Ulysses ran to the bathroom and shut both doors.
When I had called, "Bedtime!" he had sprung from his computer without a word. Now he waited for me to slip inside and reach up for the toothbrushes and toothpaste. One hand covered his mouth.
One night in June, I had been going through the excruciating nightly routine of coaxing Ulysses into the bathroom for tooth brushing. He was already in the bed, and did not intend to get back out. "Do you want me to brush your teeth for you, or do you want to brush your teeth yourself?"
"No. No tooth brushing tonight."
"That's not one of the choices. I will hold you down and brush your teeth. Is that what you choose?"
"Me, I'll brush."
Silence. Ulysses dug himself more deeply under the covers.
I was steeling myself to drag him out of the bed and carry him bodily into the bathroom when Donald spoke up.
"At bedtime, monsters come and take your teeth. But they don't take teeth that are clean and brushed. They only take dirty teeth. And they hate the taste of mint."
Ulysses sat up. Without a sound, he bolted into the bathroom and slammed both doors. I came in to find him with his hand covering his mouth. He quickly shut the door behind me.
We brushed our teeth together. He watched carefully, mimicking my every move with his own Spongebob Squarepants toothbrush. It was the lengthiest cleaning his teeth had ever had.
* * *
Since then, the nightly trial of getting to bed and brushing teeth has evaporated into this: "Bedtime!" and a dash for the bathroom, followed by a thorough application of dentifrice. I don't believe I've ever brushed my own teeth this well and this consistently, come to think of it.
He no longer shuts the doors and covers his mouth with his hand, of which I'm glad. I want him in bed and I want his teeth clean, but I don't want him traumatized, after all. After we brush our teeth every morning and night now, he likes to exhale with a proud puff and say, "I smell like mint! Monsters hate the taste of mint!"
* * *
About a month in, though, there was a wisp of rebellion. We were in the bathroom, but he wouldn't take the toothbrush.
"There are no monsters," he said. "They don't really come for your teeth."
"Oh, yes, there are," I replied. "They're so tiny that you can't see them. They're called 'germs.' Have you seen people with teeth missing? The germs ate their teeth. The germs grow in your mouth, but they can only stick to dirty teeth. That's why we scrub our teeth clean and rinse our mouths to wash the germs out and spit them down the sink."
I thought about showing him some of my own fillings, but he took his brush, convinced. Semmelweis should have had it so easy.