Bug the Bad Ass

My daughter is a bad ass.

To most that meet her, ‘bad ass’ might not be the first identifier that pops into their head, but they don’t know her like I do. Many wouldn’t even know that she had a voice, or a face for that matter, as neither is revealed readily when she first meets you. For the first year of her life she wouldn’t let any man other than me anywhere near her, let alone touch her, without announcing with vigor that such proximity was strictly verboten. I was kind of hoping that would continue well into her teens, but alas. Now into her fifth trip around the sun, she no longer reacts with audible fear to new situations and people, she just pretends they aren’t there.

She is often called shy and timid and I have been wont to agree. The more I get to know her, though, the less I believe in those labels. She does hold back, usually way back, and does keep new people at orangutan arm’s length, but to just call her ‘timid’ is to paint her with too broad of a brush. Timid is a lack of courage and this little girl, while sometimes hesitant in public situations, does not lack courage.

She is a bad ass.

While getting a check up last summer the dentist discovered cavities in her tiny teeth. Five cavities, to be exact. Why our then 3 year old had five cavities was still something of a mystery. We had always brushed well, drank almost exclusively water and eaten a mostly plant based diet that included essentially no sugar, so any cavities were surprising, but five was confounding. We have since discovered the connection between nutritional deficiencies caused by gluten sensitivity and, among other problems, poor tooth development. We have now remedied that issue, but the formative damage clearly had been done.

Over the course of two return trips to the dentist, those cavities were filled. These were obviously not easy visits – not for a “timid” 3 year old, not for any 3 year old, not for anyone. There were tears, moans and a little restraint system complete with a back board that only made me think of A Clockwork Orange. There were the bright lights, the faceless masks and the ache of helplessly stroking my daughter’s head that I will never forget. But we did it – she did it – and we moved on, armed with some pointed strategies for avoiding this ever happening again.

Recently another check up revealed six more cavities. Six. More. We were horrified. With so many good intentions and diligent efforts already put forth, it was with a powerful feeling of failure that I scheduled two more trips to the dentist to take care of this bunch of heartbreakingly decaying teeth. Telling her that we had to do this again felt like we were telling her that we don’t love her as much as she thinks we do. While cavities do rank pretty low on the chart of awful things that our kids go through, I have gained a new understanding on a very tiny scale of what parents must experience when some unexpected serious medical issue befalls their child. I still can’t imagine how that must really feel, but I have gained a bit of perspective. And I know how lucky I am to just be writing about cavities.

When we did tell Bug that we needed to get her teeth “fixed” again, her reaction was a quick but thoughtful “OK”. Didn’t even flinch. I know she remembers the experience well as she has talked about it numerous times since last summer, recalling details and feelings, right down to how the drill felt “bumpy”. Still, in the face of another bumpy ride, she was unwavering. “OK”.

Bad ass.

This week we went in for the second of the two appointments. Clearly fresh in her mind as we got in the car was the first appointment as she wanted to make sure she got another ring from the prize box when she was done (the ring she chose two weeks ago was lost before we even got home). Unfazed, she climbed up, requested her current favorite cd and strapped in for what was an enjoyable ride of giggling and singing and talking about what she was going to have at her celebratory lunch afterward. We arrived and not an iota of hesitation could be seen on her smiling face.

Her body stiffened a bit when I carried her into the room, but that was the extent of the physical signs of trepidation. No tears. No complaining. And, when I went to put her into the chair, no hesitation. This was what we had to do, she seemed to know, and there was no reason to fight it. When the masked pair of dental hit men turned on the light to begin their oral spelunking this mighty little girl held my hands, closed her eyes and opened wide.

What do you got, Doc?

The scene for this now fourth journey into her gaping maw was largely the same save for the absence of the restrictive papoose on a board. She didn’t need that – she was four, after all, as she told me. She now held herself still as the four hands explored her mouth once more with drills, picks, hoses, what seemed to me to be a socket wrench and a needle that would make inmates in Texas shudder. For more than an hour she was resolute to endure one of life’s great discomforts and this tiny person labeled as timid so many times couldn’t have been tougher.

Labels can be very limiting. We attach them to people with the intent of categorizing and maybe better understanding them, but they only serve to minimize the big picture of who someone truly is. We all have more layers and greater depth than any label can truly illustrate. We all are capable of things that may be surprising, even to ourselves. Labels can constrain our belief in those capabilities very quickly, especially for a 4 year old. Bug still hesitates in a lot of situations in her life and seems to feel uncomfortable with herself at times. But after having the honor, albeit a difficult one, of sitting with her in that dentist chair, I am going to remember just how powerful and bold she really was the next time I begin to underestimate her or anyone else with a label.

Unless, of course, that label is ‘bad ass’.


About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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21 Responses to Bug the Bad Ass

  1. Maggie Batt says:

    Make sure you read “Cure Tooth Decay” by Ramiel Nagel. I was reading it in the hallway yesterday at co-op. We halted Amber’s decay through nutrition also, but no fillings, etc. Drilling is not always the answer. I’ll bring it Thursday for you to borrow.

  2. shelbycastile says:

    bug is a badass. you are brilliant0- love you!

  3. David says:

    Great write my friend. I really enjoyed it. THAT’S OUR GIRL!!! Knowing her as I do, I am proud and not really so surprised.

  4. Carol Brown says:

    My heart aches for you having to experience the ‘assault’ on your little one. Parenting is hundreds of those wrenching moments interspersed with thousands of joyful times. Your writing makes us feel each kind right along with you.

  5. Jared Karol says:

    This piece was “bad ass”. . . Once again, the genuine and introspective manner that you talk about your kids is really special. I am still working on not categorizing my kids. My favorite bit from the piece:

    “We all have more layers and greater depth than any label can truly illustrate. We all are capable of things that may be surprising, even to ourselves. Labels can constrain our belief in those capabilities very quickly, especially for a 4 year old.”

    Good, good stuff. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Brett says:

    Hey Mitchell, thanks for the follow on Twitter. I just finished reading about the teeth. She sounds like one tough customer! Funny, I wrote in my blog about my son getting two teeth pulled back in December. I wrote about how tough he was. It’s amazing to see how strong he is. Kids are amazingly resilient. Keep on writing!

    My best,

  7. maggie may says:

    bad ass is a great label!!

  8. Dalite says:

    Oh, sweet wonderful bad ass girl. She is resolute, intelligent, graceful, resilient and more. She is everything! She is learning to be one with herself, clearly making great strides along her path. What a great teacher to us all. Kiss her for me, and thanks for sharing Mitchell.

  9. alikeleestory says:

    This actually made me tear up at the end (yeah yeah, I’m completely mommified :).

    My 6 yr old daughter has had some major issues with her teeth too. None of my other kiddos, just her. When she was about 3 she had to have some teeth pulled 😦 SO traumatic for everyone. But I do think it’s way worse for us parents. As you stated, labels only limit us so we have all of these preconceived notions of how things should be, or yadda yadda, whatever. Kids though, everything is so new. Should they be afraid or worried about the dentist? What do they have to base that on?

    I love that your daughter is a bad ass! So is mine. That’s one label that I can stand behind as well. : )

    • I hope that the dental issues are limited only to one kid – I’m sorry that she has to deal with it, but I don’t think their softie dad could deal with both of them getting the dental spelunking. Your idea about not having that point of reference I think is spot on. We have tried to speak of it in totally benign terms and she seems to follow our lead thus far. How many trips back will change that, though, once she has her own cache of memories?

      • Robyn says:

        I hear that, but just keep doing what you’re doing and she’ll be just fine. : ) My own little bad ass ( ::smile:: ) is perfectly fine with going to the dentist for check ups now. Most of her issues have been resolved & now we’re just waiting for some more of her adult teeth to move on in.

        I used to study early childhood education in college, and I’ll never forget a study that was done about how kids react based on JUST watching their parents facial expressions. If they look scared/etc then the kid would mimic that, and vice versa. SO powerful!

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