The Fine Art of Accepting the Unacceptable

My nightmares often include my son Luke sitting in a dental chair

“Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped. Acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by releasing it of impossible burdens.”          ~ Arthur Gordon

In each and every calendar year, there are two days that I dread with every fiber of my being. They happen at roughly six month intervals. And, while I appreciate having some distance between them, all that really means for me is that by the time I’ve mostly healed from the scar of the last time I get to do it again. What are these heinous days of which I speak? Why, they’re D-Days…the days my sons get to go for their bi-yearly dental visits.

Before I go any further, please understand that I love my sons’ pediatric dentist and the entire staff at Southwest Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics as much as any person (other than a sadist) could love a dentist. They are the most helpful, professional, gentle adults, and their patience with my boys certainly qualifies them for sainthood, or at least knighthood. It’s hard to get any young boy to sit still in a dental chair for work. It’s nearly impossible to get a boy with ADHD to stay still and pay attention long enough for a proper dental cleaning. When Dr. Jim had to get braces on Joe’s teeth two years ago, I thought I would never recover from the trauma. And, Joe is my good dental patient.

Luke is a veritable nightmare at the dentist. He has an unbelievable gag reflex. In fact, as both Dr. Scott and the Mother Theresa-esque hygienist Kristy told me today, Luke is by far THE worst gag reflex patient either of them has ever seen. Ever. How’s that for a claim to fame for your child? Luke’s gag reflex is attributable to several things, a perfect storm of issues: 1) an actual oral defensiveness to textures and touch , 2) an oversensitivity to smells that makes so many things nauseating for him, 3) an active imagination (he can see something that grosses him out and puke as if on command…like the time he saw the preview for the film How To Eat Fried Worms and promptly vomited in the theater), and 4) a now-ingrained mental condition that makes him gag the minute the dentist or hygienist ask him to open his mouth. Luke has puked on poor Kristy before. And on me. And on Dr. Scott. I never leave these visits without a headache. I often find myself in the car afterwards in tears, full of frustration, dentist bill in my hand, beating my head against my steering wheel while my son watches with still uncleaned teeth.

Luke has done occupational therapy to combat his oral defensiveness. I’ve researched herbal remedies and acupuncture to see if those might be able to help. I’ve actually considered hypnotherapy for him. Can you do that with an 8 year old? Today, Dr. Scott suggested that next time we sedate Luke with nitrous oxide to see if that will help. Of course, insurance won’t cover that but if it works it would be worth it. I considered asking Dr. Scott if he could hook me up next visit too. Even if it’s not covered, at least with the nitrous I could relax a little in that office for once. Then, Dr. Scott casually mentioned that it is his job to prepare Luke for the approximately three years of orthodontics he expects Luke will need. Looking on the bright side, Dr. Scott told me that he’s fairly certain that by the time Luke is finished with braces his gag reflex will mostly likely be under control. What he failed to quip about is that by the time Luke is finished with braces I won’t care about his gag reflex anymore because I’ll be heavily sedated wearing a white coat with sleeves that attach in the back.

A while back I mentioned that I had seven mantras I was working on this year. One of them is “Practice Acceptance.” Practicing acceptance means letting go of the desire to be in control. That is what I have to do on Dentist Days. I practice accepting Joe’s ADHD tics and Luke’s crazy gag reflex. I practice accepting that this is who they are. It’s nothing they’re doing intentionally. They can’t help it. They’re not bad kids. These are simply their crosses to bear. They’re mine too, at least until they turn 18. I’ve been going through this with them since they were infants. Back then, it was frustrating. I didn’t understand. I got annoyed by it easily. As they got older, I got better at recognizing it for what it was, but it still embarrassed and aggravated me. It’s taken me nearly 11 years, but I am now able to accept these issues for what they are. Issues. We all have them. I don’t like it, but I have to live with it.

In the grand scheme of things, I know it’s not the worst thing I could have to handle with my boys. They’re healthy, able-bodied, sharp-minded kids. We’re making progress, oh-so-slowly but definitely surely. We’ll get it figured out eventually. I’ve never liked the saying “It is what it is” because it seems so lazy. But, in these situations, that phrase is completely valid. So, I’m going to continue working to accept the situation not out of apathy but instead with the understanding that not accepting it places an unreasonable burden on my two great kids who are just doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.

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