Song Dedication: Oh Joy Begin by DMB
On my 7th birthday, my aunt wanted to get me a special present that I had always wished for. No not a unicorn, but to have my ears pierced. The problem was however, I was terrified to have this done. Really I had major issues with emotional stability and my fear response was acute from years of childhood trauma. My Mom always had the coolest dangly, earlobe stretching 80’s earrings, but she herself never had the courage to really go there, opting instead for clip-ons (also very 80s). But I had permission and my Aunt (bless her well-meaning-heart) promised it wouldn’t hurt, and so I bravely agreed to go through with it.
I remember the anticipation of doing something that seemed a little risky and ever so slightly body-altering…it was just so cool to me, and I wanted to be cool so badly. I believed in my Aunt and trusted her. I climbed upon the stool, the aesthetician marked little x’s on each lobe, the gun-thingy was armed with the peridot (my birthstone) stud, my heart beat stomped heavy against the inside of my breast bone. I remember her standing behind me, smiling with anticipation, sensing my excitement…or was it anxiety (I use to get those two mixed up all the time)? And then finally, after 7 years of waiting for this very moment came the ‘click’. Which resounded off my eardrum like actual gunfire, the sharp pain reverberating from my earlobe down to my fingertips and toes, like a jolt of electricity.
And then. I began. to scream.
I remember screaming in pain. I remember the burning sensation collecting in that one little spot on my body, throbbing with my heartbeat. And then the anger that stampeded up behind the shock of pain, my eyes wide and stare hard, I shrieked like a wild animal caught in a leg hold trap, “YOU PROMISED IT WOULDN’T HURT!!!!” Still crying, I refused to have the other ear done, instead forcing my Aunt to bring me home traumatized with only my right ear adorned with half my birthday present. She apologized and tried to talk sense into me, but I was having none of that. One and done, no thank-you very much.
Once at home, ice was applied and with the passing hours I was faced with the decision to either suck it up and go back to get it done “properly” or remove the stud and give up on this life-long dream of pierced ears. With some time and space I was able to muster what little courage I had left and the next day was able to have the other ear done. This time, tears were present but the rage and confounding confusion didn’t materialize. This time, I knew what to expect.
So why the walk down memory lane?
Well recently we found out, during a routine dental cleaning and x-ray, that our 7 year old son had an extra tooth! We didn’t even know this was a thing and were rather horrified to receive this news, my own mind throwing self-accusations of not being a better vessel for fetal development…too much folic acid…too much unresolved anger…too much tomato soup maybe…or not enough?! Just thoughts, stupid, stupid thoughts.
What was interesting about this entire experience from start to finish was how when I noticed I was resisting something factual (as in truth that cannot be changed) I tried to be aware of this and shift to acceptance.
Firstly the routine cleaning, which is usually anxiety provoking for my son, was booked during one of my own appointments and so I asked my Mom to take him. She did so gladly and when the dentist questioned the rather large space between his two front teeth, suggesting an x-ray, she shrugged and said go ahead. I would have dismissed the space as a diastema (which is on his paternal side) and said don’t bother…not that the dentist would have listened to me, but I wasn’t there to dismiss the issue as dental genetics and nothing else. When the x-ray was done, the dentist’s suspicions were confirmed…there was actually an extra tooth that was pushing on the root of one of his adult front teeth. This had to be removed asap, or could cause all other manner of issues. They also found that his baby incisor, that should have been loose was still rooted like a rock, thus causing the awaiting adult incisor to drift out of place.
When I got home from my appointment, my Mom announced uneventfully, “He has an extra tooth.” I double-take looked at her confused and then my mouth dropped open like What the fuck was that? I whispered, “Does he know that??!” Again very matter of factly she replied with a “Yes he does.” I motioned with widening eyes and twitching head that we should move to the other room to discuss this freakish anomaly so to not upset his sensitivities.
She followed me into the next room and we spoke in hushed tones, while he watched Wild Kratts. She reassured me this was normal and that the dentist was coming up with a plan they would discuss with me by next week. Normal?! I had never heard of this, ever. She reiterated that he said it was normal and the oral surgeon works with this type of thing all the time. Surgeon??!! Oh dear god. “Well how often has he seen this?” I implored. “Well he hasn’t himself, seen this before…but apparently its pretty normal.” (In my head) Um . What the Fuck…he has been my dentist since I was 7…he’s never seen this…sounds pretty anomalistic if you ask me?!
And then I stopped with the thinking and the talking to her and myself. The three of us had to just stop. I asked myself one last question, is this worry going to help the situation? To which the response came loud and clear like a resonant chime, No, it’s going to make it worse actually so just stop and pull your shit together and make yourself useful. (hahaha…I don’t think a resonant chime swears but in my head it does…)
Back in my body. Heart rate resuming to its regular pace. Adrenals dropping their loaded adrenaline guns. Trust.
Over the next few weeks as we dotted I’s and crossed T’s, the surgery was booked and I was able to better manage my anxiety, until it completely dissipated and I was enrobed with serenity in the beauty of acceptance. My son very much followed our cues and our vibes…if we were feeling uncomfortable with the upcoming date, he would become so. There was really no faking it I realized…I had to tame this shit and keep it in check for his sake. I practiced hard and it got easier, like lifting weights. As the date drew nearer the weight might have increased but I was emotionally practiced enough to maneuver it, and so was he.
The only hiccup I really had was a few days before when I returned to the dentist office to sign paperwork about sedation…I read thoroughly and wished I hadn’t, reading every worst case scenario known to medicine, not a light pick-me-up sort of read. I was able to have a tea with some friends immediately afterwards and I projectile vomitted my words and worries all over them, and they humbly listened and laughed telling me You should never read those papers too closely! . I laughed too and by the end of our visit I was able to release my tension without passing it over to my son; grateful for their compassion.
The night before the surgery, we had only discussed the event when our son tabled it as his own concern, open and willing to answer his questions and reassure him we would be there to help him through it. He was scared. He had every right to be. His Dad shared how he too was nervous about his own achilles tendon surgery a few months before. We didn’t deny him his feelings because they were his. We had to demonstrate our trust in the people who would be conducting the process, we had to fill him up with the trustworthiness of his parents. We did our best. Now he just had to deal with no food or water until after the surgery (18 hours). He swung from fear to rationalization. He told me a few times, “I’m okay Mom, cause you know what…I’m not gonna die!” I smiled each time agreeing with him and reminding him how courageous he had to be to say that.
We didn’t talk about the recovery in advance. We tried our best to stay as present to the situation as we could. When we pulled up to the Oral Surgeon’s office, he began to cry a little, “I can’t mom, I’m too scared.” I said, “I know buddy, but you know what…the surgery isn’t happening right now. You are in the car with me, then we will go in and I will fill out papers, then they will take you for some more 3-D pictures of your mouth. So can we just think about that right now?” He straightened up in his carseat, wiped his tears and unbuckled his seatbelt.
We went in and focussed on those three things as they were happening. When he returned to me after the CT scan of his mouth, he knew it was almost time. He snuggled in close for protection and I hugged him back. They were running about 20 minutes behind and when you haven’t eaten in 16 hours, thats rough…I decided to share something special to get him through the last push and the main event.
We were planning to surprise him when we were actually in England, but I felt this silver bullet would be the antidote to his anxiety. We had recently measured him and to his joy, after 4 years of measuring he has finally surpassed the Disneyland height requirement to ride all the rides. However, the other night he said that he’d rather go to Legoland than Disneyland…Andrew and I looked at each other knowingly.
We were planning to surprise him with Legoland in England in April. I shared this news at the eleventh hour, and I am so glad I did. His joy, I believe, helped him not only navigate an IV needle in his arm (needles have been a major trigger for him since his K immunization), oral surgery to extract two teeth, a stitched up hole in his mouth and no solid food for 24 hours, but allowed him to recover and heal at supernatural speed! He wasn’t even able to have the big gun recovery meds like all the other surgical patients that day because he is too small. He needed tylenol and ibuprophen the day of, but upon awakening the next morning, it was as if he had just lost his tooth like any other baby tooth. The hole was visibly reduced, swelling and redness gone. He said he had no pain at all. His only complaint is he wanted something crunchy, no more of that puree shit if you please!
I was skeptical that he could be that healed that quickly…after some more smoothies, a popsicle, and some cautiously tepid soup, he was bouncing around to Sia, building Lego ships and ready to munch on a few tortilla chips. His recovery was astounding.
When he reflected on the day he had choice words for his Dad saying he “…had a real shit of a day…it was the best day and the worst day.” This sums up life though doesn’t it? Rather than preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario, getting all bent outta shape with what undeniably is, we have to learn how to roll. It is never just black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. Life is all of these things and more-so what we find in between when we aren’t distracted trying to decipher labels, each and every day, sometimes even just one stand alone moment is both good and bad…total shit yet total triumph. The only choice we have is how we want to perceive it. I find it much easier to master my perspective in the moment when I haven’t been projecting expectations. I only know these things to be truth, because my 7-year-old taught me.
In closing, here is what healing looks like to a human who knows himself. (22 hours post-op). This is an epiphany for me and my own healing process. Laughter, joy, movement, got it.