Tuesday, December 04, 2007

the waiting room

What I love about the low-residency masters program is that my work written from the waiting room of the dentist’s office—the hygienist interrupts me to say she doesn’t think we need to worry about my daughter needing braces just yet—looks exactly as 8 ½ x 11 double-spaced scripted as my writing from a desk with a stack of books nearby.

I fight through layers of essays, like leaves of paper, back to the surface to meet the eyes of the dark-skinned woman speaking to me. Was I supposed to be worrying about braces? Why should she need braces? Did I miss the memo about parents worrying about braces? Am I a bad parent that I never considered this? She told me not to worry. Didn’t she know I was already not-worrying? And now I worry. When she tells me not to.

I don’t think that’s what she intended. Are her parents Pakistani? Central American? Her dark glossy hair is pulled back in a practical barrette, a ponytail that falls straight down the back of her scrubs in spring green. The other hygienists wear spring green, too—do they plan this? I nod and say thank you, and yes it doesn’t surprise me that Madeleine is behaving perfectly in the dentist’s chair. In the fog of leaves of paper I remember her first visit to this dentist, how panicked she was, how I brought the camera and told her Daddy wished he could be here for her first appointment, too, and could she please smile from that tipped back chair? Her blonde ponytails, her yellow flowered dress, her nervousness fading away with the animated conversation of the calm and sweet man who is our dentist.

Thank you for the information about the cavities in her baby teeth, which do not need filled. I nod.

Where was I? Oh yes, I was writing my evaluation of my first quarter of graduate school, some 8 ½ x 11 form, and for just one last minute I wasn’t worrying about if my daughter would ever need braces. I wasn’t worrying, when she interrupted my homework session and suddenly I knew I’d also need to be thinking about dinner, about the sleet falling outside the window and if I still remember how to drive this enormous minivan on icy roads.

This will now mark the last moment in which I did not worry, at all, about whether my daughter needs braces. I’m so glad the woman in green was pretty and calm and her intentions were so apparently kind-hearted. I shake my head at her youth. She clearly does not have children, and doesn’t understand the scars of worry, and the psychology of writers is not her business. The oath says to do no harm, and I’m sure she meant none.

What I appreciate most? I write through everything. There are deadlines, and the writing continues despite moods, despite interruptions, despite weather setbacks and driving conditions and growling stomachs. I do my 8 ½ x 11 best, and bury myself beneath the leaves again when the spring green young woman retreats back through the swinging door.

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