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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Teething Twelve Year Olds

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Adopting an older child means missing a lot of the fun developmental milestones. No first step, first day at school, first word, first bath. I thought I would mourn these, but there are so many similar ones that we do enjoy: first word in English, first day at American school, first hamburger, first film at a movie theater, and… first bath or shower as a pre-teen! (Only rub-downs with wet towels before this.)

Now that we’re approaching the teen years, I was pleasantly reminded that there are 12-year molars that fall out and grow in, hence, the Tooth Fairy’s work is not yet done. For us, it’s been a special bonding experience. Our first son treasures his special tooth pillow that hangs on his bed, appliqued with stars and buttons on striped ticking. I bought it several years back on a trip through New England when we were anticipating a few loose teeth. He’s cherished it ever since, when the $1 bill magically appears in the middle of the night.

Enter our second son. In Russia, they would pull baby teeth at random, minus the painkiller. He has very few left to fall out. But one is starting to wiggle. And so the kids were discussing the Tooth Angel as she is called in our home.

“You get money when your tooth falls out?” Pasha asked Petya enviously. “In Russia, they said that a mouse would come in the middle of the night and steal the tooth.”

“Steal the tooth?” Petya puzzled. “And not give you any money?”

“No money,” he said sadly. “But I like the mouse coming….”

“Okay, well, you keep the mouse and I’ll keep the money,” shrugged Petya matter-of-factly.

This upset Pasha and he came to me for a private consultation, purveyor of wisdom and knowledge that I am.

“Mama, when my tooth falls out, will I get any money?”

“Of course you will!” I stroked his back.

“But Petya says that the mouse will come from Russia—.”

“No, that’s impossible,” I tell him as only a mother can. “The mouse doesn’t know where you live. He will never be able to find you. The Tooth Angel has jurisdiction over America. Besides, I don’t want a mouse in my house!”

“But where will I put my tooth? I need a tiny pillow—,” his brow was furrowed.

“Not Petya’s pillow?” I queried. “Or do you need one of your own?” He would never ask outright.

“One of my own!” Pasha brightened.

“No problem,” I told him, and he seemed all better.

That was before I started pricing the tooth pillows online—$35 before shipping and handling! At that rate, I’d be reduced to giving him a penny for the tooth. We were cheap enough at $1.

I checked out some patterns for sewing a tooth pillow. I mean, I’m not the craftiest person, but it’s all of a small square sewn together, filled with batting, and a little pocket on the outside for the tooth. Some have a ribbon or rope for hanging on the bedpost or bedroom door handle. How difficult can that be?

Still, I felt like Pasha needed something more special. My online searches led me to an e-Bay seller who had tooth pillows in the $5 range from Rich Frog. Believe it or not, I got one with a mouse on the front! The little Russian mouse had not forgotten our son. I presented it to him today, after his first visit to an American dentist, which was an experience in itself.

He loved the pillow, and the dentist. Petya did not fare as well. Let me explain.

Our family dentist had moved his office about five miles away. In a city setting, with rush-hour traffic, this is sizeable. Plus, there were few options in terms of parking. So we got off to a bad start.

Then we enter the office. It could have doubled as an IKEA showroom—white ultra-modern furniture, glass tabletops on sawhorse metal legs, and I had to check-in by computer. It was very stressful for a low-tech person to fill out medical forms, not knowing whether to push “Enter”, “Return”, or “Tab”, after each field. Important information was flying every which way, while my brain numbed to continuous-loop muzak.

The dental hygienist entered about ten minutes after nine. By the time she was ready for our nine a.m. appointment, it was 9:20. We had a plane to catch at noon.

The dentist only worked Wednesdays and Fridays, as did his assistants. He was engaged in other endeavors, shall we say. The problem was, Petya had his golf class in the second city where we lived for the latter half of each week. If we were not there by 4:00 p.m., it would be marked against him. We normally left City A for City B at 5:00 a.m. Now it looked doubtful that we would be departing anywhere near the anticipated 12:00 noon.

For his first visit, Pasha needed x-rays and cleaning, explanations and dire warnings. He did quite well, amazed that the dentist did not want to yank out any teeth as soon as he walked in the door. He received his toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss—all “free samples” that basically came out of my own pocket at $175/child. The piece de resistance were the two junky toys out of the treasure chest that made him grin ear to ear.

Into the chair goes Petya. The dental hygienist knows that our plane’s engines are already revving as she takes her time. I excuse myself to go to the restroom and she makes her move, furtively whisking him into the x-ray room. Benedetto chases them down and says no, he had x-rays last year and we need to GO. I come out and find them scurrying back to the examining chair, glass walls not providing much of a screen between us and my now-glowering husband.

She cleans his teeth and tells him that the three wiggly teeth must come out. Demonstrating how to take a clean cloth and TWIST, she says they will pop out in no time.

“That’s right, Petya, we’ll keep wiggling it,” I chime in.

“No, not wiggling, TWISTING,” she emphasizes. “You will feel it snapping.”

I feel weak and queasy. It’s then that the hygienist asks the million dollar question.

“Do you want me to do it for you?”

Her fingers are in his mouth. He makes an unintelligible groan.

“Sweetie, we can’t understand you. You need to say yes or no clearly.”

“I guess so—,” he hesitates.

I am unwilling to push him. It must be his decision. He’s been talking for several days about how this tooth is hanging on by a thread. If that’s the case, let the lady take it out. She’s already insisting that he knock out three on his right bottom side by this weekend. I thought this is what the new teeth were supposed to do: knock out the old.

I subconsiously hear our plane engines revving. My life is flashing before me with visions of gap-toothed and gold-toothed Russian peasants. I want my sons to have decent teeth. And I want to get out of this white-and-glass IKEA dental showroom.

“Yes or no, Petya? Tell us clearly.”


The lady reaches in with her dental gauze and begins to twist and TWIST. She bears down as my son squirms and moans in pain. I hear it ripping. Benedetto darts from the waiting area to our torture chamber. The tooth emerges at the same time as tears roll down Petya’s face.

“What is going on?!” My husband is horrified. Nobody hurts his son.

“A loose tooth was removed,” I say through semi-clenched teeth, rubbing my son’s leg, upset that the tooth was not as loose as I was led to believe.

“What, did that hurt?” the hygienist was surprised. “What, are you crying?”

She turned to me, “Did I do something wrong?”

I was ready to punch her. “It brings up bad memories,” I confirmed. I had already told her that these kids associated non-numbed tooth-pulling with dentists. No dental hygienists that I knew had ever insisted on pulling children’s teeth as a public service gesture.

“I don’t like this,” I whisper in Russian to my son.

My husband is steaming as the hygienist breezily inquires about our next appointment for the boys. They’ll need fluoride treatments, and sealing of their teeth to prevent any more cavities. Pasha will require two fillings and one extraction while he’s numb. Petya will have to prove that the next two teeth have come out due to his efforts.

We make no further appointment. I ask my husband to get a price list for any additional work before we proceed hook, line, and sinker in supporting their showroom office. Two tall, model-like assistants sit outside on the stone patio toward the back, answering the phone and sipping coffee, their ultra-white, bleached teeth impervious to any stains. Benedetto wants to go to another dentist, and we confer in Hebrew in the open-air office. I feel it would be counterproductive to have to start the process all over again with check-up, x-rays, etc., before we can have the fillings done on Pasha. I talk with the dentist, a very nice guy, and he says they will be moving to a full work week.

By mid-afternoon, we have not eaten in a mad rush to collect the dogs and rush to the plane, parked over an hour away, and take off toward City B. Pasha presently feels sick to his stomach, probably due to the stress. Petya needs extra hugs and comes to cuddle with me. I apologize for not saving him from the tooth-ripping hygienist.

Later in the day, he and I are laughing about the crazy lady. Guarded, uneasy giggles, we are still not entirely amused. While watching a video at night, he starts moaning. He runs past us in the kitchen, blood flowing everywhere.

“Nosebleed,” Benedetto comments. I hear Petya continuing to moan.

“What’s wrong?” I run after him into the bathroom. It’s another tooth out.

“Mama, I didn’t twist it!” he says through a kleenex-stuffed mouth. “I only wiggled it!”

“That’s the way,” I congratulate him with high-fives. By the end of the night, he’s convinced that a third tooth is coming out, but decides to leave it for another day.

Both boys are visited by the Tooth Angel in the wee hours. They awaken to extreme joy in the morning when Petya finds not two, but four $1 bills in his little pillow, a little extra for pain and suffering. Pasha receives $1 for a successful first dental visit. The hygienist gets nothing and we have yet to confirm our next appointment.

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