The Occupational Therapist for the Birth to Three program balanced a little, two-and-a-half-year old Willy on a giant, red ball. The Speech and Language Pathologist tried in vain to get the toothbrush in Willy’s mouth. I sat back, absorbing their various strategies and tactics, trying to determine how to use what I was learning at home.
“He’s not going to open,” the speech therapist said.
“Can you really blame him,” I asked, a little bemused. “Brushing your teeth hurts, and it’s not like he understands how important it is so that he’ll do it anyway.”
They looked at me. I blushed, feeling like I said something wrong. Was a parent not supposed to admit that brushing one’s teeth hurt in front of a child?
Then, the OT said the words that changed everything. “It’s not supposed to hurt.”
Startled, I jerked a little. “Of course it hurts.”
“Are you talking about cavities,” the speech therapist asked.
“No. Well, yes, that hurts, too. But I’m talking about the gums. Brushing your teeth hurts the gums.”
Their heads tilted in different directions.
“Maybe you’re brushing too hard,” the speech therapist said.
The OT shook her head. “SID,” she said, a little sad and a little curious.
I felt the muscle in my forehead scrunch tight. “Brushing your teeth doesn’t hurt?”
They shook their heads. My tense muscles suddenly deflated, bringing posture to my attention. My torso was all squishy again.
“Okay, so what’s SID?”
When my little boy was born I couldn’t have imagined that through him, and his brothers, I would learn how to regulate my own body. It never occurred to me that brushing one’s teeth wasn’t supposed to hurt or certain products could reduce the discomfort. It never occurred to me that other people couldn’t feel individual strands of hair shifted by the “breeze” created by a door opening and shutting behind them. It never occurred to me that the sound a fire alarm makes doesn’t shatter other peoples’ thoughts; no, my panic was always attributed (by me and others) to our house burning down when I was little. I didn’t have low muscle tone as a child; I was weak, scrawny, and had bad posture. Hundreds of little differences, and I would never have known but for my children.