Monday, November 19, 2012

Teeth, embarrassment, and thankfulness

We recently had a morning at Seattle Children's Hospital for dental work. Because Soren is so orally sensitive (the ultimate clencher), we need to use full anesthesia to do any dental work other than the very quick peek at the dentist's office (with three additional people holding down limbs).

Going to the hospital for the somewhat routine procedures is emotional for me. It's a children's hospital, for goodness' sake, and we're surrounded by sickness and injury and disease and even death. All parents have a specially colored ID lanyard, and I feel like I might start hugging any one of them out of empathy and solidarity. Even the air in the cafeteria feels thick, with the bonds between parents making me feel almost self-conscious. There's just a very thin line that separates us from the serious health issues that so many of these families face; it could so easily be us, as I've learned on this autism journey. It has nothing to do with what we do or don't do as parents.

So we go to the hospital because my kid has cavities. I'm embarrassed by how embarrassed those cavities make me, if that makes any sense. Dental health is a big deal (especially to Miss Only One Cavity over here), and it's my responsibility as a parent to manage my kid's teeth, at least now. It doesn't matter that brushing his teeth is a nightly two-parent strength test. I feel like a bad parent. And I feel a little judgy when I see the silver flashing from Soren's mouth. What five-year-old has caps??!

And then there's the layer of guilt. Soren's teeth must have been hurting him for months as we waited for a dental surgery spot to open up. One of his baby teeth had to be pulled because it was so damaged. I couldn't help him--heck, I couldn't even tell that he needed help. My baby. I feel like I failed him because his teeth are MY responsibility now.

And then I remember how superficial these pangs of embarrassment and guilt are when we're surrounded by The Big Stuff. Yep, my kid now has a mouthful of visible metal, and he had pain, but he's here, otherwise very physically healthy. I know embarrassment, and I know the puzzlement and grief at autism and its related anxiety. But I don't know that life-changing worry about disease or injury or death. I feel guilty that we're in this hospital for such a minor procedure, I feel guilty that I'm so embarrassed about my child's teeth--and I feel so grateful that this is all that's on our plate right now. And I know things could change tomorrow.

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