“Mom, can you make the appointment with the oral surgeon? My wisdom teeth are starting to come in and Dr. Vasquez says there’s not enough room for them!”
The time has arrived for our daughter Katie to have her wisdom teeth extracted and the conversation reminded me of the experience our eldest daughter had when faced with the same procedure. At the time, four years ago, I was not sure whether it was harder on our then 16-year-old daughter or us. But watching Megan walk back to the oral surgeon’s operating room for a procedure both her dad and I had experienced years before as 16-year-olds created a flood of memories for us both.
While my husband looked calm as a cucumber, I felt some nervousness. Why? After all, she was not headed into a torture chamber and we had chosen a surgeon with years of experience. When I got to thinking about it I realized that this surgery serves as a rite of passage for many kids. It is such a common procedure for teenagers that talk of “happy gas” and stitches and swelling is a bonding experience for many.
I worried a bit more about our eldest daughter because she is our first born, the trail blazer, and she takes these kinds of events very seriously. She made it a point to ask about every step of the surgery and the possible problems that could arise. How would she manage the shots and the tugging?
Yet, I knew she needed to approach this life experience, for she would walk out of that surgical room with a new, internal understanding that she is far braver than she imagined.
After nearly 21 years of parenting I have learned that I can talk to my children until I am blue in the face about how courageous I know they can be. My kids have come to expect that kind of support from me. But I am also learning that sometimes it is best for them to face age-appropriate experiences on their own. If I hover too closely they conclude that my strength and encouragement has sustained them. This means I have, in effect, robbed them of an opportunity to grow in character.
When our eldest daughter slowly walked back into the waiting room some time later, with a crooked semi-smile and a dental assistant supporting one arm, we were bonded in a new way: We were wisdom teeth survivors! I anticipate the same rush of emotions in the coming weeks when Katie makes that same walk following her surgery.
I experienced that same sense of satisfaction as a child 39 years ago when I, too, walked to the dental chair alone. Only in my case it was a Saturday afternoon and Dr. Ashrow had been summoned by my nearly hysterical mother. Her dinner party had been scheduled to begin when I ran through the kitchen covering an injured tooth with one hand and holding pieces of both permanent front teeth in the other.
Upon hearing that I had fallen forward while racing down the street on my brother’s steel-wheeled skateboard, my mom grabbed the phone and Dad promptly nailed the skateboard to the ceiling of the garage.
My brother disowned me for a time. Dr. Ashrow focused on the heart of the matter: my most severely injured tooth needed to be protected and remain as untouched as possible. If I would be willing to wear a metal tooth cover he felt confident the roots would heal. After braces I could have both front teeth capped to match my other teeth.
I was nine years old and agreed to the plan. When I look back on pictures of myself, that huge silver tooth gleaming with every smile, I am surprised I chose that ugly metal cap. It was the best, but the hardest choice to make.
Over the years I heard every silver tooth joke. Yet, I grew instead of being hurt by the experience. I give credit to my parents who allowed the situation to be my instructor by encouraging me to look beyond the pettiness and insensitivity of some of the kids around me.
I also credit God, who showed me over time that good lessons — like compassion for others and less self-consciousness — resulted from my third-grade topple off that skateboard.
The choice to incorporate faith backs up the facts we Christians like to talk about. And it is essential, for if we forget to translate biblical facts into practical ways to approach and then respond to daily challenges, faith seems meaningless. We rob ourselves and everyone else of the chance to experience God. To witness his movement. To discover his lessons. To feel his presence. To savor our own growth.
Let’s look for God — his compassion, his lessons, his presence — in the normal events of our lives this week. Let’s identify him, talk about him, and ask him to move mightily, that we may become stronger and wiser through it all.