Children Will Listen

Children may not obey
But children will listen
Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”
Children will listen

—“Children Will Listen” by  Stephen Sondheim

The first dentist I remember was, I believe, Dr. Noll, whose office was across the street from Kruger’s grocery store in Richland. All I really remember about him (and I may have his name wrong) is the Time magazines in his waiting room. Boring! At least to a five or six year old.

Somewhere along the line we started going to Dr. Ginopolis in Womelsdorf at, I think, my aunt Jane’s recommendation. He had the virtue of giving children a certificate good for a free ice cream cone at the drug store in Womelsdorf. We went to him for several years, as he upgraded to a shiny new office during the time that we were seeing him. But I seem to recall that my mother found him a bit, well, curt.

So eventually we switched to Dr. Bomberger in Myerstown, as that was the dentist that Joann Weiant and her family used. Joann was a longtime schoolmate of my mother’s and she lived right across the street from us at the time. Dr. Bomberger remained our dentist for as long as we stayed in Richland.

Now I never liked going to the dentist. I mean I really never liked going to the dentist. Oh, I didn’t kick up a fuss or make a scene or anything like that, but I always delayed going as long as I possibly could. (Still do. It’s often years between dental visits for me these days.)

It’s strange the things that adults will and will not speak about in front of children. I guess it changes somewhat with the times. Certainly in those days, any mention of sex when the kids were around was strictly verboten.

Dentist chairBut I vividly remember several conversations that my mother had with Joann about visits to the dentists, probably when I was eight or nine. They would invariably include some variation of this line:

“And then he hit a nerve!” 

As a youngster, my only experience with hitting a nerve was the funny bone; I knew what hitting that felt like and I didn’t like it one bit. And I could only imagine what hitting a nerve while drilling in a tooth might feel like as the pain shot up into one’s brain and reverberated around in there. It was something I didn’t want to experience. I didn’t even want to think about it.

Now I have to say, during my actual dental visits, I never experienced anything like what I imagined “hitting a nerve” might entail. Yes, there was the pain while drilling and other incidental pains, but nothing that I couldn’t handle.

Still, there I was, always on the brink whenever I sat in the dentist’s chair. Would this be the time when he finally hit a nerve?

Eventually, of course, I came to realize those fears were pretty much unfounded, and there wasn’t going to be any excruciating pain on the dentist’s chair.

But it was too late. My aversion to going to the dentist had already become ingrained.

So a word to parents. Careful the things you say, children will listen.

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