Hellions at the Dentist's Office



I have receding gums, so when I’m getting my teeth cleaned, I have to work hard to relax myself. But I lose it sometimes, and every muscle in my body tenses. I ache to burst out of the chair. The sensation is similar to the experience of taking my four kids out in public by myself. I avoid this situation whenever I can, but today I bit the bullet.

Our dentist appointments were to start at 3:30, and I was running late on preparations at 2:10, so I sent Grace out to find Halen while I fed and changed the baby. When our driver arrived to pick us up at 2:40, Savannah was locked in her room, angry at being disciplined for whipping her sister with a pillow case, and Grace and Halen were still missing.

I did some fast sweet-talking and managed to get Savannah out the door without a fight. She buckled the baby into her car seat while I ran to the playground, my abaya flapping at my ankles, hoping to find Halen and Grace quickly. But the place was deserted. I had turned to search elsewhere when a man watering some dirt hollered to me, pointing to the rabbit pen. There I saw Grace scaling the fence of the pen and running toward me.

This little angel? A hellion?
“Grace, you were supposed to be looking for Halen, not playing with the rabbits!”

“Sorry—I forgot!” she crooned, scurrying along behind me. I sent her to the car and rushed to the house of one of Halen’s friends, hoping to find him there. I was not disappointed—but I was sure to express my consternation at Halen for not coming back earlier.

I was kind of amazed that with all of the last-minute sweating, we still arrived at the dentist’s office ten minutes early. We located the door—actually, there were two of them, but we found both of them locked. Assuming it must still be prayer time, I found a seat in the cavernous hallway, and we waited.

Halen poked at Grace to get her to chase him. Grace poked at Savannah to get her to join the chase as well, and soon the three of them were raising Cain in the well-echoing building. Ten minutes passed, and I gave up trying to quiet the kids. Ten more minutes passed, and I was starting to feel annoyed at the tardy dentist.

I knocked at the dentist’s door, entertaining the temptation to see it as an escape hatch. No answer. I huffed. The guy couldn’t arrive on time for our appointment? I knocked harder. Where was this guy trained, anyway? How could this dentist presume to accept Western clients while being so obviously ignorant of the basic courtesy of punctuality? I willed the kids to make as much noise as they liked. It was tit for tat—rudeness for rudeness. I beat at the door with a flat palm.

The kids were just reaching a crescendo of mayhem when a woman emerged into the hallway. Incredulous, she demanded, “What is going on?” I wasn’t exactly sure whether she was using that angry-teacher voice with the kids or with me. But I was a little embarrassed that she spoke in English, because that meant she could tell my hellions were Western ones rather than the usual Saudi ones.

I shrugged, like a punk, pointing at the door. “Where’s the dentist?” My intent was to communicate that wild children were the natural consequence of late professionals.

The woman was dumbfounded. “This is not the dentist’s door—the dentist’s entrance is at the end of the other hallway!”

“No—this is room 405 and 406,” I explained politely. “The sign downstairs and in this hallway says these are the dentist’s doors.”

“But the sign also says that 402 is the dentist’s office!” The woman’s expression changed from unbelief to pity at my obvious ignorance of Saudi signage customs. As I followed her meekly down the hallway, she added, “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you to have those children at home with you all day!”

“Oh, yeah, sorry about that,” I said pathetically as I noticed the other sign that indicated an additional entrance to the dentist’s office. 

Why are trips to the dentist always so painful?