My 3-year-old had her annual checkup recently with a pediatrician (I’ll call him Dr. M) we’ve been bringing her to since she was born. Dr. M has always been a little quirky. He wears crocs with no socks, even in the winter. He tells knock-knock jokes that my kids don’t get. He clears his throat a lot and has a habit of taking a long, deep breath and staring at the ceiling before answering a question. When he looks in my kids’ ears, he insists he sees Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, which I know is complete bullshit, but it makes them laugh.
Dr. M’s quirkiness has never bothered me. For one thing, he’s a damn good doctor. He diagnosed a scary lump on my son’s shin as a benign cyst (although he still referred us to a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis); He’s successfully treated multiple cases of ear infections, strep throat, mystery rashes and various other gross viruses my kids have contracted. Also, his personality is just what I’ve come to expect from a doctor. Every doctor I’ve ever met has been a bit socially awkward in either a weird/eccentric way or a serious, I-have-a-God-complex way. Dr. M’s demeanor is more the former, which I prefer to a doctor with a big ego. I chalk it up to the pressure of having a job in which people’s lives are at stake. Doctors don’t have time for social niceties or small talk. They have life-saving shit on their minds. They don’t binge-watch shows on Netflix or spend hours preparing a special “Game of Thrones”-themed dinner before the season finale like the rest of us do. They don’t have time to watch TV. And if they do, they watch documentaries on PBS. I know I’m really generalizing here. I have no idea what doctors do when they’re not doctoring. I’m not friends with any doctors. (I know a couple chiropractors, but they don’t count.)
Anyway, I usually don’t have anything serious to discuss at these routine appointments, which I’m immensely grateful for. But lately I’d been a little concerned about my daughter’s attachment to her bottle, so I decided to ask Dr. M about it. I explained that while she drinks out of a cup, she insists on a bottle first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’m not sure what advice I expected Dr. M to give. I guessed he might talk about how to wean her off the bottle or lecture me on the importance of saying “no” to my kids every once in a while. (Believe me, I could use that lecture.) Instead, he got philosophical. Really, oddly, philosophical.
Dr. M took the usual long, deep breath, stared at the ceiling for what felt like five minutes and said, “We all have our bottles in life, don’t we?”
I shit you not. He really said this. At first, I thought it was a rhetorical question, but then I realized he was waiting for an answer. He seemed disappointed when I shrugged my shoulders. ”I have a bottle at my desk right now,” he said. “It’s filled with iced coffee. Most people never go anywhere without a water bottle or a La Croix.” I was going to point out that La Croix only comes in a can, but I didn’t want to split hairs.
“My point is,” he continued, “if a bottle gives her some comfort at the end of a long day, it’s fine by me. If a bottle helps her relax and fall asleep, then all the better. I’m not concerned about it.”
He paused, and I thought of chiming in with my bottle of choice, but I didn’t want him to call DCFS, so I kept my mouth shut and nodded in agreement.
“If she needs a few sips of a bottle first thing in the morning, who are we to judge,” he went on. “Some people may tell you it’s bad for her. Don’t listen to those people.“
It was here that I suspected we weren’t talking about milk anymore, but that was probably just me projecting.
By this point in the conversation, Gwen was so bored she was squirming in my lap, so I let her loose. Big mistake. I’m pretty sure that within seconds of being set free, she’d touched, and likely also licked, every germ-ridden surface of the room. (You try holding a toddler still on your lap for more than three minutes without a screen. It’s impossible.)
Just as I was about to interrupt Dr. M and possibly lose my cool, the nurse came in carrying Gwen’s vaccinations. I’d never in my life been so happy to see something that would cause my daughter pain. (And yes, I vaccinate my children according to the recommended schedule. Because I love them.)
Dr. M ended our appointment in his customary way, by awkwardly high-fiving my daughter. And roughly an hour after we had arrived at his office, Gwen got a sticker for being brave and we were free to go.
Later that night, as my family and I huddled on the sofa watching American Ninja Warrior, Gwen with her bottle of warm milk, Owen flipping a water bottle on the coffee table, Russ sipping on a beer and me sipping on a glass of chardonnay, I chuckled to myself about Dr. M’s lecture. What does that guy know anyway? I thought to myself, as I sat back and took another gulp from my glass.