"Looking at teeth, mom."
Apparently, my three year old Jack was refusing to brush his teeth. So my husband decided to show them what happened when you ignore your teeth. To the ultimate extreme. He was on a meth website, showing them the aftereffects of how methamphetamines could wreak havoc on the mouth.
A couple of weeks before, I was on the way to the pumpkin patch with my kids, a friend, and her two children. My five year old, Cecelia, was sitting with my friend's five year old, Helen. I overheard Helen asking Cecelia, "Do you even brush your teeth in the morning? Your breath stinks. You really need to brush."
I felt guilty and responsible. My mom has been telling me for over a year to get Cecelia to brush her teeth twice daily, instead of just at night. I have been procrastinating on the morning brushing. First of all, I had enough to do in the morning before school: get them dressed, cook eggs, find mittens, be Pollyanna. It was enough of an effort, already. And besides, Cecelia was going to lose all those teeth, in a couple of years. Why should I worry about one more step at this point?
I guess Helen taught me the reason. Forget hygiene. It is all about peer pressure and ultimate acceptance. So I began to remind her to brush in the morning, but it was difficult. Some mornings it worked, some mornings it didn't.
The meth pictures worked like magic. I have never seen such bubbly toothpaste froth around either kid's mouth, as I did the night of the meth teeth exposure. The next morning, Mike left around 4:30 a.m. to duck hunt. I got up with the kids and started to cook breakfast. I asked Cecelia one of my usual questions, "What did you dream about last night?" She replied, "I dreamed I had a black tooth."
"How did you realize you had a black tooth? Did you see it in the mirror, or did someone point it out to you?"
"I just knew mom. Then I saw it in the mirror. I wasn't brushing enough. My tooth turned black."
As I was putting the biscuits in the oven, Jack looked up at me. He asked me a question, his voice filled with both anxiety and awe. "Mom, can we see the teeth again? On the computer?"
I remember when I was at the crime lab, there was an amazing book. I tried to order it, but it was government issued -- you had to have a special code only befitting a government paid pathologist. It categorized all the drugs on the planet, specializing in those that were abused. It had pictures of all forms of every drug with associated paraphernalia, and also graphic images of the ways they were smuggled and hidden in body orifices. For example, there was an unfortunate individual trying to smuggle cocaine in a plastic bags in his stomach. The bags ruptured, killing him instantly in the massive overdose. His organs were visually immortalized, in his embarrassing attempt to covertly plunder the goods. The meth pictures in the book were the most grotesque. There were pages and pages of before and after photographs of users, like in the plastic surgery ads, only backwards.
One day on morning rounds at the crime lab, I spent all my efforts smothering giggles. On morning rounds, we walk around to each body dumped from the night before and discuss "The Story." Of their death. Immediately prior to our scientific evisceration, full of measurements, x-rays, and professional opinions. There were two bodies, out of approximately twenty, that looked like they had been invited to the party but were not privy to the manners and rules. Most bodies lay flat on the cold stainless steel table, waiting for our evaluation. But these two had been burned in a meth explosion.
Meth is rampant in Arkansas. Secret scientific meth labs are stashed all over the state. Just like in professional research, the meth cooks don't always know what they are doing. Explosions abound. When bodies are burned up in a fire, they often adopt a position of escape. This can be dramatic and exciting, in an end-of-the-world zombie novel, when the bodies are burned into the asphalt, reaching for salvation. But in the florescent lights of the crime lab basement, it is a literal black parody. Crispy-crittered humans in strange and various poses, grimacing in attempt to escape the grim reaper, often with their meth teeth blaring.
I wanted to go over and whisper to them. "Lie down! You are drawing unwanted attention. Everyone else is peaceful and proper. Gunshot wounds. Suicides. Murders. THEY know the rules. Follow." But the burn victims never got it.
The other night, I was singing my son Jack to sleep. He still had remnants of toothpaste on the rim of his mouth. He interrupted me in genuine concern. I had cooked a dinner of tacos, with admixed jalapenos, onions, and garlic; the ultimate breath freshener. Jack whispered urgently, "Mommy, teeth!" They have both been obsessed, since the meth pictures. I didn't get it at first. I assured him that he had brushed, and his teeth would be OK. "No mommy, your teeth! Please brush!" I guess the strong scents emanating from my mouth elicited the darkest images he had seen on the computer. I apologized, and popped a cinnamon Altoid. That wasn't good enough for Jack. "No, mom, you need to brush!" I promised him I would, after I finished my cleaning.
All week long, we have been dreaming of, discussing, and avidly brushing teeth. Thanks to the meth pictures. I have always had a healthy fear of illegal drugs. I try not to show my fears to my kids, because fear, like the common cold, is highly contagious. Let them develop their own, not inherit mine. But this fear is worthy of passing along. I'll save the meth advice for next year. This week's lesson: Brush your teeth.