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”.
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’.