So, um, here’s the thing. My three year old has a hole in his tooth. I don’t know if it was one of the many party-bag lollies I irresponsibly let him eat or one of the many times I forgot to make him clean his teeth, but somewhere along the way, my extreme maternal neglect resulted in a tiny hole in his tiny tooth. And he’s scared of the dentist. And I think that might be my fault too.
A couple of weeks ago, I took him and his brother and sisters to the dentist for a check up and clean. Harry didn’t want to sit on the special chair, didn’t want to wear the special glasses and only opened his mouth for long enough for the friendly young dentist to ascertain that we would need to make another appointment and that, in the meantime, I would need to feed him lots of pro-dentist propaganda (and, um, no lollies).
Which brings us to yesterday. I had worked as hard as I could to engender pro-dentist sentiment in the heart and mind of my son. Harry sat solemnly on my lap as I showed him this bizarre youtube educational video the dentist had recommended. I chatted happily about friendly dentists and their special chairs and did you know the dentist can put a tiny little train in your mouth that can run over your teeth? Just like Percy! And best of all: little boys who open their mouths for the dentists get to have McDonalds for lunch!
I gotta tell you, I was feeling a little conflicted about this. I know this fast-food giant pours billions of dollars each year into the targeted marketing of children. I know there’s a clear strategy in their meals with toys and play equipment and children’s birthday parties and red stripey clowns. And I know the very reason I was turning to this multinational corporation to provide a treat for my little boy is because of the subliminal messages their glamourous ads and marketing placed in my brain when I was a little girl. In providing fast food as a “special reward treat” to Harry, I am programming him to become a lifelong consumer of this nutritionally bereft product. I am doing just what their billion-dollar marketing department wants me to do. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
As we walked into the waiting room, I exclaimed in joy with Harry over the colourful fish in the little aquarium. “This place has got everything! I love going to the dentist!” I tried my best to exude upbeat, cheerful anticipation with an undercurrent of calm, reassuring all-is-well. I think I might have strained something.
It wasn’t long before we were called into the little dentist’s room. No, I think that should be “dentist’s little room”. The dentist herself was of average size. Our first job was to convince Harry to sit in the special chair. But Harry wasn’t buying it. “It’s a fun chair, like a rocket!” and “Just like the girl in the video!” had no effect. Harry crawled nervously on to my lap and suggested that Annie sit in the chair instead. In the end, I sat on the chair and Harry sat on my lap. But I could tell he didn’t like it.
As the dentist handed Harry his “special, cool sunglasses” and tilted the chair backwards, I talked to Harry of the wonderful Happy Meal he would earn when he opened his mouth for the dentist. Did he want nuggets or a burger?
“I would like a burger!” Harry exclaimed with characteristic enthusiasm, “and Annie wants some nuggets. And you can have a chip, Mummy.”
“OK, now, Harry. It’s time to open your mouth. Why don’t you pretend you’re about to take a big bite of your hamburger?”, chirped the dentist.
Harry pressed his lips tightly together.
“Come on, Harry” I said, “if you open your mouth, I will even buy you an ice cream at McDonalds!”
“I love an ice cream!” Harry whispered excitedly. But he still wouldn’t open his mouth.
I think it was at this point that the nurse chipped in with promises of stickers. She needn’t have bothered. If Harry wasn’t budging for a happy-meal-all-to-himself, no adhesive picture of a Looney Tunes character grasping a toothbrush was going to change his mind.
It was time to pull out the big guns. “Harry,” I said solemnly, “if you don’t open your mouth for the dentist, you’ll get no McDonalds and have a plain sandwich for lunch instead.”
“I want a sandwich!” Harry interrupted suddenly.
“No, you don’t understand, you -”
“WHERE’S MY SANDWICH?!” Harry flung off his special sunglasses. “I need to get out of here!”
“Come on, Harry,” the dentist coaxed, “just let me put this special mirror in your mouth…”
Then she stopped and scratched her head. Harry had pulled his t-shirt over his face. “I want to go home.” a muffled voice said stubbornly.
In the end, after I’d promised every item on the McDonalds menu and a few shiny new toys, all to no avail, the dentist and I had to concede defeat. As the dentist printed off a referral letter to a paediatric dentist in the expensive part of town, Harry stealthily located the aforementioned plain sandwiches and, after giving one to his appreciative baby sister, sat munching it contentedly in an orgy of crumbs on the otherwise spotless floor.
Ten minutes later, I stalked out of the dentist, making a long mental list of all of the things I could have bought with the thirty dollars I’d just paid. What am I going to do? How on earth am I going to brainwash my son into thinking the dentist is his friend?
If only I could hire a McDonalds marketing consultant…