The Playroom: The brushoff

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

My son walks into my bedroom. He has discovered something in the depths of the bathroom linen closet or perhaps buried on a back shelf of the medicine cabinet. It’s about an inch square.

“Hey Mom, what is it?”

“It’s dental floss.”

“What do you do with it?”

“You floss your teeth with it.”

“What’s floss?”

I define floss. Jumping up and down he asks, “ I wanna try it, I wanna try it, can I try it?”


As I begin to show him how to use dental floss, he tells me, “Oh, I know how to do this. John had one of these and I told him he was a weirdo because I didn’t think anybody did that.”

“Did what?”

“You know, put string in their teeth.”

And then my son takes the floss and instead of moving the string through his teeth he moves his head back and forth, the way a T-rex might if they were working on disjointing some luckless raptor. He tells me how dental floss tastes like mint and then asks why we do it. Mother of the Year award is so mine this year.

All the things we’ve done and seen and worked on, why we wear shoes, looking both ways to cross the street, not running with your hands in your pockets, why one should exit a house through a door and not a window, wearing underwear, eating vegetables, eating breakfast, drinking milk, sharing toys, taking turns, the meaning of a raised middle finger and all those reasons why you do not want to jump from up there. And I forgot dental floss.

Why did I miss it? I don’t floss. Well, unless I’ve got something stuck in my teeth or it’s late summer and we’re eating sweet corn, which always gets stuck in my teeth. And I do floss for about three days after I go see the dentist, because I’m filled with renewed vigor to save my teeth for my dotage. But I’ve never made a point to floss in front of my children, to teach them this life skill that sits directly under spontaneous social occasions and rolling up a garden hose on the big long list of things I’m no good at.

I realize, as my son is vigorously swinging his head back and forth holding a piece of mint-flavored string, that if I want my children to floss their teeth, I should start flossing mine. I should be the good example for them to follow and I should take the time to teach them.

Conceptually, I’m a big fan of flossing and I’d like to think I’d make an effort, floss with my kids, but realistically it’s just not going happen. I might change a diaper, change a light bulb, change a life, but I’m not going change that. I guess our “poor flossing habits” is just another one of those things none of us will improve, just another one of those things that defines us as a family.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at