My father’s friends have many children who have also chosen dentistry as a profession. This has always caused me to examine my own choices. Dentistry is a well paying occupation. My father told me that he took this job because he was interested in working with children. I could never understand this. It seems like it would be enough to ask one person to stick their fingers into hundreds of strange mouths a week. It seems inconceivable to have each one of those mouths attached to a hysterical six-year-old.
My father is someone who takes his work seriously. He is constantly dispensing dental hygiene wisdom to cousins or uncles. Even today at family get-togethers, my father is always angling to get a look at a back molar.
This man spends long hours lecturing to aspiring Martha Stewarts, on proper brushing techniques for their offspring. Dentists seem to feel that the dental health of their children is a direct representation of their professional accomplishments. The only problem with my father applying his profession to our personal relationship is that he cannot hold back the jokes and sarcastic comments. He reserves these for family who do not have the same access to a malpractice lawyer. After looking in my mouth at a recent appointment he thanked me for providing him with this opportunity to complete his thesis in dental surgery. It is a closely guarded family secret that my dental health is of a state usually reserved for developing nations and tribal Bushmen.
My mother is a former Fulbright scholar in mathematics, a Dr. Laura Schlesinger zealot, and an all around strange cookie. She applies mathematical precision to household tasks and the self-righteous vengeance of the Spanish Inquisition to her personal relationships. Her list of heroes includes the aforementioned Dr. Laura, Dr. James Dobson (a family values lunatic), and Judge Judy (whom I think she admires for her legal right to tell everyone else what’s wrong with their lives). My mother has the discipline of a Samurai Warrior. Her great love is to-do lists with items neatly written and crossed out. Her three by five cards are neatly attached to everything within her reach. She is also the cornerstone of the family religion. She is a card-carrying member of the family values crowd. I sat down to a warm, low fat meal balanced amongst the food groups at 6:30 each night. We went to church every Sunday morning and I learned hundreds of bible versus to become a confirmed member !
of the Indianapolis Lutheran church. This is not a woman to be taken lightly.
This combination of religious fervor and medical science produced some strange results throughout my childhood, but none was as strange as the years I spent crawling through the living room of our suburban house. You have to understand that my parents believed that there was a medical answer to every childhood problem. Bedwetting indicated severe psychological trauma that could only be treated with puppet therapy. Picking your nose and staring out the window of Science class should be immediately addressed with daily doses of Ritalin. This is how I became the only sixth grader in my middle school that spent half an hour crawling around the living room with my father holding my feet behind me. I am very thankful that I had not been born at another period in scientific development. My penmanship might have been addressed with a good bloodletting or a lobotomy.
I had the same problems many kids did. I just simply found more interesting things than school, especially when I was at school. I was not a bad kid and I considered myself intelligent, but my report card consistently indicated otherwise. My favorite classroom activity was staring at any inanimate object in the general vicinity with my mouth open. I practiced this art consistently throughout the school day. I would occasionally break up the monotony of staring by drawing a ninja or space ship on my notebook. Years later I found an old Math book containing page after page of poorly drawn martial arts figures, space ships attacking each other, and various robots but scarcely any mention of math. I noticed that as the year progressed my work became more abstract and imaginative. Now I had combinations of space ninja’s attacking the mother ship. I had no regard for the lines that were placed on the page to keep things somewhat horizontal. Worst of all I was always misplacing the!
crumpled papers that I turned in as homework assignments.
My mother was outraged when I brought home two D’s on my report card. She had been valedictorian of her high school I could already hear the discussion as she quickly dialed my father’s office. About a week later Dad was watching a local newscast when a feature came on about a doctor who was promoting some revolutionary theories about childhood development. My father took notice and in a few weeks I was sitting in the office of Dr. Wilber Smithson at IUPUI Hospital in Indianapolis. The good doctor asked me a series of questions about my favorite toys, television shows, and school subjects. He came to the conclusion that my academic problems were caused by my early development as a toddler. I had learned to walk too early. I had not developed the correct musculature for immaculate penmanship and thus frustrated my natural genius making school difficult. My worried parents were quick to ask how this might be remedied. Dr. Smithson explained that we needed to create an exercise routine that would develop my crawling skills. I was asked to crawl around the office a few times so that he could explain the approach. I gasped. This doctor was out of his fucking mind if he thought that I was going to crawl around the floor of his office. My parents pleaded with me. In the end they resorted to bribery. When football cards were brought into the bargaining it did not take me long to sell out.
After dinner each night I was to crawl the length of our ranch style suburban homestead. I shuffled down the yellow shag carpeting on all fours, turned left at the wooden plaque inscribed with the Lords Prayer, and ended up looping at the far end of my parents’ bedroom under an oil painting of a sailboat. My entire route took a minute and a half to complete. I had to do this thirty times before I had completed my nightly obligation and received my pay off. This in itself would be enough to traumatize a normal ten year old. Luckily for me, one of the benefits of being extremely lazy was that dignity was just too much work. I could not be bothered with the excessive effort required to fight off a pair of middle aged, born again suburbanites that had found the Holy Grail of perfect penmanship. To my parents’ credit, they followed Dr. Smithson’s rather unusual theories to the letter. They were required to crawl right along with me holding down my feet or applying pressure to
make it more of a workout. My father, president of the Indianapolis Dental Society, expert bass fisherman, and all round pillar of the community ended up spending an hour each night crawling behind his beloved, idiot son. I still wonder what my parents told their friends at the holiday get together and church barbeques.
After several months of competitive crawling, I began to figure out why Dr. Smithson’s patients had such dramatic results. It was easy to get out of the crawling regiment. All I had to do was put forth a minimal effort to improve my spelling and concentrate more when I was writing. This was a small price to pay compared to the humiliation of crawling around your house with a parent attached for half an hour each night. These children simply chose the easiest thing to do when presented with a significantly worse alternative. I believe that Dr. Smithson’s theories would be equally effective with many adults.
“Jim I’m sorry that you failed to close that final round of funding. Perhaps you would consider crawling around the office for a few months until your negotiating skills improve.”
In the end, I became admired amongst my peers for my exquisite collection of football cards. To my credit, my writing never really improved until, in my junior year of high school, I discovered that I might be required to do manual labor for a living if I did not get into a decent college. After spending more time on all fours than any man has since we evolved from a chimpanzee, my father is still a believer in the ability of medical science to solve any childhood problem. When asked about the failure of our time crawling around the first floor of the house he always replies with a smile, “I have beautiful writing.”