Dear Mom at the Orthodontist,
I didn’t notice you at first, or only peripherally. Your son said something, and his voice was just a little too loud for the setting. Something about him made me think he might be on the spectrum or have some other developmental challenge. He was maybe 9 or 10? Young enough so that when he said in a disgusted, slightly-too-loud tone, “Braces are more trouble than they’re worth!” I smiled at the very adult expression coming out of one so young.
As my teenage daughter quietly submitted to her hygienist’s ministrations and I played Candy Crush on my phone, I heard your son’s hygienist quietly and politely repeat, “Please open your mouth. Please open your mouth.” Uh-oh, I thought, this sounds like a challenge.
The next time I looked up, you were talking to the office manager. Politely but firmly, you said, “I called ahead. I requested twice.” Then the office manager was talking to the hygienist on the other side of me, who seemed surprised. “I’ve only seen him once,” she said. “But sure, ok.”
As the new hygienist sat down next to your son, I saw why you requested her. She had a warm smile and a calming way of talking, a kind of unconscious charm that I’m sure your son responded to. Good for you, I thought. I realized that I had just seen a warrior mom advocating for her son, quietly and effectively. A lesson for me, who hates to make waves. You knew what (who) your son needed, and you got it for him. I will remember your steadfastness.
And then you had a little pep talk with your son. I didn’t hear all of it, of course, but I did hear this: “Now, remember, if it gets to be too much, you just put your hand up like this, ok?” And you demonstrated waving. He smiled and nodded his head before letting the hygienist recline his seat. The hygienist started explaining what she was going to do. After a moment, you interrupted her and spoke to your son again. “Do you want to hear her explain what she’s doing, or do you just want to watch (holding up a phone with ear buds)?” I didn’t hear what he said, but it looked like he wanted to just block out the experience as much as he could, so in went the ear buds. You hovered above him, holding the phone so he could see it. Again, I was impressed. You had a strategy for him, and you empowered him to choose what he needed in the moment. I will remember your planning and your respect for your son.
“I don’t like this. I can HEAR it,” your son said, too loudly, over the sound of one of the hygienist’s instruments. “Ok, you need to modulate your voice,” you said gently. “I can turn up the sound on the phone so you can’t hear it, ok?”
When I glanced over some time later, I saw the hygienist working and murmuring in soothing tones, and you, holding the phone in your son’s line of sight, shifting it when he shifted. Both of you bent over, looking downwards, one on each side of the dental chair. Those two women are working so, so hard for that child, I thought.
“OW!” he said. “It’s ok, sweetie, almost done,” the hygienist said. You also spoke in soothing tones, and he allowed the hygienist to continue.
By that time, my daughter was finished, and I just had to tell you that I noticed, that your hard work and patience made an impression. I didn’t know if you would congratulate yourself on a job well done after the appointment, or as many of us tend to do, just think about how hard it was and what you think you could have done better.
I don’t do this. I don’t talk to strangers. I feel weird and awkward. But I was determined to offer a word of encouragement if I could.
So as we passed by, I touched your arm, looked you in the eye and said “You are a great mom.” And then my mind went blank and I felt weird and awkward. I even got a little choked up. You looked surprised and said, “Thank you. Really, thank you so much.” As I walked away, I wished I could have said more.
So I wrote this. To tell you—and maybe other parents for whom a simple appointment with their child is a challenge for whatever reason—that I saw you, I noticed. I saw your resourcefulness, your gentleness and patience, your advocacy and respect, and most of all, your love. I wanted to say that your son is blessed to have you as a mom, but I suspect that you feel just as blessed to have him as your child. Both of you were a blessing to this mom today.
About the Author
Jennifer is an introverted stay-at-home mom of two extroverted daughters, who are delightful, funny, and never stop talking. Married for nearly 25 years to an introverted tech guy, Jennifer relishes quiet time spent reading, writing, and thinking in a straight line without interruptions. Sadly, she’s been interrupted five times since sitting down to write this (curse you, snow days!). As an idealist with a practical side, she’s fascinated with how God works in the reality of everyday life. As a former copyeditor, she has very strong opinions about commas, semi-colons, and dashes. And don’t even get her started on misused idioms.