Tokyo Daddy Issues: At the Dentist with the Three-Year-Old Cinephile

dentist

My daughter Hana had two debuts recently: Her first time at the movies and her first time at the dentist’s. Neither was a complete disaster, but the dentist certainly was more fun.

Taking your child to the movies for the first time is somewhat of a big thing, at least if you are somewhat into movies yourself. You will probably not take your toddler to see Citizen Kane right away, but it’s a rite of passage nevertheless. As a borderline romantic coincidence, both my wife and I remember our first film to see on the big screen to be the same (Disney’s animated Robin Hood), even though we were separated by quite a lot of land, a decent amount of water, and a certain degree of culture.

We think Hana is ready now, although she is only half the age I was when my father took me to see Robin Hood. Back then it simply wasn’t legally possible to see a film at a cinema in Germany before the age of six, since ‘ab 6’ was the lowest available rating. By now they have ‘ab 0’, so you can theoretically snatch your newborn right from the delivery room to the screening room, as long as the feature presentation is not Saw: The Final Chapter.

Hana knows her movie lore, she already distinguishes between Disney and Ghibli. She will ask: “Daddy likes Ghibli?”

I hate lying to my daughter, yet I don’t say: “Well, Daddy likes the early Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service. However, Daddy finds the later, supposedly more mature works overly sentimental, preachy and pretentious. In other words: appallingly overrated.” Instead I say: “Yes, Daddy likes Ghibli.”

“Hana, too!” she enthuses.

In the end, it is neither Disney nor Ghibli we chose (with her consent) for her cinema debut, but the newest adventure of edible superhero Anpanman. It turns out to be a bit of Indiana Jones, a bit of James Bond, a bit of X-Men, all very ‘ab 0’. I like it. It’s certainly more fun than Logan.

Hana is not as convinced. She watches about 98% of the movie standing up. Partially because of excitement, partially because she didn’t really plan on staying for the entire thing. Several times we have to whisper her out of leaving the theater. At the end, of course, she doesn’t want to leave anymore. She wants to stay and watch something else now – Shimajiro is one suggestion. It’s our fault for explaining to her how it is “like a big television.”

The Happiest Dentist’s Office on Earth

Taking your child to the dentist for the first time obviously is also a big thing as well as a rite of passage, although for slightly different reasons. We chose the clinic carefully and promised Hana there would be toys and fun. On the way we begin to fear she might be expecting too much. She has very specific requests. “Will Minnie be there? Will Mickey be there? Will Pooh-san be there?”

Imagine our relief when depictions of those very characters already greet her before we even enter the building. After we do open the door, we step into a magical wonderland of classic cartoon appreciation and modern dentistry. I have visited Sanrio Puroland once, the indoor amusement park where Hello Kitty lives. It’s a rather happy place, but compared to Hana’s dental clinic it seems dark and gloomy. In the middle of the waiting room a giant fake tree bursts through the floor, home to adorable fake monkeys (green and pink). On video screens educational sketch comedy starring the clinic’s employees is displayed. In the operating room, which is accessed through an adventurously painted corridor called “the bridge,” the walls are painted with more cartoon characters and castles, the beds have animal and princess themes, and some of the medical equipment is Anpanman-branded.

The medical professionals working here are not just playful, they are also efficient: Before we see the doctor in the flesh, we are ushered into a tiny office to watch a video message from her, so she doesn’t have to explain all the basics in person. She seems awfully young and girlish, but her video-self informs us that she has been doing this for 13 years. I’m thinking: “Wow, you have been a dentist since you were 10?”

We learn that they also have a clinic for grown-ups. I sign up immediately. Will that have a similar concept? Will they have themed rooms to make older patients comfortable, maybe based on their favorite horror movies? I can’t wait for my next serious toothache.

Hana’s examination goes smoothly. The girl-doctor patiently teaches her how to spit by repeated demonstration, they take a memorial picture (“My first time at the dentist’s!”), Hana gets a toy for bravery and successfully salivating. Parents happy, child a little upset, because she would have liked to stay a bit longer.

In my last column I wrote about how much Hana likes her preschool. One day last week she was reluctant to go. I asked her if something was wrong. Did she have a fight? Was somebody mean to her? Did besties turn into enemies?

No, that wasn’t it, she said.
I asked: “Would you rather do something else today?”
She nodded shyly.
“Would you like to stay home with Daddy?” Not that that’s an option…
She shook her head.
“What else would you like to do?”
In a small voice: “Go to dentist.”

Once in my life I skipped school to go to the movies (I’m not proud to admit it was Police Academy IV). Maybe I’m raising a daughter who will one day skip school to secretly enjoy some dental work.

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