Toothbrush of Shame (take 2)

Sometimes my parenting reaches new levels of aceness. See, for example, last week’s Tale of the Toothbrush of Shame – I wish I had been secretly filmed by a documentary crew with really good lighting technicians so I could play my mothering triumph over and over and over, and then the footage would go viral and then I would become a motivational speaker like the Clintons and then could afford holidays to Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.

So, as everyone with children will know, mornings are always very shouty and unpleasant when you have somewhere to go to and a Red Book Of Tardiness to sign if you don’t make it on time. I have to set the alarm for 6:30am, I turn on the light in the kid’s room, they pretend to still be asleep. Mark takes the dog for a walk, I have a noisy shower in their room, bellowing at them to get up, they slowly crawl their way to the bathroom and wee all over the toilet seat, they start kicking each other, they lie back on their beds, I come in and say something menacing, they get up, lie back down, on and on to the most boring degree of ever. Twenty minutes before we have to go, I take their faces in my hands, get right up close to them and say


and then I go and do something important like save the baby from eating batteries and then we are ready to go and out the door, once the shoes have been found, etc etc.

And we get about four minutes up the road and I turn to them and I say

Show me your teeth!

And they do, and invariably their teeth are speckled with tiny orange cornflake bits, or there is still a huge smear of jam on their cheeks and their breath smells like a throat infection. And so, last week, I got really really mad about it. I asked them why they didn’t do it and they all had some eloquent pre-thought-out excuse – they got distracted with the act of zipping up their bags, they remembered right up until it was time to go and then they just forgot, Barnaby wouldn’t let them or I hadn’t reminded them to quite their level of acceptable reminding. Which is all just naughty little kiddie lies, lies, lies. So I’m thundering up the road and the rage inside of me is threatening to take hold, and I am ranting at them about their breath smelling like a poo and that they will never get girlfriends if they don’t clean their teeth and even their friends won’t want to hang out with them if they can’t be bothered to clean themselves and WHY WON’T YOU DO IT, FOR THE LOVE OF BASIC HYGIENE?

And so, fuelled by the Fury of the Self-Righteous, and even though we were a tiny bit late, I got near the school, crossed over the Edgware Road, parked the buggy outside a newsagents, went in, bought a toothbrush and stomped them to school and when I got there, I ripped open the packet and I told them in a very loud voice that I would brush their teeth with this Toothbrush of Shame every time they left the house without doing it, starting with NOW. And I began with Noah, who had inconveniently run away, but I told him that if he didn’t come over and open his mouth that I would sit on his chest in the playground in front of everybody until he opened it, and so he slowly came over with big blue eyes brimming with moistness which I took to be shame (but could well have been hay fever) and I brushed his teeth vigorously in front of his curious classmates and teachers and I whispered to him like a pantomime villain:

That’s the last time you forget to clean your teeth, young man! 

And I went around to the Junior Entrance and did the same thing to Casper and I swear there was the roar of the crowd in my ears and maybe there was a theme song in my head called The Triumph of Good Hygiene Over Bad and I high-fived myself all the way home.

And now the Toothbrush of Shame lies in the bottom of the buggy, and the threat of another public toothbrushing by your mother in front of everyone at school has been a most charming catalyst for change.

Here is the baby at the Summer Fair, where I face-painted quite badly for four hours. He just sat in the shade and ate a few round pebbles and let the little girls stroke his fuzzy hair.




And here he is today after scoffing some strawberries from the man at the Lebanese shop next to Waitrose, who is leaving because Queensway is about to undergo some dreadful £500 million sex-up, which can only mean bad things for the locals. Where will I buy my za’tar when he flees?


And here are three of my kids participating enthusiastically and only a little clumsily in a sack race in the garden on the Open Garden weekend. How English does that look? There was some sort of mobile gin van set up, and all these Open Garden ticket holders who used our garden for an afternoon and I was reminded how lucky we are to have keys to it, just across the road.



And to finish, a photograph of a most perfect Providores flat white. I know that makes me sound like a wanker, but it is true. It made me a tiny bit sweaty and a lot shaky – unlucky, as I had two just before I started the face painting. I’d like to think no one noticed.


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24 Responses to Toothbrush of Shame (take 2)

  1. Sara says:

    Oh so nice to see you still out there being you.

  2. old grandmother says:

    You always give me smiles. Thank you.

  3. Jo says:

    You are totally awesome! LOVE the toothbrush of shame idea 🙂 my two yr old sat quietly eating biscuits at our charity stall morning on Friday, little ones can be so good sometimes… xx

    • theharridan says:

      Thanks! It WAS inspired, and so much better than clipping them around the ear. Isn’t it lovely to have little ones who just sit? Although Otis started crawling yesterday, so the calm is nearly over.

  4. Cath says:

    The toothbrush idea is BRILLIANT.

    • theharridan says:

      Thanks mate. it’s not exactly changed them entirely, but things are better than they were before. I think shaming them is v useful.

  5. Salad says:

    Good for you using the Toothbrush of Shame!! Brilliant idea!! xx

  6. jennie james says:

    Hi Jodie, Another account of your Mothering which gave me a great deal of delight and it had to be good to have me laughing ….alone.. in my kitchen early am in nz.
    Look as I see it ,obviously this is the will overtake Bridget JOnes films one day.
    BUT I have now realised that no one else will be able to play the characters in the the family satisfactorily.
    Now that you have cut your teeth on the Dove promo you have obviously passed the screen test, and you might as well speed up the fame and fortune( which would result in more Tom Ford lippi , more travel to exotic and expensive places and the kids would probably get to ride in a limo to school.
    Maybe NZ filmmakers should look into it , after all Nz must have first rights and we do make good films.???? xxjj

  7. Lucy says:

    So funny that I’ve had to read it multiple times!
    Sorry not to have seen you on the morning commute. I managed to fall down a small step (in Orvieto Cathedral, of all places) that was obscured by my large bump. Nice setting, crap outcome… I’ve broken my ankle and am on crutches. Less than ideal at 7.5 months pregnant, though I can see the funny side. Sort of. If I try really hard…
    So I’m getting a cab to work rather than waddling, which will minimise my stalking opportunities. Will continue to follow you around on line, if not in person! xx

    • theharridan says:

      Ouch, that sounds dreadful, poor lady! I had been wondering where you have got to. The best of luck and healing vibes xx

  8. lucie uk says:

    I love the toothbrush of shame!! What is with kids and teeth – my son is NEARLY 18, and his teeth make me shudder

    • theharridan says:

      Are you saying it doesn’t get any better? Teenagers with dirty teeth – AAARGH! I can only begin to imagine the delights that await me.

  9. Fedora Four says:

    What a beautifully handsome baby, of the minimal teeth variety x

    • theharridan says:

      Isn’t he, though? I’ve just applied for him to do some more baby commercials. Sharing the handsomeness, if you will. Pocketing the cash.

  10. Sarah Bronte says:

    I love it! I am a dentist and I am going to shamelessly rip this idea off and tell all my naughty non- toothbrushing childrens parents. I will credit you, I promise!. Don’t you love babies who have no teeth and just sit there? He is delicious. I think one day I may record all my rants to save my voice and put playback devices all around our house. I shall start with “wash your hands” “flush the toilet” “shoes” “have you been to the toilet” and “stop doing that to your sister/the dog/the couch”. etc.

    • theharridan says:

      OHHHHH, that’s so good to hear! I would be delighted if my toothbrush dramas were used for the powers of good. And yes, a rant app could work, couldn’t it?

  11. jmh says:

    Brilliant ! I have 3 boys and despair over getting them to clean their teeth! We came up with ‘toothcam’ -secret camera behind the mirror -which worked for a while -anyway I told my husband about this post and he immediately told the kids -they were horrified! Inspired!!!

  12. Greta says:

    Lying on a beach chair in fiji in hysterics! I’m sure people think I’m crazy. I’m so going to steal that idea although sadly, I don’t think no. 2 will be ashamed. It will definitely work for no. 1 though. Thank you for the laughs and genius parenting tips 🙂

  13. What a brilliant idea. Would it translate to other objects – the hairbrush / knickers / shoes of shame, perhaps? Also, re your previous post (Dog of Shame) – it could be worse. My parents’ dog once murdered the neighbour’s, by chasing it under the wheels of a passing car. In front of the neighbour (elderly, frail, male). Who then swept up its lifeless body and staggered home, weeping, while my father stood hanging his head in shame and remorse. For the rest of his life, whenever he saw the neighbour the murderous dog (shameless, remorseless) would leap about and bark with glee (“look at me, I’m ALIVE!”). Awful.

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