistle through that gap—even when she doesn’t mean to.

She can leave unique teeth tracks in a banana, clearly marking it as her own.

A gap puts her in the same category as famous actors, actresses and supermodels. Granted their gaps align a different way and are substantially smaller, but still.

The best thing about being 5 and having a gap is that it means your permanent teeth are coming soon and Grandma will let herself off the hook.

Difference between collector and scavenger is negotiable

There is a world of difference between a collector and a scavenger. Or so I’ve been told. The husband says he is the former, not the latter, which is a matter we will likely continue to debate for another 30 years.

This collector penchant explains why we have one of the coolest toys ever that we constantly trip over in the garage. It is a pliable 3-inch square casing about 6-feet long.

When I asked where it came from, as he dragged it from his car one day, he was vague. When I asked exactly what it was, as he washed it off with the hose, he was vague. Collectors often are.

The point is, he immediately knew, and I never would have guessed, that this casing would make a great straightaway for Matchbox cars. Kids can drag the long floppy thing into the house (“Watch out for the clock! Don’t knock dishes off the table! Her head! Watch your sister’s head!”), prop it up on the arm of a sofa and send small cars through it. The higher you prop one end of the tubing, the faster the cars go, the more dramatic their exit, and the wilder the laughter and screaming.

To a collector, every single thing has a thousand potential uses. My collector refuses to acknowledge that even small scraps of wood are trash. To him they are the makings of a teeny, tiny fence or a teeny, tiny house or a teeny, tiny chair. I don’t know who the teeny, tiny people are, but apparently they will be coming to live with us.

Collectors and non-collectors see things through different lenses, including television programs. My collector enjoys “Antiques Roadshow,” a program where people bring treasures they inherited or had tucked away somewhere to an appraiser who puts a price on them.

“You say this shot glass was hidden in the pie safe of your great-great-great-grandmother? Well, it is obviously hand-blown glass. The markings tell us it is from the mid-1700s, similar to shot glasses used by Ben Franklin, which means it is worth $3 million.” The owner of the shot glass staggers in disbelief. My collector cheers and I, the non-collector, say, “Goodwill couldn’t sell that thing for fifty cents. It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay.”

On the other hand, I enjoy, and my collector does not, “American Pickers” where two guys in a van drop in on hoarders—I mean collectors—rummage through their stuff and buy it from them.

“Look at them ripping that guy off!” my collector fumes. “He could get so much more for it. Don’t sell!”

Meanwhile, I’m cheering, “Sell! Sell it all! Clean out that entire barn and you could have a really great party room.”

Despite fundamental differences, it is possible for a collector and a non-collector to make peace and live in harmony, albeit amid substantial clutter.

A collector will continue to acquire oddities, while the non-collector will quietly set said oddities beside the trash on garbage day and hope they will disappear. They do. Another collector has picked them up and the great collecting cycle continues.

Whatever it is I may have managed to set out, keep it. Please. I insist. From a non-collector to a collector, it is my gift to you. Except for that long hollow tube thing; we’re keeping that.

Add housekeeping to the resume

My friend who is a nurse now cleans her own office. In a cost cutting move, the powers that be reduced housekeeping services throughout the hospital. Now, in addition to scrambling to see to patients and process vast amounts of paperwork, my friend or one of her co-workers now lug a vacuum to work once a week.

It may be the nurses today, but you can be sure it will be the patients tomorrow. Soon you’ll schedule surgery and be sent pre-op instructions that say, “Please leave all jewelry and valuables at home, but do bring a broom, dust pan and toilet brush.”

Another friend, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has had his trash can taken away. Poof! One day the wastebaskets disappeared. Workers in his department were told to bring plastic bags and cardboard boxes from home and take out their own trash. Corporate America embraces no-trace camping.

Hotels also have implemented cost-cutting moves by reducing housekeeping services and staff. But aren’t hotels largely about housekeeping? If you stay more than one night, many chains now offer the option of having your room fully cleaned, partially cleaned or left untouched.

Those with housekeeping jobs are seeing hours cut and positions eliminated. They’re considered dispensable, if not downright disposable. Housekeeping has never received the respect it deserves. I say this as someone who has kept a home running, doing dishes and laundry, dusting, vacuuming, stocking the fridge, organizing closets and cabinets and tending all manners of ill health.

My nurse friend doesn’t think she’s too good to clean. She’s raised three sons; she knows a thing or two about dirt. My other friend doesn’t think he’s too high and mighty to take out the trash. He does it all the time at home. But it is one more thing that takes time away from the thing they were originally hired to do.

It is time to admit that multi-tasking is overrated. Often a job calls for focus and concentration, the ability to follow a thread and to insure that the next step happens, that a project moves from A to B to C quickly and uninterrupted.

When everyone does their appointed and specialized jobs, it creates harmony and efficiency in the workplace, just as multiple people doing multiple jobs creates harmony and efficiency in the home. I cook; he sets the table. I marinate the meat; he lights the grill.

Housekeeping cleans the office; the nurse sees another patient. Janitorial takes out the trash; the scientist concentrates on cells in the Petri dish. Hotel rooms are cleaned in a timely manner; guests check in without delay and consider a return visit.

Housekeeping, although often underappreciated, has always been a cog in the wheel than enables the wheel to turn—efficiently, quietly and most often without germs and contamination. It is the behind-the-scenes ordering, cleaning and setting things right that allows the fresh start of a new day.

I hope those cutting housekeeping are taking out their own trash, cleaning their own restrooms and vacuuming their own conference rooms.

Streaking reappears on the home front

If you were driving by the house last week and saw a small naked boy watering the ivy with what God gave him, I’d like to explain.

If only I could.

Who would have thought that after more than 30 years of marriage, public nudity would now be a problem? Of course, it’s not the husband or myself (we’re pretty good at following standard dress codes), it’s all these little grandbabies that have us surrounded.

A bare bum here, a bare bum there, here a bum, there a bum, everywhere a bum, bum.

It’s like Revenge of the ‘70s; little streakers are everywhere.

There is partial streaking, full streaking and streaking at a rapid rate of speed with a diaper hanging by one tab and an adult in rapid pursuit.

Moments ago a small streaker darted from the dining room through the kitchen and around the corner. This sort of thing used to happen on college campuses as a form of political protest.

The streaking at our house is not political protest. Potty training is often the reason behind the streaking. A little person yells he has to go potty and bolts toward the potty chair. The little person is in a state of full dress, then partial dress, then no dress, shedding clothing as he runs. It looks like the mission will be a success. We are preparing to clap, cheer and throw confetti like we are welcoming the troops home from overseas, but, oh well. Maybe next time.

Not all of the nudity is a result of potty training. There is also that peculiar yet determined toddler who is periodically compelled to strip off all clothing because—apparently—toddler skin simply needs to breathe.

The problem when you are surrounded by such goings on is that you gradually begin to accept this as standard fare. You forget that the rest of the world isn’t doing diapers, is able to leave home without a pack of diaper wipes and is most likely already toilet trained.

All of which would account for our son and daughter-in-law, who did an emergency tag-team diaper change on the sidewalk with one of them holding the tot upright and the other swapping out the dirty diaper for a fresh one. Clearly, this is their third child. You don’t acquire that kind of skill until you have at least two.

As for the little boy outside watering the ivy, who has ever been able to explain what little boys do outside? I can only imagine that it was a combination of no inhibition and convenience. It would have been a long trip inside the house. Probably a good 8 feet to the front porch, another 3 feet to the front door and once inside it could well have been another eight or nine steps to the bathroom.

That said, it might not have been the first time he has done this. There appears to be a brown patch in the ivy.

Our apologies to the neighbors for the evil thoughts we entertained about their dog.

Hot days lead to heated conersations

These dwindling days of summer have been sizzlers. As one of our daughters said, “It’s been a good week—for putting your head in the freezer.”

The sun rises, the green flag snaps and the heat and humidity both race to 90 in perfect stride. Those two—they stick together. And to everybody else, too.

Like most people melting beneath the final scorch of summer, we enjoy dwelling on exactly how miserable we are.

We have a fancy digital indoor/outdoor thermometer that tells us the heat and humidity, but its accuracy and precision lack drama. For maximum misery, we rely on the old mercury thermometer mounted outside a kitchen window in direct sun.

“Look at that. It’s 120 again this morning,” I marvel.

“Those weather people never can get it right,” the husband says.

Of course, once it hits 120 with matching humidity to boot (and no, I don’t know how you can have humidity above 100 percent, but I know we’ve weathered it) the tomatoes get all funky and billions of teeny, tiny white bugs invade the herbs. Ordinarily, I’d fight back on the bug infestation, but it’s too blasted hot, which is why I just planted a white flag between the oregano and the thyme and yelled, “You win! Eat your little organic hearts out.”

As much as we enjoy being miserable, the bad thing about complaining about the heat is that it inevitably ignites a longstanding family competition. And really, when it comes to suffering blistering heat, you’re nobody unless you’re the somebody who’s been more miserable than everybody.

“It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity that makes this so bad,” someone says. “It’s not like a dry heat. Now a dry heat—”

The minute someone mentions dry heat in a “that’s not so bad” way you might as well strike a match next to a gasoline can. The wing of our family that has lived in southwest dry heat is not about to be undone with a flip dismissal of their sweat and suffering.

“You don’t know what heat is until you’ve survived Texahoma heat,” they fire back in unison.

“I’ll give you it’s like a blow dryer on high heat in your face,” I say.

“Blow dryer nothing; it’s like the dryer at the automatic car wash. Or the heat blast from a jet engine.”

Someone swiftly counters: “Yes, but with the heat and humidity combined you’ve got your ‘real temperature’ and your ‘feels like’ temperature—”

Back and forth we go, carrying on about which is worse, the dry heat of the Southwest, the stifling humidity of the Deep South or the suffocating heat and humidity of the Midwest.

Finally, someone says, “Why don’t we move outside?”

“Why don’t we?” the husband says. “Looks like it may be rather pleasant after that storm blew through. The thermometer has dipped to 115.”

“You all go ahead,” I say. “I’ll be right there.”

I just need a few seconds to stick my head in the freezer.