Friday, January 09, 2009

A Story of Love and Teeth

When asked what it's like to be married to a dentist, my first response is glib: I get razzed for being the only parent who sends their kid to a sleepover without a toothbrush; I have a school debt load as big as a house mortgage; and, I'm expected to have perfect teeth and even better breath, which, in my experience, is not necessarily always simultaneously possible.

But then there's the response that's not glib, but heartfelt -- as true as anything I've ever believed -- and the only way it can be expressed is to put it like this: I can't separate out my particular dentist guy from his dentist job. Together, they make him the dentist I'm married to.

Let me explain.

My particular dentist guy was once an unfulfilled manufacturing and plastics engineer who drew computerized pictures of a 737 airplane's wing rivets for The Boeing Company, and, later, designed waterski and wakeboard bindings for the likes of world class skier Andy Mapple for O'Brien Watersports. Cool enough stuff, to be sure, but that same engineer guy would come home disappointed that he'd sat at a machine all day and/or had only spoken to one or two other human beings -- about nothing that meant anything to him -- throughout the course of a day.

Then my particular engineer guy got laid off and couldn't find more engineering work and fixed houses as a contractor for six months -- and somewhere in there he observed his younger brother at work as a new dentist. There, he saw immediately how he, too, could use his hands, his head, and his heart all in one fell swoop: by being a dentist guy.

After watching his brother treat the whole person -- seeing how the mouth was the gateway to health for the rest of the body (doctor), watching his brother's hands move in intricate and detailed ways in a small space (engineer), and listening to the care, banter, and concern shared between patient and dentist (human being) -- he decided to make a career change.

He returned to college at 33, taking three years of pre-requisite classes from the school where he'd graduated seven years earlier. During his final quarter of pre-requisites, he filled out dental school applications, wrote a killer statement of intent (thank me very much), and earned himself a seat in the University of Pacific's three-year program, the only one of its kind in the nation.

After a mighty garage sale where we sold everything we could think to sell (mostly the quiver of free wakeboards he'd aquired) we packed up our 3-year-old and 4-year-old kids and moved ourselves to San Francisco for a life of school, loans, and part-time work.

We've never looked back.

School was challenging and scary -- after all, we'd put everything on the line to pursue this -- and sometimes the requirements felt elusive. But, in the end, it was fulfilling and thrilling.

My dentist guy, who's just bizarre enough to think it's funny that the time to go to the dentist is "Tooth Hurty," and who thinks Eugene Levy's nerdy dentist character in that Christopher Guest mockumentary, Waiting for Guffman, is highly quotable -- "People ask me if I was the class clown [smug nod]; I tell them, 'No, but I sat next to him, and I studied him' [smug nod followed by pathetic Johnny Carson impersonation]" -- comes home from work happy every day, deeply moved by the lives he's encountered.

Staying true to HIPAA's confidentiality code, he tells me no names or places, but his eyes water nearly each and every night as he tells me about hardship, victory, silliness, or gratitude he's seen or experienced in the mouths or lives of his patients. He never got that as an engineer. Granted, some engineers don't need it, and, admittedly, some engineers manage to get it somehow, but my guy needed something extra and dentistry is how he gets it.

So when he leans against the kitchen counter at age 41 and talks to me about his work with tears in his eyes, I'm very clear about this particular guy who loves his particular job, and I hone in on that soft smile. I hone in on his lovely, if slightly imperfect teeth and his occasionally bad breath, because, well, sometimes you just can't have it all -- but I know you can come close.


anjie said...

Sorry, folks. Sometimes I sit down to write and this sentimental stuff comes out! At least the blog is a place to throw something at the wall to see what sticks -- or what slides...

Anonymous said...

Don't be sorry, Anjie. This authentic 'sentimental stuff' is important to share. Thanks! Tears filled my eyes reading your sensitive remembering of your and Mick's sometimes bumpy road to dentistry.

This blog from an eloquent writer will surely stick.
Thanks for sharing your inner thoughts and memories. They will be important words to read by Dane & Aubrey when you decide to share.

You and Mick are such loving, caring individuals and that is rubbing off on those you nurture and those you meet. D & A are blessed you are their parents. I'm blessed, too, to have birthed Mick and that you two met and mated. What a blessed marriage.Seems that this paragraph was 'blessed with triple blessings. Hmmmm??? - what's another word for blessed?

I just looked up Thesaurus 827.9 on BLESSED - adj. happy, happy as a king, happy as a lark, happy as a clam at high water (U.S.) happy as the day is long, thrice happy, ter quaterque beatus (L); joyful, joyous, joyant (rare); blest, blessed, blissful, "throned on highest bliss" (Milton); beatific (al) beatified; with sparkling eyes, with joyful face; unalloyed, without alloy, cloudless, painless; CHEERFUL etc. which led to 836.7-9.
I JUST HAVE TO GO ON WITH 836 .7 adj. cheerful, cheerfulsome (dial.) cheery, cheerly (arch.), of good cheer; blithe, blithesome; gay, gay as a lark; in spirits, of good or high spirits, in high feather; light, lightsome, lighthearted; smiling, laughing; breezy, bully (slang), chipper (coll. US) , jaunty, debonair or debonaire, free and easy, carefree, airy, buoyant, bright, spunky, palmy, riant, sparkling; canty (Scot. and dial. Eng.), "crouse an' camty" (Burns); spirited, spiritful (rare), full of spirit, sprightly, sprigfhtful, spry; lively, animated, vivacious, all alive; brisk, brisk as a bee; allegro (It.); glad, happy etc.

836.8 adj. MERRY, merry as a cricket of grig, "as merry as the day is long" (Shakespeare); mirthful, hilarious; joyous, joyful, joyant (rare); gleeful, gleesome; jolly, jolly as a thrush or sandboy; jovial, jocund, jocose, jocular; mirth-loving, laughter[loving; Abderian.

836.9 adj. elate, elated; jubilant, exulting, cock-a-hoop, flushed !!!!!!!

Anjie,continue to share this 'sentimental stuff'. It's an endearing part of you.

I promise to shorten most of my future comments
- wouldn't be surprised if I'm cutoff your blog mailings.

JJJ, Mom

P.S. I'm 'throned on highest bliss' (Milton); 'merry as the day is long' (Shakespeare) and 'I'm just cock-a-hooped' to have the honor to share my life with you two and our BLESSED Grandchildren.
May God continue to bless your lives and those whose lives you touch - like mine. THANKS!

Anonymous said...

OOPS! I wondered what merry as a cricket OF grig was. I looked up grig which was a cricket / grasshopper. Interesting what one wrong letter can do.

anjie said...

Well, bully on you. Aren't you a jaunty and chipper soul? I've never seen a thesaurus entry as a posted comment. How gay!

anjie said...

In case there's any confusion; that last line of my previous comment should have a *wink* after it (as I'm quoting the definition).

Kari Quaas said...

Hey Anjie,

Great post! I'm so glad to hear that Micky is fulfilled and I'm sure everyone he interacts with can use a bit of his humor while they're getting their teeth worked on.

Yay, you guys!

Natalie N said...

This was beautiful, Anjie. So well written, and I love that you can just sit down and write this stuff. Writing comes so naturally for you. It's a wonderful gift you have; thanks for sharing it on your blog!

I think sometimes outsiders assume that dentists choose their profession to have Fridays off and to make money. Which are nice perks, of course, but you really captured what our husbands' professions are all about... There really is so much satisfaction for these guys to be helping others and changing lives.

And I didn't realize that Mick was 33 when he went back to start his pre-requisites! Talk about dedication. What a blessing that he has found true fulfillment in his new career. Glad that things are going so well for you!