The “What should I get Kathy for Christmas” dilemma has been solved. I’m giving her a smile. Literally.
I think I mentioned a few months ago that she found a dental assistant who makes false teeth out of his basement for people who cannot afford a regular dentist. I guess he uses his boss’s office supplies on the sly, sends the impressions out to be processed under the business name or something. For all that his actions may not be on the up and up, I can’t help but think he is offering a very important service to people who desperately need it, so I think this guy is a hero – one with a shadow, of course, but a hero nevertheless. (Moral justification, I know, but sometimes we must break a rule to do what feels right.)
Anyway, two months ago, Kathy paid to have her remaining five teeth removed. It cost her $60 a tooth, which was quite an undertaking on her budget. She then put $100.00 down on this set of false teeth. She was to pay $200.00 when the new teeth arrived eight weeks later. She had a plan for saving the money. She was so proud.
Kathy’s lack of teeth has been a serious obstacle to teaching her to read, because she can’t sound out words correctly when she is attempting to spell them. For example “Jumped” sounds like “Jumpt” to her, or “Bring” sounds like “Breen.” She can’t say the words clearly aloud, thinking about how they are actually pronounced, so she is often off the mark when trying to write them. Watching the learning process and seeing her mistakes on paper makes it clear that diction and poor speech is part of the problem, at least part of the problem of fixing the bigger problem of being illiterate.
I have been anxious for Kathy to get her new teeth, because not only she will look great and it will improve her self-esteem, but because I anticipate this will helping us tackle her understanding of words. She was due to get the dentures this week, so Tuesday, I asked if she was excited.
She sort of shrugged and said, “Well . . . I canceled the appointment. With Christmas and all, I really can’t afford them now. I had to buy presents for my son, and I also bought for my brother’s son, because he has been out of work for two months. I spent the teeth money I saved, but that is OK. I’ll get them a few months after Christmas.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. What woman doesn’t put her needs behind those of the family?
I looked at her, smiling at me good-natured, filled with good intentions, and said, “Kathy, Please make the appointment again. I want to buy you the teeth. Let me do that for you for Christmas. I’ve been trying to think of a nice gift for you, but so far nothing seems right. I wanted to give you a gift certificate to a store you might like, but I knew you’d use it for the family, and really, I wanted something just for you. This is perfect. Let me pay off your teeth as my Christmas present.”
She blinked a minute, then burst into tears and sort of collapsed into my arms saying, “You have already done so much.”
I was humbled. I haven’t really done so much – for all that I have given her my time, it has been rewarding to me too on so many personal levels. Her appreciation was very sweet, but I was also a bit embarrassed. Her reaction was far more than I was expecting. The truth is, I’ve thought about buying those teeth from the very beginning, but I didn’t want our relationship to be about me giving her money – I wanted to keep our friendship authentic, based on caring – and I wanted to help her learn to help herself rather than step in like some kind of savoir gracious enough to do things for her (which implies she can’t do them for herself). It has actually been very difficult NOT to offer her money for the teeth. However, in that moment, with Christmas as an excuse, it just seemed natural. Nothing but a thoughtful gift between friends
She cried through half the lesson, holding my hand as she struggled to read the ads in people magazine that I was pointing to. (Funny thing – she has never heard of a Target and her commentary about the antics of stars is remarkably honest. Amazing how silly the world looks when seen through the eyes of someone who has not been conditioned or swayed by commercialism and what is in vogue. That has been interesting.)
In order to downplay the moment, I pointed out that my gift wasn’t so generous, because it was also for me. I knew that her getting teeth would make my job much easier. She flashed me a great toothless smile and said, “If you say so”. I tried to secure that image into my mind, because soon Kathy’s expression will be replaced with a different sort of smile. Both have endearing qualities, in their own way.
This morning, I was putting Neva’s hair up in pigtails for school and she was asking me if I was meeting with Kathy today. She follows my teaching progress and has taken a great interest in Kathy’s learning to read. I’m thrilled by that – I believe we teach our children by example foremost. Anyway, I said that I was meeting Kathy today for the last time until Christmas break was over and that I was going to give her my Christmas gift.
Neva asked what I got her.
I said, “I’m buying her teeth.”
Her face fell. She said, “Mom. How could you? That is insulting. You will hurt her feelings.”
I explained that the teeth were not my idea, but that Kathy had been struggling to get them herself. I was only helping her reach her goals. Neva seemed greatly relieved.
Kids are so sensitive and see things with such clarity. It is inspirational.
Anyway, I am giving Kathy a smile this Christmas. It always feels great when you find just the right present for a friend.
On to the others on my list.