I'm pretty sure my mom cares more about oral hygiene than most actual dental professionals. She brushes her teeth at least five times a day — when she wakes up, after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner, and before bed. If my childhood had one constant, it was my mom asking the same question at the beginning and end of every day: "Did you brush your teeth?"
I guess in some ways it makes sense that in my 23rd year of life, I've never scheduled a single dentist appointment myself. Every time I set foot in an office that specializes in teeth, which is more frequently than I'd like, rest assured it's because my mom called and arranged it for me. Cleanings, fillings, crown fittings, wisdom teeth removal — doesn't matter. The second I feel the slightest pain or abnormality anywhere in my mouth, I call my mom and she takes care of it.
It reminds me I'm still allowed to ask for help, even if I don't technically need it.
My first cavity appeared at age 13, which my mom viewed as a devastating parenting failure. Since then, I've had so many fillings I've lost count, plus a root canal that I swear wasn't entirely my fault. My dentist assured both me and my mother that my teeth are abnormally susceptible, although I could probably stand to cut back on sugar.
Given how often I find myself in that reclining chair with sharp metal tools tearing into my gums, I can only assume it would be easier on everyone if I just made the appointments myself, or if I found a dentist in the city where I actually live instead of taking the train home every few months to chat with my favorite hygienist. I don't even have the office number in my phone, and the receptionist and I are mutuals on Instagram.
"Do you want to schedule your next appointment while you're here?" she always asks. "That's okay, my mom will call." And then she does.
It's not that I'm afraid of responsibility or growing up. I've always considered myself independent in most regards, so this very specific dependency has never made sense to either me or my mother. It's been years since I started filling my prescriptions and scheduling my other doctor's appointments (by phone!), then attending them all by myself. Still, my mom never argues when I ask her to make me a dentist appointment. For some reason, the dentist just feels different. Maybe it's her inexplicable passion for teeth, but every time without question, she picks a day she knows I'll be free, puts it in her calendar, and reminds me to go.
Sometimes I feel a small tinge of embarrassment about it, or maybe it's guilt. I'm growing up in the midst of a constant fight for women's autonomy and independence, and yet I continue this blatant refusal to do such a basic task. Does that make me a lazy millennial stereotype, relying on a parent for something I'm perfectly capable of doing? What will I do when I have kids of my own? Will my mom make their dentist appointments, too?
Truth be told, I'm not sure how long I can keep this up. What I do know is that telling my mom that my tooth hurts reminds me I'm still allowed to ask for help, even if I don't technically need it. It's a glimpse back on a time when my responsibilities belonged to someone with a much greater stake in the matter than was required of me. Sometimes it's just nice to know that I'm not in this alone. The closer I encroach on the uncertainty of adulthood, the more I appreciate the dependency of childhood — of being told to do something and then doing it because my mom says I have to.