Nine out of ten members of the American Dental Association agree there are few things worse than being informed by your four-year-old daughter that you have been sharing your toothbrush with the cat. Based on personal experience, I am inclined to agree.
I have still not fully recovered from when my four-year-old daughter, Kate, dropped the bomb on me and she is now a driver-aged person. To this day fever dreams of the cat in question intently dragging his tongue across his nether regions plague my sleep. I writhe and twist; my forehead awash with sweat. Then, of course, there are the frequent mental slideshows that replay themselves again and again in my mind of him running around with live snakes, lizard pieces, rabbit chunks, birds in various stages of decay and rodents of all shapes and sizes in his mouth.
I practically gag all over again.
I was actually brushing my teeth when the incident occurred all those many years ago. Kate walked into the bathroom holding our cat, Buster. Her nine-year-old sister had wrapped Buster up in a towel for her so she could play “baby.” Playing “baby” meant she was the “mommy” and Buster was her baby. Kate was a good mother, too. She fed her baby a bottle. She taught him school. She pushed him around in a stroller. She brushed her baby’s hair and, unknown to her parents, she brushed her baby’s teeth, too.
Most cats on the planet would not submit to being wrapped up in a towel and hauled around by a four-year-old. Buster was not most cats. If there was a Guinness book of records category for laid back animals, Buster would hold the record. Not only did he willingly play the baby, but he seemed to enjoy it. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was usually purring.
I can only assume Kate chose my toothbrush because it was bright red. The other brushes were paler colors. When Kate walked in and spotted me with the red toothbrush in my mouth, she announced the discovery with a shriek that all but cracked the mirror glass. It just about deafened me and Buster, alike. At least Buster could flatten his ears to his skull. I had to take a direct hit to the ear canals.
Kate wheeled around, baby in tow, and dashed out of the bathroom. I heard her pounding down the hallway hollering for her mother.
“What’s wrong, Honey?” I heard my wife, Marianne, ask her.
Then came the words that will remain with me as long as I draw breath – clean, yet cat-smelling breath.
“Daddy’s using Buster’s toothbrush!” Kate wailed.
“He’s doing what?” Marianne asked.
“I’m doing what?” I asked. I had of course, followed Kate down the hall.
“The red one is Buster’s toothbrush!” Kate bellowed, inconsolable. “Daddy’s using it!”
Marianne looked up at me. Our eyes met. I am sure I am wrong. I am sure I was just seeing things, but I could have sworn she was trying not to grin.
After Kate settled down, Marianne extracted the details out of her. Apparently, the good mother had been taking the red toothbrush off the bathroom counter, scrubbing her baby’s teeth on our bed then placing it back on the bathroom counter.
I set my own Guinness record for most gallons of mouth wash swished in a day. I didn’t stop there, either. Any day now, I expect to get a thank you letter from the presidents of some of the leading the mouth wash manufacturers. My guess is I bankrolled several of their children’s’ college education over the years with my purchase of their products. And to this day, I keep my toothbrush in the cabinet well out of reach of small hands, even though we no longer have small hands around the house.
I get no sympathy from my family despite my trauma. My wife laughs. My son says he doesn’t know who had it worse – me or Buster. Kate says, “Sorry, Dad,” then joins her mother laughing at me.
As for Buster, he continued to play baby and lived a long and happy life with perfect, white teeth.
Me, I live with the horror of it all, yet also with the satisfaction that at least now I know how the Cheshire cat got his smile.