23 February 2008


You know how I mentioned all the big, tough kids in the senior school? Each potentially waiting to do my awkward, little Ben harm? Well, you can imagine the thoughts of mayhem that raced through my mind after school one day last week, when I drove up just in time to see Ben spitting out a tooth. I could tell this from quite some distance; there's nothing quite like the body language of transferring a sticky tooth from your mouth into your hand.

"What happened?" I asked, trying to keep an even tone, free from swear words. Life with Ben can be hard on the nerves.
"My tooth just came out. All to itself. It happens sometimes?"

Ben always says "to itself" when he means "by itself". And the 'it happens?' is a frequent question because he always seeks reassurance when things go, from his point of view, quite wrong. He knows that his teeth should generally be firmly in his head.

I examined his mouth. It was a baby tooth; one of the very last ones.

Whew! So he wasn't in a fight. Such relief!

Teeth have always posed a special problem for Brendan. I mean to say, he has a full set of them and they are lovely. He shouldn't need any orthodontic work, and he's obsessive about brushing them twice a day, so they should stay put for a long time. But the trouble started when he was about five months old, when that first set started coming in. He really suffered with each tooth. Weeks of acute pain, swelling, fever, runny nose, and wailing misery.

I didn't realize at the time that autism would have been making the sensory information his mouth was sending him seem overwhelming. I just knew that for my baby boy, paracetamol drops and anesthetic gel were the way to go. I tried a couple of different brands, actually testing them in my mouth first. I stayed with the one that left me with a blissful patch of no feeling at all when I dabbed a little round blob on my tongue. Then I gave it to Ben, and he stopped howling and was happy again. That was how we got through the trials of cutting teeth.

One of Ben's characteristics is that he becomes v. distressed when things aren't as he is used to. Making adjustments and compromises are not things he can easily do. To a certain extent, the Taipan is of a similar temperament. A small example to illustrate:

One day when he was in the early stages of toilet training, I heard Ben squealing in anguish, and then heard Taipan calling for me in a voice pitched high with panic. I naturally raced to the toilet, to find Ben in tears and Taipan alarmed. "Do something!" he pleaded.

What had happened was that Ben had gotten an erection, plain and simple. These things happen to little boys, and aren't a big deal. The trouble was, he also had a full bladder and really needed to pee. The erection wouldn't let him, and he was uncomfortable. He had no insight that this was natural, and temporary, and the sight and sound of his adored father, all 6'3" of him, behaving like a headless chicken was doing him no good at all.

"For goodness [sic] sake stop shouting!" I snapped. My eyes rolled heavenward, which they quite often do when I'm around Taipan.

"Why on earth are you making this into a problem?. Then I softened my voice, and patted my frightened little son's back.

"All you need to do", I said sweetly, "is comfort him, and tell him that this is normal, that it will settle down in a minute, and then he'll be good to go. What you don't want to do is escalate his terror by panicking and yelling for me as if I'm some expert at killing erections..." A galling concept.

Honestly, it was at moments like these when it felt like I had an extra child. One who was tall, and hairy, and over 40.

A similar crisis occurred when Ben lost his first tooth. He had long been in the habit of breaking things around the house; many, expensive things for which he was yelled at. And so when a tooth started to swing around in its socket, he genuinely thought he'd done something bad. His distress at this was heart rending. This time Taipan and I were on the same page.

Mind you, Taipan wanted nothing whatsoever to do with removing the tooth. He can't deal with blood in even small amounts, so all minor surgical matters fall to me. But he did understand by then that Ben needed a lot of reassurance. When the tooth came out, we made an enormous fuss over him, told him it was supposed to happen, and that he'd get a nice new one in a few weeks, a grown up tooth. Ben had really been spooked, and so needed quite a lot of comforting to get his head around such a concept as teeth coming out and it all being okay.

When the second tooth came out, he was upset, but not as much as before, so we thought our method of calm, knowledgeable parenting was exactly right. Good for us! The second one needed only a quick pull from me, and a quick rinse on Ben's part. Ben loathes blood, much like his Dad, but he seemed to accept this as par for the course. Taipan was out of town on business, so it fell to me to tuck Ben and his tooth into bed for the night. I even took a picture to celebrate the milestone (see above). That was at 7:30 pm.

Nearly two hours later, I was on the computer in a room all the way across the house. I was deeply absorbed in something I was doing when Ben came charging up behind me whooping in triumph. His hand was raised, and a tooth was in his grasp. A different tooth. Blood trickled down his forearm and dripped onto the carpet. His T-shirt was spattered.

Oh. My. God. He'd so taken to heart my assurances that it was great that his teeth were coming out that he'd spent the past hours working loose a tooth that wasn't meant to come out for years yet. In fact, it was the twin of the one I was telling you about at the start of this post. I did not handle it well. Poor Ben. He thought he was being helpful and good. Unfortunately this was one of those moments when his mother, who had only recently thought herself calm and wise, succumbed to her horror and frustration and morphed into a red faced, screaming monster. I always wanted to be a fun kind of mother, not the one you can hear down the street....

By then we were pretty sure we were dealing with some kind of autism, but the adjustments we would have to make had only just begun. Such as how to make Ben feel secure about the loss of a tooth without making him feel so nonchalant that he decides to remove them at random. When he gets an idea into his head, its not only very hard to get it out again, but there's no predicting what shape it will take as it settles in.

A bemused dentist tried to help me explain to Ben that he mustn't do that again., and I'm pleased to say that he didn't. He does still get visibly wary when a tooth gets loose, especially loose enough to spit out just as his mother drives up in her car.

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