Child's play, I think to myself, secretly thrilled at the pun. I am all set to give a talk on teeth and dental care at a kindergarten class. My research tells me I should wear wear pink and blue (does not bring a very fashionable image to mind, I know, but appearently these are the soothing colours for children). I carry my doctor's coat and I'm off. In my mind I practise easy ways of explaining complicated dental situations-
Scientifically: Caries is the breakdown of tooth structure caused as a result of pathogenic bacteria which in the presence of sugar produces acid which degenerates the enamel and deeper structures of the tooth.
Modified for kindergarten kids: A cavity is formed when you eat chocolates, and all the chocolatey gunk gets stuck between your teeth and you forget to brush it away. That is what creates a hole in your tooth.
Piece of cake.
Subconsciously I wonder if 3 & 4 year olds know the meaning of create. Never mind. I am brilliant. I'll think of something. I am good with on-the-spur-of-the-moment situations.
30 minutes later:
18 pairs of curious eyes stare at me. I smile back at them, confident that I am about to change their life, motivate them towards better dental health forever, give them a lifetime of good oral habits. It is such a bouyant feeling. I hope that they are not shy or uncomfortable around me. A cute as button girl grins back at me and then out of the blue and for absoutely no reason that I can fathom:
Where do babies come from, she asks.
Huh, I say, my smile fading just a little bit. I was under the impression this was to be a talk about teeth...
I mean, she continues paying no attention to my growing confusion, do they fall from the sky? My mommy told me they come from the penguin.
I'm guessing she actually means the stork, unless ofcourse mommy thinks the stork is a penguin in disguise...
I look helplessly at the teacher. Were the children told the gynaecologist was coming today and got the dentist by mistake? Had one orifice been exchanged for the other? But she's tending to her cuticles, oblivious to the disaster unfurling around me. This is probably the most peace she's had in her class and she is determined to dedicate the precious time to her fingers while her mind takes a nap.
Ah, I said, babies, er..., well, you see..., they come from mommy's stomach. Er..., they're a gift from God, I add for good measure.
(I again wonder how a dentist has ended up in the strange position of explaining such a delicate matter to a bunch of precocious babies.)
While most of the kids are looking dubiously at me, one boy who was earlier busy digging his nose now peeps up to declare - No, I know, babies come from Preity Zinta's stomach.
My eyes are as wide as saucers now. My only hope is that he has recently seen Salaam Namaste.
I am thankfully prevented from answering by another little boy who chooses just this moment to tell me - My father is Superman.
Wow, I say, grateful that we're headed to firmer ground. I nod encouragingly at him. I am thinking, this cannot be as bad as all the baby talk.
Yes, the boy says in all seriousness, he walks around in his underwear, with a towel on his back.
I wish my firm ground would just open and swallow me whole. This is Nightmare on Kindergarten Street. I have yet to say a single word about dentistry and teeth and all those exciting things that I had planned to say. Instead I have been swept into a world of the birds and bees and unlikely Supermen by a bunch of 3-4 year olds. Why? How? Most importantly Why Me? And were my special soothing colours really doing nothing to help me?
As if to answer my questions, a little girl with pigtails tugs on my trousers.
Are you a dentist, she asks.
Yes, I say hopefully, wondering if this was finally my chance to get back on track, to strut my stuff.
Can you take me to the bathroom, she asks shyly.
I take my coat off. The coat seems rather superflous considering the way things have turned out. The teacher has finally got her cuticles exactly as she likes them. She looks up at me and smiles - all done? I nod, not trusting myself to speak.
Parents have come to pick up their kids. As I leave the classroom, I see Mr. Superman claim his child. He weighs about 200 lbs and has a gravity defying paunch. Much as I try not to, I cannot but help imagine him in his underwear and towel cape, dashing around the house. It is not a pretty picture I assure you.
I get a call a few days later from the school. Apparantly the children were saying they had not heard anything about teeth from me. Would I care to come in and speak to them once more. I said I would love to, as soon as I have recovered from my previous visit. In the meanwhile I volunteer the name of a gyneacologist who say I am sure the kids would love to meet....there is stony silence on the line....the school has not gotten back to me since.