Hayden and the Dentist

August 17, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

“No! I’m not going!”

The door bathroom door slammed shut and I heard the lock turn.

As a parent of three kids, this is not an unusual occurrence in our home. Normally, I would address a situation like this with loving, mature encouragement (something like: “Yes you are!”… To which my child would respond, “No I’m not!”… To which I would reply “Are to!”… To which my child would counter, “Am not!”… This would continue until someone said “infinity” after their line, thus ending the argument.). But today was different. Today my son, Hayden, was frightened. Today he was terrified and scared and frantic. That’s why he was locked in our bathroom. And I couldn’t blame him. Today, I understood his tantrum.

Today, Hayden was going to the dentist. And Hayden isn’t very fond of the dentist. It’s nothing personal (we have a few close friends in the dental profession), it’s just that in the world of my 7 year-old son, dentists do horrible things and cause horrible pain. I really can’t blame him either. After all, he has one rather unpleasant memory of a dentist who ripped out a molar from his 5 year-old mouth somewhat unexpectedly—“Surprise”! (Do they talk about bedside manner in dental school at all?) Perhaps that’s why dental appointments for Hayden have been placed on dad’s “To Do” list by mom (not really the kind of father-son activity I envisioned when he was born). And that’s why I felt for him this morning.

Hayden needed to get a tooth pulled. It was his front tooth and it had died (it has been gray for about 5 years and we kept waiting for it to fall out, but it wouldn’t). Now his new tooth is coming in behind the dead tooth and it’s all crooked. Without pulling the baby tooth, there could be trouble (think of a six letter swear word for parents… B-R-A-C-E-S). For us adults, getting a tooth pulled is probably not that big of a deal. I mean, you wouldn’t sign up for it, but we have confidence in modern dentistry, right? But for a 7 year-old, getting a tooth pulled is borderline barbaric (little boys can conjure up a lot of aggressive stuff when playing light sabers with their friends—but they never imagine ripping someone’s tooth out!). To top it off, there is the realization that his dad and mom are condoning—nay, endorsing—this act of senseless violence upon him. They are even willing to pay money to perpetrate this treachery!

It can be hard to be a parent. But the hardest times are when our kids have to do something that they don’t want to do but we know they have to do and we can’t do it for them but it’s for their own good.

“Why does this need to happen?”

Hayden asked me that through the closed door. It’s a pretty fair question. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t understand the answer. How do you explain to a scared kid that grabbing his tooth and yanking it from his head will be better for him in the long run (how do you explain “long run” to any kid?!?). How do you explain that there is a greater purpose behind the pain? That this pain is actually for his benefit—to prevent more pain in the future?

I found out the answer to those questions this morning: you don’t (believe me, I tried—but Hayden wasn’t having anything to do with my tremendously persuasive words). An explanation didn’t make sense to my son. He was afraid and fear trumps logic most of the time, doesn’t it.

In time, however, I guess Hayden saw the writing on the wall (probably written in the blood of his bleeding mouth), and came out of the bathroom. The fear was still there, but the tears were gone. He was resigned to his fate and we got into the car.

This brave little boy was heading into the abyss of the unknown, the frightening, the threatening. Although he wasn’t speaking, his eyes continued to question me through the rearview mirror: Why are you doing this? We don’t have to go? You could save me from this? Why don’t you stop it?

And I couldn’t give him any of the answers he wanted. I could only give him my presence. And in that moment, I never wanted to give him my presence more. Like most other parents, I would have given anything to sit in the dentist’s chair for my son—to take his place. But I couldn’t. I could only be there with him. I could only assure him that I would be next to him the entire time. I reminded him that we would celebrate when it was over (Slurpee!!!). I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of his courage. I whispered things to him to make him smile and laugh. He may not have been happy with me—he may not have liked this insane decision that his mother and I had made on his behalf—but I never felt closer to him than that moment. My boy was scared, but I was right there with him. I was for him. And he would know that.

Fast forward… The tooth came out quick and easy. We got a slurpee, and we called my wife to tell her how brave her son was. Hayden was proud to show off his ugly gray tooth to his sisters and they oohed and ahhhed in amazement at his heroism.


“No, I’m not going!”

I shut the door and turned the lock.

This is not unusual as I enter a frightening, unknown, or confusing point in my life. I hold my Father responsible. I lash out. I am scared and angry.

“Why does this need to happen?”

I ask from behind the closed door… But I don’t hear a response. I wonder if my father is even there. How do you explain to a scared kid that difficult and trying circumstances will be better for him in the long run (how do you explain “long run” to any kid?!?). How do you explain that there is a greater purpose behind the pain? That this pain is actually for his benefit—to prevent more pain in the future?

I become resigned to the pain—because I realize that I can’t change it. But I continue to ask my father many questions: Why are you doing this? We don’t have to go? You could save me from this? Why don’t you stop it?

I think about my own son, Hayden, and I realize that the trip to the dentist today is actually very similar to the dark and frightening times in my own life—with my father. He is closer now than ever. When I need him. When I’m hopeless. Even when I’m angry.

He may not give me answers (I probably couldn’t understand them anyway). But he gives me his presence. And yet, he gives even more. He gives me himself. See, I would have given anything to sit in the dentist’s chair for my son—to take his place. But I couldn’t.

God did. Jesus took my place on the cross so that we could journey together through the frightening, scary, dark times as well as the bright and joyful times. So I would never be alone.

That’s how much my dad loves me. He’s always there whispering how much he loves me and how proud he is of me. He’s holding me in his arms and weeping with me. He knows the pain—and he feels the pain. But he also wants me to grow up. And understand that I can count on him—that I can trust him.

And that’s all I need to know…

Oh yeah, a slurpee helps too.

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2 Responses to “Hayden and the Dentist”
  1. Tracy LoAlbo says:

    Thank you for this ramble, Doug. It is so hard when we as parents have to have our children do something that we really wouldn’t choose to do ourselves. OR, it is so difficult when they are growing up and we can’t make things any better for them. Landon cried terribly after his fifth grade graduation (when we were in the car) and said, “I don’t want elementary school to be over!” All that I could do was say, “I know!” because I felt the same way. I did not want that part of his life to be behind him, but there was nothing that I could do to comfort him. I had to trust that God had everything under control and give everything to Him. God has such a great plan for all of our lives. He teaches us and is gentle with us and we don’t always understand at the time, but His timing is perfect!!! My son, Landon is growing up so quickly, but I know that God has a plan for his life and that EVERYTHING is in His control!!! 🙂

  2. Mimi Fackler says:

    Hi Doug,
    I just had to comment on this one, since I am in the dental field, a dental hygienist for over ++years!!! Over the years I’ve changed my technical approach and hopefully spiritual approach as well…Instead of thinking of tasks I am going to do TO my patients, I try to empasize the service FOR my patients I am lending. In other words, not what I do TO them, but, what I do FOR them. I think that may fit in as well with what you are saying. God does things FOR us not TO us, we often just see it in the “TO” way….ya know?

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