Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

It’s been nearly three months since my elder daughter went to the dentist and learned about her two loose teeth. In the past few weeks, we’ve watched as the looser of the two hangs tenaciously by a thread. At Thanksgiving, she showed all our relatives and no one expected the tooth to hang on for more than a few days, yet here we are, approaching Christmas, and the tooth persists. My daughter rarely touches it, working around it when she chews and patiently enduring the minor inconvenience it causes. Meanwhile, this tooth is driving me nuts.

I am a knuckle-cracking, scab-picking, blister-lancing maniac. Disgusting, I know. But fascinating. I recognize that part of my actions is personality and another part a mildly unhealthy obsession with controlling my body. I don’t even have time to get into that here, but it’s something, by God’s grace, that I am improving on. I tell my daughter that I used to twist and wrench out my loose teeth. I am, undoubtedly, a bit too eager to tear off parts of my body. One of the things that I appreciate about my elder child, and one of the things that most consistently baffles me, is her incredible patience. Her self control would be admirable in an adult.

What’s funny is how consistently people comment on her similarity to me; in appearance, this is certainly true, but in terms of my childhood behavior, I think I was probably much more like my bouncing, sticky toddler than my restrained older girl. I can picture her father like her as a kid, though, so her remarkable discipline is not exactly new to us. I value discipline and practice it myself to the point that most people would probably consider me a rather disciplined person; I’ll try to keep the language positive here, and not venture into territory like “rigid” and “inflexible,” though at times my elder child and I butt heads because of our convictions there, too.

One of my favorite parts of parenting is observing the ways that these children are their own people from the very beginning. I thought there was so much more about them I could control, but (again, by God’s grace), I am learning again and again that imposing control on my body or on my children is not healthy or productive. I don’t mean to suggest that I am anti-authority. I happen to like authority when it’s benevolent and wise. And, in our interactions over this first tooth, I can see my daughter’s brand of wisdom, where she lets her body take its course. I see this as a comfortable, healthy attitude that I ought to encourage in her and perhaps model in myself.

And, by contrast, I also see ways that I need to nudge her to be bolder at times. She is a perfectionist who wants to wait until every star is aligned before she makes her move. I get that, too, even while I know that things rarely happen that way. Sometime we have to rip off the bandage and or make ourselves a little vulnerable. I can understand why God puts these different sorts of folks in the world, even as I acknowledge that my daughter and I are only slightly apart on the risk-aversion spectrum. There’s a time to pull out the tooth and a time to wait, and the kingdom of God needs and values both actions and the balance of believers who inhabit the world differently.

As I sat here typing, my daughter plopped down next to me, her palm extended, a bloody pearl of a tooth in her hand. Serendipity, yes? She laughed, ran to the mirror to see her new smile and pack away her tooth in a little treasure chest, and then returned to me. I know she’s pleased and proud in her quiet way. And I am pleased and proud of her, too. I am thankful for my children, for being the people God made them to be, and for the ways they continually instruct and humble me simply by being themselves.

1 Comment

  1. Ahhh!. My mother had shown me how to pull my loose teeth with dental floss, and I had always loved doing it. But I terrorized my daughter by trying to encourage her to pull her loose teeth or, even worse, by offering to help her do it. If she saw me with a roll of dental floss and a gleam in my eye, she imagined that the worst sorts of torture were forthcoming. She generally waited until the teeth fell out. We were wired alike on many points (both of us INTP’s), but we were wired differently on things like teeth pulling and splinter removal. I am just beginning to figure out that I should have paid more attention to her wiring, especially when it was different from mine.

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