Teething is considered a baby thing. And it is a baby thing. Most kids get most of their teeth by their second birthday, and most kids get that first little chomper before they can crawl. I know this because I lived it: my oldest daughter got her first tooth at 6 months old, followed by months of whining, drooling, and nipple nibbling. But she was basically ready to dig into the chips and salsa by 18 months and that was that.
My youngest daughter, Holly, just turned 2 years old. And she has (drum roll) eight teeth. Really, check it out:
(She’s wearing my husband’s glasses, by the way. And yes, I had noticed that she is extremely cute.)
Holly cut her first tooth around 13 months old, at about the same time she took her first steps. After mothering her intense, rarin’ to go big sister through infancy, a child who took things slow seemed like a welcome break. I love Holly’s gummy grin and I’ve been in no hurry for those teeth to pop. Until now. ‘Cause here’s the thing: teething toddlers are assholes.
The net is awash with tales of the Evil Two-Year Molars. Normally angelic children turn into raging monsters. Kids who’ve been sleeping through the night alone in their own apartments since 6 months old wake every two, four, six hours to regale their addled parents with slow-mo accounts of the shards of glass being shoved through their tender, swollen gums. And it’s all true: all the horror stories you hear about two year old molars are completely true. Only I get to go through it somewhere between ten and sixteen more times so the rest of her face can catch up with her peers.
Holly is a mellow person. She is a second child. She accepts criticism lightly. If you really want that Dora lego, she will accept Isa in its stead even though we all know Isa sucks. If you tell her no more than once, she shrugs and turns to some other life-threatening activity, like attempting to ride the cat.
But this teething thing has ruined all that.
Last night it took her nearly an hour to fall asleep. Holly typically nurses for about ten minutes and then flops over and that’s that. Last night was an epic battle between the forces of evil and the forces of please-let-me-go-spend-ten-minutes-alone-with-your-father. She wanted one boob, and then the other one, and then the other one again as if I was an idiot who’d forgotten I only have two. When I finally crowbarred her incisors off my chest, she wanted me to lay beside her, so she could hug me. But this was no gentle, snoozy snuggle, this was an anaconda death grip, which required gravity defying head position and absolute stillness. When I finally extracted my neck from her fat little arms and thought I heard the tell-tale breathing, the quick breaths followed by deep, slow ones that signal sleep, I slid off the bed and tiptoed towards the door. “MAMA? STAYYYY!” I returned, and returned, and returned yet again until I finally convinced her that I absolutely had to check on her big sister and I promised I’d be back in one minute and here was her bear to snuggle.
Things heated up again around 11 pm, when she woke up and realized everything is horrible. A tiny whimper became a foghorn blast within about ten seconds, and she rejected my offers of snuggles, back pats (“MY back!”) and lullabies both classic (“Twinkle Star”) and contemporary (Wilco songs with misremembered lyrics). Nothing inspires patience and compassion like a child screaming “NO!! I DON’T WANT THAT TONG” while smacking you in the face repeatedly. Nor would this tempest go without witness: I turned my back and she climbed over me, I covered my head and she dug her way into the blanket. Her crying took on a life of its own, a raging wail of indignance and confusion. This teething would NOT BE DENIED!
I offered her medicine. She declined. I offered her toys. No. The only thing she expressed interest in was more of my boobs, but I knew that was a dead end street of constant almost-falling-asleep and then waking-up-as-soon-as-I-moved. I’ve been down that road my friends: I went down that road for over eighteen months and I won’t go back, I simply won’t. I wasn’t being reasonable or kind at this point: I tucked my shirt into my pants and yelled, “No, Holly, goddamnit, go back to sleep!” I may have called her a jerk.
When it became clear to both of us that she was no longer in control of this ride, I got up, stormed downstairs, stormed back up with a medicine syringe full of medicine, and pinned her to the ground while I forced her to swallow it. I’ve done this before thinking she’d see reason once she recognized magic pink medicine, but a child’s ability to reject unwanted liquid is surprisingly developed at this age, and can be surprisingly messy. If you don’t want to sleep in a puddle of ibuprofen or smell like dye-free berries, it really is best to do it somewhere other than the bed/crib. Although hands have nothing to do with swallowing, they can block medicine squirters like Jackie Chan blocks ninja stars or some shit. And, it’s good to do small squirts at a time so the whole thing doesn’t get spit out, and so you have some sense of how much has been swallowed (or spilled, or spit) if it doesn’t all get in there.
These are ugly moments for mothers. But we grit our teeth and dig in. We do the same with toothbrushes and the dreaded pink eye drops. We do it because we have to.
I got the medicine in and took Holly back to bed. I layed her on my tummy and tucked her head into my neck, her favorite fall-asleep position since infancy. She hiccuped and sobbed a little more, but this time was more amenable to back rubs and “What’s the World Got In Store?” She was asleep within ten minutes.
I have some friends who sweat out teething; who use pink goo as a last resort for the inconsolable child. And there’s some scientific evidence somewhere that a fuckton of ibuprofen isn’t great for a child; I know this because one of my facebook friends is becoming a doctor and she linked to a study about it, but I did not read that article. I actively ignored and avoided that article. Pink goo is my BFF. Pink goo is my lifeline. I need that goo to get through the next year of nights like last night; and my little girl needs it so she can sleep easy and play with Legos in peace. So when my husband suggested to me that we pre-dose her with ibuprofen tonight before bed, I didn’t hesistate to agree. “I’m 5 ml of pink goo ahead of you.”