You only need the light when it’s burning low,
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow,
Only know you love her when you let her go …
My daughter, Hannah, her mouth tender and cheeks swollen after oral surgery, would add a verse about only missing meat when you’re eating broth, only needing to laugh when it hurts to smile, only missing mouthwash when you’re swishing saltwater.
It doesn’t rhyme or scan as smoothly, but you get the idea.
Hannah spent the early part of Christmas break like many kids her age, recovering from wisdom-tooth surgery. This means I spent my time off positioning ice packs, checking on her several times a night, keeping track of medication schedules and dreaming up tasty entrees that don’t require chewing.
Basically, it was a trip back to my kids’ babyhood.
Or back to any number of sick days, when one or both children would lie on their beds – or on mine – curled up in the fetal position, foreheads sweaty with fever, moaning, tired but too miserable to sleep.
“Why did God even draw the flu?” Hannah asked me once when she was about 9, a bit delirious from Motrin and VapoRub. Back then she visualized God as cosmic artist, willing things into existence with a sweep of his giant paintbrush.
At its essence the question was, of course, Theological Conundrum No. 1: If God exists, why all the suffering?
Why colds? Why flu? Why disease? Why famine? Why four extra teeth that nobody needs?
I’m not sure about the first four, but I figured that last one must be God’s way of supporting the dental industry.
I’ve since learned that those extra teeth were crucial for Cro-Magnon man, whose diet of raw, course, rugged foods required a broader jaw and strong molars. Modern-day humans eat and prepare food much differently – cutting, dicing, chopping, boiling or baking nearly everything we eat – so our jaw lines are smaller, and for most of us, there’s no room for wisdom teeth, so we have them removed.
Blame evolution, I told Hannah as I opened a pudding cup.
She glared and switched channels on the TV. The dogs repositioned themselves right up next to her, sensing she might need their quiet presence, which she did. I kissed her forehead and flipped her pillow to the cool side. I made sure she had lip balm. I fetched blankets and mashed potatoes.
In a way, it’s the most she’s needed me in years. Wisdom teeth may be extraneous, but a parent’s love is primal and purposeful, and it rises to any occasion.
Within a few days Hannah was up and around, back to making her own bed, fixing her own lunches, arguing with her brother and chatting with friends. I went back to sleeping through the night and baking chicken breasts.
Back to normal, after a brief journey back in time.