Our children come to us broken. They have crooked teeth and insatiable appetites for sugar and screen time. They arrive with no knowledge or values. Modern kids are the ultimate fixer-upper, the biggest project we can sign up for. Some projects don’t turn out how we want them.
Our Kids’ Teeth
Our biggest mistake, as people and as parents, was when we gave our son suckers.
Parenting errors don’t get much worse. The sugar, the artificial dyes, the evil magic they must use to make those little opaque orbs taste exactly like root beer, or cotton candy, or blue raspberries just like you find in the wild, every part of the classic Dum-Dum functions as pre-schooler heroin. At the time they made sense – fewer calories and less sugar than cookies, for example, spread out over a longer period of time. The sucker felt like a responsible dessert.
And we brushed his teeth. Most of the time. Sometimes our Yo Gabba Gabba would run a little long and we needed to read our Curious George books and get to sleep early.
While modern parents receive plenty of direction concerning what they should do to raise healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted kids, those directives are never arranged in order of importance.
No parenting resource helped us decide which of the following, if excluded from the nightly routine, was least likely to turn our son into a stupid, worthless drain on society: books, teeth brushing, creative media content, sleep, parental bonding, or strict daily scheduling. Without any clear answers, we rotated, but dental hygiene lost out more than its fair share.
And then he started complaining that his teeth hurt, and we visited the dentist. He had so many cavities, the dentist decided to extract a tooth, which meant he needed a spacer, a piece of metal that would stay wedged between his teeth for years to prevent crowding, a reminder every time he opened his mouth of our failure.
We improved with our daughter. We brushed her teeth seven, eight times a day. Except she has what professionals in the dental industry call a “small mouth.” She needed something called an “expander,” a sort of medieval torture device. With a key we would crank the apparatus fixed to the roof of her mouth wider, so she could live in pain for months. We met with a different dentist, who suggested we could accomplish the same thing by removing four of her teeth.
Do it. Fix her. Rip the teeth out of her head.
Our Kids’ Skin
Our son ran on a wood dock barefoot and suffered a splinter lengthwise down his sole. There were a dozen people at the cabin that weekend, and everyone rotated holding him down, calming him down, and trying to extract the plank with a pair of tweezers. I finally decided a trip to the emergency room would hurt him worse than his screams hurt me. I dug and dug, extracted the wood, then went inside to sit down and cry.
Our daughter pulled a floor speaker onto her hand when she was three and popped her finger. Tap the tip of one of your digits. You feel that soft layer between skin and bone? It looks like pink Play-Doh, and you’ll never experience unease like watching a doctor try to stitch it back in.
Our Kids’ Respect
Do I want a son who can hunt and who understands where his meat comes from, or do I want a son who gets nauseous at the thought of shooting a deer? Do I want a son who can deal with pests that invade his life, dispensing rodents by any means necessary? Or do I want a son whose overwhelming compassion requires that he call someone when critters encroach on his space? Do I want a son who understands the violence of the world, or one who’d like to ignore it?
Do I want a son who can kill?
My kids really want a dog, have wanted a dog for a long time. My wife and I came up with an excuse for why we couldn’t get one. We had to wait until our old cat, Jadee, passed away. This plan backfired spectacularly. Every few days, our daughter would adopt her sad whiny face and say, “I hope Jadee dies soon.”
We make parenting harder than it has to be, I’m sure of it. But no one can tell us what parts to let go of, so we’ll keep doing it all, trying to repair what we broke and what came broken.
Sometimes it feels like, for every leak plugged and hole patched, three more arise, often in places we never thought to look. No project will ever be harder. God, I hope they turn out.