Friday, August 03, 2007

Daddy's Tears

Had to take my youngest daughter to the dentist this morning.

Although I'm going to reveal something that might, in the future, be a bit of an embarrassment to her, I'm only sharing this to validate the point that I want to make. Please don't feel that I'm being a cruel, heartless father for "telling on" my child; after all, it's something that many a child has to deal with.

She has had a problem with thumb-sucking, from infanthood. She grew tired real quickly of a pacifier; it would fall out in the middle of the night, and when she couldn't find it, she would wake us all with her wailing. Mom or Dad would groggily go and fetch the pacifier, plug it back in, she would drift back off to sleep with a contented whimper, only to have it happen all over again.

The problem is, this "addiction" didn't go away when she turned 2...or 3...or 7...or even 8. It has become a subconscious gesture, a security thing; most of the time, she doesn't even realize she's got her thumb in her mouth until Daddy says "Get your thumb out of your mouth!"

We've tried everything short of jalapeno pepper juice. (The only reason we refused that old trick is because of the danger of her getting pepper on the rest of her digits, then reaching up to rub her eye. NOT fun!) But it didn't matter what we tried; nothing worked. Not threats, not mittens, not even that nasty-tasting stuff made to stop nail-biting and thumb-sucking. Oh, it slowed her down for a day or so, but---by her own admission---she gradually got to where the taste didn't bother her, and before long, she was just as bad as ever.

We tried rewarding her. Wouldn't work.

We tried grounding her from certain treats (No bubble gum until you quit sucking your thumb). Still had no effect.

It was a subconscious thing, that she really had little or no control over.

Finally, during a routine office visit with the dentist, he mentioned to her (and daddy, of course) about the damage that thumb-sucking would do. He gently cautioned her about it, encouraged her to try to stop, then quietly mentioned to me that, as a last resort, there was a device that could be installed in the soft palate that would prevent the thumb from "resting" where it normally does.

"It's actually a subconscious habit they develop, sort of a security thing, and when they can't 'seat' the thumb there in that spot, it feels unnatural, and that encourages them to stop." was his explanation. What did I know, other than the fact that nothing else had worked.

So we went to the dentist today.

She's been facing this date with both dread and anticipation. On the one hand, she knows it will be a struggle to give up what has become almost second-nature to her, yet on the other hand, she wants so desperately to stop a habit that she knows is unhealthy, and the source of ridicule from other kids her age. She wants to be looked at as a "little lady" and not a "baby", but the pull of what has always provided her that tiny bit of security...not an easy prison to break free of.

Words can't describe how agonizing it was for me to watch them install this device. Granted, my daughter has earned her nickname "Drama Queen" for her melodramatics, but a parent knows when their child is genuinely hurting, or when they're just wanting some extra attention. Although I'm sure that a big part of her discomfort was the trauma of having some foreign fixture in her mouth, I also know that the pain of having it fastened to her teeth was very real. I know that the spacers they had to set caused her severe discomfort, and I know that this appliance---helpful though it is---is not comfortable, and certainly having it shoved into the roof of her mouth wasn't fun.

I sat there and watched, and I'll give my daughter credit: she cried silently.

Usually she lets the tears flow freely, and has no problem letting everyone around her know that she's unhappy. But today, she tried her best to be brave and quiet about it.

She cried without making a sound.

As she lay on her back in that dentists' chair, I watched as her little tummy heaved with silent sobs. I watched as her little feet crossed and uncrossed, as her hands gripped the arms of the chair to keep herself from interfering with the doctor. And I confess, a tear trickled from the corner of my eye. I couldn't, and wouldn't, stop it; that was my baby girl that was enduring the pain and stress of being "manhandled".

The dentist is one of the best I've ever met, and I know he was not being rough with her, but...oh, did I ever want to rush to my daughter's rescue, snatch her out of that chair, tell him "Just forget it!" and take her home where I could sugar-coat that thumb and make it even better. Anything to stop the pain and trauma.

But I knew...

I knew this was for the best for my child.

I knew that this was designed to help set her free of something that she could not do on her own.

I realized that, as gentle as that doctor was trying to be, there was a certain amount of discomfort that my child, my precious little girl, would have to encounter in order for this to succeed.

And I knew that this dentist knew what he was doing. I trusted him with my child's welfare, to take care of her, even though it might look (from my perspective) that he was not.

Daddy shed some tears today, even though I wasn't the one in the dentist's chair.

I cried for the pain and hurt that my child was having to endure.

And it dawned on me...

While we're being manhandled by the world, while we're enduring the pain, having things forced into our lives that make no sense, God is wiping away tears from His own eyes. Oh, the enemy would have us believe that, while we are being subjected to his evil devices, his assault on us, that God has turned His back to us, that He is unconcerned with our hurts, our confusion, our dismay.

But as a father who wept for my child today, who watched her silently endure something that, really, she's still too young to fully understand, I realize now that my Father loves me even more than I can comprehend.

He gets no pleasure out of my struggles; He gets no joy from my being broken. I believe when the ointment in my broken vessel is spilled out, His tears mingle with it. He hurts when we hurt.

But He knows what is best.

And in spite of the tears, He allows us to endure the hardships, the discomfort, the times of confusion, hurt, dismay. Because He knows that in the end, we will stand taller and have no cause to be ashamed of who we are.

I just went and hugged my little girl again.

Told her how proud I was of her for being so brave and doing so good in the dentist's chair. She doesn't understand exactly why I'm so proud of her.

But I am.

One of these days, I hope to get a hug like that from a Father who's proud of me, too.

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