Roma’s Teeth - John Martindale
Roma needed twelve fillings. It probably wasn’t his fault. Although he is nearing his 12th birthday the damage was probably done from a very early age and maybe his teeth are particularly susceptible to sugar. Graham flagged up the problem at the routine visit to the dentist. He filled two during the check and we arranged to complete the other ten in two separate appointments at 4.30pm the following Monday and Tuesday.
We had noticed Roma’s penchant for sugar. He asked for 3 teaspoons in his tea and would have added more. Graham didn’t despair. He said it was a result of poor diet. Neither did Roma complain. For a boy who bordered on hyperactivity he sat very patiently in the dentist’s chair while Graham set about his work the following Monday. After administering the anaesthetic injection Roma received four fillings to his right uppers. That left 6 for Tuesday.
We have a system of rewarding good deeds. We give the children key rings. We all collect as many as we can prior to the arrival of the group then each morning we have a little ceremony when those who merited one from the previous day’s activities choose a key ring from the big tin biscuit box that is held out to them so that they can rummage through for the coolest key ring available to adorn their rucksack. We usually reward the two or three children who had the most treatment at the initial visit to the dentist. Sometimes it has been an extraction or three but this time it was only fillings that were needed by some of them.
Roma wasn’t going to get many key rings. For a start he was so laid back about most things and he lacked any sort of urgency or forward planning. Swimming was a case in point. If swimming was part of the day – or if we were taking the boys to the beach in the evening – we would tell them to put their trunks on and bring their pants with their towels. Vova got that easily but time after time I would ask Roma “Gdé troosie” (Where are your pants?) and he would reveal them from under his swimming shorts. Even Vova joined in the task of making sure Roma was properly equipped because Vova found it just as tedious as us having to wait while Roma sorted himself out when we were ready to go.
Vova is a bright boy. Well actually they are both bright boys but Vova will probably make university and Roma will be a good plumber. Vova was keen to practise his English and delighted in being told to go into a shop and buy an item with a £2 coin or a £10 note, me waiting outside but peering in every now and again to make sure he wasn’t out of his depth. The strange thing was that Roma also enjoyed these little tasks. It wasn’t that he had Vova’s more extensive English vocabulary but he would use what he knew confidently and without hesitation. “Please I buy this?”, “How much” and “Zankyoo”.
So Roma was to receive a key ring as a result of the dental treatment. As he fumbled through the biscuit tin I told the group that I would give him another one the next day if he didn’t scream at the dentists that afternoon when he has the other six fillings.
The Russian for key ring is “brilka”. Graham worked with an assistant while I watched from the parent’s seat on the other side of the room. Roma was in the dentist’s chair for an hour and five minutes. Every now and again he would groan and I would say “Nye zabivai brilka” (Don’t forget the keyring). Instantly Roma would be silenced. Graham and his assistant couldn’t understand this hold that I had over Roma until I explained the lure of the key ring halfway through the treatment. They laughed.
Roma didn’t get upset about anything - except on the first evening! The house was chaotic then because all the host families were there when we arrived from Gatwick and as the 15 children came into the lounge we matched them up to their English family and packed them off for the night. To add to the melee our 18 month old granddaughter was with us together with our son and daughter-in-law.
Before eating Roma began crying. He sobbed through supper and afterwards until finally I took him for a walk. We went up to the top of the field behind the house to sit on the seat at the top. From there I could show him where Poole and The Ukraine are. He didn’t mind the 3 dogs that ran around him as we walked across the football pitch and finally as we walked back he was fine apart from the odd sniffle. That’s the most homesick a child we have ever had here we thought!
About two weeks later we discovered the real reason he had been so upset. It is traditional (though we find it a bit embarrassing) for children to bring a present from their family as a thank you. They usually produce it soon after they arrive – probably after strict instructions before they leave home. Vova revealed a beautifully embroidered table runner that his grandma had made for us. Roma appeared downstairs with a salt and pepper set. We don’t make a habit of going through the luggage they arrive with but two weeks later we discovered the rest of a shrink wrapped tea set that had been placed in his soft flight bag. We conjectured that neither Roma nor his parents had flown before and that he had no idea what would happen to the gift when the luggage handlers threw it into the hold. When we carefully unwrapped it everything was smashed as though it had been in a coconut shy! It was probably the discovery of that that upset Roma so much on his first day here although we never asked.
We would like to thank all those who have supported our work again this year, by attending our concert in May, or coming along to the garden party at our house and of course for your donations of items and money.