Like all children, I went through a stage where brushing my teeth seemed like a pointless ritual. Mum did her best to make me understand the importance of it, but no matter what she told me, I just didn’t see the need. I was very lucky to have always had extremely straight and healthy teeth and since my mum was constantly having dental problems, she was determined to keep my teeth in good condition to save me the same trauma when I got older.
Mum was constantly telling me that if I didn’t brush my teeth they would fall out. She even went to the extent of putting me on a liquid diet for a few hours (that felt like days), lecturing me about how that would be all I would be able to eat if I didn’t look after my teeth, because I wouldn’t be able to chew anything without them.
Everything mum tried, would work for a few days, but I would always end up back in the same routine of ignoring my oral hygiene. There was a stage there where I would simply put the toothpaste on the tip of my tongue, so that when mum asked to smell my breath, it always smelt as though I had actually brushed them. I have no idea why I went to such an extent to avoid brushing my teeth.
Eventually mum would have to come to the bathroom every evening and stand at the door watching me brushing my teeth in order to be sure that the job was done properly.
Whilst at our local shopping centre one day, I spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair. I watched him mesmerised, as he pushed himself along, using his arms. He was wearing a checked button-up shirt and grey slacks, though one of the pant legs was folded and placed underneath his thigh. He only had one leg. I watched him for a while, wondering what it would be like to have only one leg.
After some time, I turned to mum. “How come that man over there only has one leg?”
Mum glanced over and thought for a moment, before replying. “Well, it’s like brushing your teeth, if you don’t look after what you have, you lose it.”
I nodded my understanding and mum turned back to packing her groceries no doubt probably feeling quite clever at utilising the situation to her advantage in order to teach me a lesson.
Once the groceries were all piled into the trolley, we made our way through the centre. As we passed the man in the wheelchair, I called out to him, shaking my head. “You know, you really should have looked after your leg, then it wouldn’t have fallen off.”
People stopped and looked at my mum and I. Mum stopped pushing the trolley and stood frozen, red faced looking from me, to the man and back again, as though she was lost as to what to do.
It was a few moments before the man replied. I wasn’t sure at first if he even realised I was talking to him. He smiled and waved at me, then said something in another language, which I later found out was Italian.
My mum let out a sigh of relief, before grabbing my hand and dragging me out into the car park.
It turned out that my mother was the one to learn the valuable lesson that day and not me, though the memory of the embarrassing moment was far from forgotten, since I later discovered that the old man lived in the Aged Care Facility down the road from our house and I made a point of talking to him as often as possible. My mother’s only consolation was that she knew that the man didn’t understand a word of English, much to her delight.
To this day I believe that if you acquire information that could be useful to someone else, you should be fair and share it. There was no way of me knowing whether the old man had learnt his lesson or not. I was trying to do him a favour by imparting the information that had been given to me. Of course, when you are the one sharing your wisdom, you need to ensure that it is done with an air of authority to be certain that the information is received correctly, hence why I spoke to him like a scolding mother.