Parental Responsibility

by Sara Moore Wagner

Sara Moore Wagner

My daughter puts a coin into the prize machine
at the dentist. They tucked a round quarter into her hand
because she can’t have candy as a treat, on account
of the cavities. Her teeth will need to be spaced and drilled,
capped and filled. A few molars are decayed almost
to the root. What have you been doing, the dentist
asks me. Nothing, I guess—nothing. I let her
brush her own teeth, I say. And the sugar? asks the dentist,
I heard her talk about a bag of candy. Well, I say, yes,
she has a bag of candy from Halloween, and yes sometimes
she is allowed to take one out. Does she have juice,
chips? Is she a snacker? Do you fill her mouth
with sweets? Is your hand a sweet, do you put your hand
over her mouth so the sweet seeps through—is it you?
?Is it you? Is it me? I say.
My daughter is between us on the chair, five years old,
she is aware of the painted penguin on the wall
because penguins are her favorite. She knows
penguins will sometimes swallow stones, will dive
so deep into the water to find food they swallow even
what they don’t need, and she says so, loudly,
while I am trying to say no, no—we don’t
buy juice in our house. No. I say my son eats
so many more treats, and he has not had one cavity.
I say, don’t you see—I am that stone she carries
in the pit of her belly. It’s me.

Last updated September 19, 2022