Inconsolable: Letter #015

Photo of Papa Zesser holding Baobao the day after she suffered from teething

Inconsolable: Reflections on pain and the agony of the teeth

My darling Baobao,

Detail of photo showing Mama Raven examining Baobao's incoming tooth
“I’ll get you for this, Mother!”

The first pain I can really remember (really, but also only sort of; see below) is from when I was probably eight or nine or, just possibly, 10 years old. I had an ear-ache, and I can vaguely remember screaming in pain as my parents rushed me the 15 or so kilometres to the Emergency Department at one of the hospitals in Sudbury, Ontario.

Since then, I have broken a leg, torn a hamstring and thrown my back out more often than I care to remember.

And yet, the amazing thing is that there seems to be something built deep into our systems that, almost the moment the pain stops, more or less erases our memories of that pain. It’s my hypothesis that it is an evolutionary development “intended” (evolution doesn’t actually “intend” anything of course, but it’s a useful way to describe its processes) to ensure that women are willing to have more than one baby; I suspect that if women remembered child-birth in all its actual agonies they would never be willing to bear a second one. Men like me simply benefit from that natural amnesia as a pleasant side-effect. But I digress.

Last night was perhaps the hardest since we brought you home from the hospital now more than eight long (and short) months.

As my friend Sarah commented on Facebook after I made a brief post last night,

Teething really is awful, especially the first ones. Not only do you have sharp blades of enamel pushing up through your skin, your mouth, until this point a soft point of comfort and contact, is now filled with these blades. No wonder they cry

“No wonder they cry” indeed!

And, my god, but did you howl! “Inconsolable” (another word I only now really understand) is what you were while the pain was happening.

Your mother and I took turns in trying to console you, though. I through song and gentle rocking in my arms, your mum through distraction, letting you sit at table on her lap, and toss place-mats and trivets to the floor, over and over again between bouts of screaming and tears.

We knew you had a tooth coming in, and you had no fever or any other sign of something seriously wrong, so we were (mostly) comfortable in simply doing our best to comfort and distract you — and hoping that you would grow tired enough to sleep sooner rather than later.

Photo of a satisfied baby after she has knocked a couple of Papa's books to the floor.
“My work here is done!”

And for a wonder, you did! Probably, your misery (and ours, let’s be honest!) last no more than a couple of hours — I shudder in sympathy with those babies (and parents) whose incoming teeth create even more pain than you suffered last night! I think it was around 01:30 when you started showing signs of exhaustion and your mum took you upstairs to bed. (And again, she was wonderful with you last night! For someone who gets easily frustrated over small things, she is absolutely fantastic in a crisis. I hope you’ll be able to remember that when she’s giving you a hard time for not picking up your dirty clothes when you’re a teenager.)

Not only did you finally go to sleep, but you slept through the night for the first time in a couple of weeks, letting me sleep in until nearly 09:30, when I took you down for a bottle of your mother’s finest. After that, we went to my office, where we shared a couple of happy hours before a mighty big poop put an end to the fun.

The morning after a horrible night of teething, a happy Baobao makes a beeline for her library!

For all I could tell, you had no memory at all of the agonies you had gone through last night. I only hope that all your future pains will be as easily and quickly forgotten!

Love you always,

Papa Z

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