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A sweet victory for the parents

I brought Annie to the dentist last week hoping for a clean bill of health. Instead she got her first filling.

As with so much else in life, it was my fault. I wasn't brushing her teeth right.

But dentists these days are so unlike the dentists we used to go to when we were small. They're nice. They smile, and tell you how wonderful you are, and ask you questions about your life to put you at ease.

When I was a kid, dentists were always grumpy. Plus, of course, everyone connected going to the dentist with fear. These days, people are so much more careful about protecting their kids from these cultural reflexes.

We've always gone on about how cool going to the dentist is, and what wonderful people dentists are. So much so that when we announced Annie was going to the dentist, Mike started campaigning to come along.

The problem is that Annie's becoming a sugar fiend. Being our first kid, we were soooo careful about what she ate for the first few years of her life. The closest she ever got to a sweet was watching her parents stuff their faces with jelly wrigglers. We successfully convinced her that she didn't like chocolate, a myth she believed right up until she was four. She's seven now, and in the past three years she sure as hell has made up for lost time.

There are, of course, two ways of controlling her sugar intake. The obvious one is to adapt our own eating habits and not keep sweet stuff in the house. The alternative is to have a secret stash of stuff they know nothing about. Guess which one we do?


But as they get older, wiser and taller, it's getting more difficult to keep this duplicity going, and it's not just because of Annie. Conor, who's two, can identify the rustle of a sweet paper half a mile away. He's the reason I eat most of my Mars bars sitting on the toilet.

If she suspects that there's some hidden treat around somewhere, Annie will quiz you expertly. "Do we have crisps?" she'll ask, watching you intently. You don't want to lie, or rather, you don't want them to think you're lying.

You say: "I don't think so," or "Go ask your mother." Alternatively, you make out like you're on their side. You say: "I don't know, let's have a look." So you look in all the usual places and if there are no crisps, you've won.

But you have to be careful because sometimes they go through the rubbish. If we have crisps with a bottle of beer in the evening after they've gone to bed you've got to make sure all traces of your illicit activity are gone before they wake up in the morning.

Conor is stubborn as a mule and if he comes looking for a biscuit when his parents' energy is at a low ebb, chances are he'll get it, because we just can't face the tantrum a refusal will bring on. And if he gets the biscuit, well then, the others have to get one, too. It's about the only time I can snaffle junk in the open.