I’m not a super experienced parent, but I’ve been at it long enough to learn that children are loose cannons—absolute unpredictable containers of hormones who struggle in the midst of emotional development. My kids are 97% feelings and 3% logic. They’re little hulks ready to rage, constantly flip-flopping between sweet and scary. But even this knowledge doesn’t prepare me for the random life events that set off my three little wild cards.
Ellia came home from school last week with her first loose tooth after she bit into an ever-clichéd apple. This was an embarrassingly huge deal for our family, so we went out to a celebratory dinner. After one bite of hamburger, the tooth was out. Ellia cried when she saw the blood. Panic immediately ensued as if we were being bombed or kicked out of Disney World.
Ellia screamed. Olive wailed at the sight of the blood and her sister’s uncontrollable tears. Brett was holding Owen and feeding him a bottle while the estrogen in the family created an emotional monsoon.
With my entire brood yelling like wounded cats, I explained to the rest of the restaurant that Ellia had lost her first tooth—no one had hit her contrary to all appearances. I rushed Ellia to the bathroom and shoved some paper towels in her mouth in an attempt to stop the bleeding. She wouldn’t stop crying.
I tried to tell her its normal to lose a tooth—it’s part of growing up. But this was no consolation. She just sobbed with those pathetic paper towels hanging out of her mouth. We ran back to the table so that we could get to-go boxes for our untouched food. I felt a growing urgency to leave the restaurant before I stabbed someone.
Owen sat in his car seat while Brett kicked the handle to try to rock him into contentment. Apparently, soothing kick-rocking doesn’t work with screaming 5 month olds. Olive added to the growing drama by standing on a bench in the middle of the restaurant, screaming, “I HATE THE WORLD!”
It would have been funny except that it wasn’t. And all I wanted to do was mute everyone in my family with high levels of Benadryl.
We took all three crying children to the car, surprised that no one at the restaurant called CPS. Owen calmed down as soon as we turned on the most obnoxious version of “Little Bunny Fufu” we could find in the glove compartment. Ellia calmed down by the time we were in the garage. Olive was still crying when she was lying in bed.
“Oh, poor Ellia!!!!!” she wailed. “Will she lose ALL her teeth???”
As I tucked her in, she asked me if she, too, would one day lose her teeth. Her greatest fear had turned from monsters and stuffed animals that come alive to the fear of her teeth falling out.
Now, you need to know I don’t lie to my kids. They know Santa’s just a great tradition, they know the tooth fairy is in the room next door, but that night, I lied to Olive.
“No, Olive. No. You’re not going to lose your teeth. Ever.”
We’ll save that truth for another day.
I’ve finally begun to realize that some days are just chaotic. Some days are cry days or fall apart days or nightmare days. And this is part of being family just as much as well-behaved days or fun days. It’s not about avoiding the chaos or over-spiritualizing it. Maybe we need to learn to practice calm acceptance in a sea of unpredictability. Ride the waves instead of fighting them. Take the storm alongside the clear skies—the chaos and the calm.
This is what it is to live. To laugh one second and the next to stand up on a bench screaming about the injustice of the world. To help each other through first losses, to comfort through unexpected pain. And to remind each other of grace to come. Of calm waters. Of the hope that serves as an anchor in any kind of chaos.
They go together—the awful panic of losing a first tooth. The creative grace of a dollar under your pillow.