Putting the "F" in Fun
I looked up at the hygienist, who wore a glazed-over expression of alarm, and I quietly explained to her that Williams syndrome tends to pretty much erase the gene that controls anxiety. She nodded and asked Erik a series of maddeningly perky questions. He continued to bawl and answered no to all of them. I reassured her that it was okay to start polishing, but she ceased her attempts and just sadly repeated, "Oh, he's so cute," like she was apologizing. I kept lamely patting Erik, not knowing what else to do. By this time, a couple of other staff members began dodging each other as they darted back and forth in an apparent attempt to ready a private room for Erik. By this time, we had likely frightened every child in a five-mile radius. As the staff's attention was directed away from Erik and towards a new battle plan, Erik managed to slip off of the shiny chair and wander over to the other side of the room, where a pretty young mother sat with a perfectly quiet toddler on her lap next to a dentist's chair containing a little boy getting his teeth polished by another hygienist. The mother smiled politely at me, and I smiled back and shrugged. I was suddenly aware of the waistband of Erik's diaper and the way he moved in his orthotics. She was very successfully attempting not to stare, but I detected a touch of curiosity. I noted how depressing the situation was for me but marveled at how desensitized I have become. What would have sent me to the car in tears before now just makes me tired. Plain and simple.
I suppose that's a bizarre kind of progress.
What happened next almost sent me into hysterics. Erik approached the defenseless, immobilized boy in the examination chair. The youngster's eyes slowly turned toward my son's approaching face, and their noses threatened to touch. Erik tilted his head to get a better look at the pneumatic polisher and all that was occurring in this stranger's mouth. His neck craned, and he drew himself even closer. The boy looked slightly horrified at Erik's scrutinous stare, and his eyes darted back to his mother for reassurance. After I stifled a giggle and told Erik to back off, the hygienist assured me that my son was doing just fine.
It was at this time that I was approached by a woman half my size with a confident, authoritarian tone. I was slightly put off by what she said next, but I was glad to hear she wanted to try a new approach instead of asking me for the next step. Apparently the private room idea had been mothballed. Dr. Mike bobbed by on the other side of the room divider and waved at me, simultaneously flashing his generous wall of white teeth, looking like a celebrity on the cover of a glossy tabloid. He disappeared into an exam room.
The woman told me that their office schedules "fun visits" for children with special needs. I cringed at this entire phrase but couldn't put my finger on why. Maybe the word "fun" wasn't the F word that automatically came to mind when I had to take Erik to the dentist. Unless there is a margarita machine in the lobby, "fun" wouldn't be my first choice of adjectives. She explained that it would be necessary for us to return more frequently than every six months in order to get Erik accustomed to the environment. My cynicism kicked into overdrive, and I began to daydream about being placed in a sealed crate with a family of rabid raccoons on a daily basis. I can't imagine my hatred of the animals would lessen with repeated exposure, but, then again, I'm not a psychologist. Thankfully, I recalled some of the information I had read years ago about dental visits for people with WS and how a technique like this might help. I attempted to adjust my deteriorating attitude. The woman instructed me she would need to be informed each time we came in, as Erik would need special attention, and that she would handle it herself. She said that she would come in early if necessary. Her confidence began to feel condescending, and I realized that I was probably being a bit defensive.
Erik was invited to choose a plastic toy from a box, which I did for him, as I usually do. I chose a sparkly rubber ball, showed it to him, and stuffed it into the bowels of my purse to join the assortment of toys and stickers Erik shows little to no interest in at each of our appointments. The receptionist scheduled us for a "fun visit" in two weeks, and we said our goodbyes. Erik asked me once again if he could spin the wheels on the wooden bus in the waiting room. Knowing this is something that calms him, I took a seat across from another mother and let Erik go to town. After about 10 minutes, I collected our things and told him it was time to go.