The Tooth of the Matter

So, TLG, my 9 year old, has a loose tooth. It’s been loose for the better part of a month, but because the kid is part shark* his old tooth is jammed up against the new one and it won’t come out yet. It’s causing him a lot of grief because he can’t eat his beloved Golden Delicious apples, and, it aches a fair bit overall.
I feel really bad for him, and I spent a while yesterday convincing him to let me try to pull it out. Now, for adults, enduring short term pain for the long term gain in that context (I’ll be able to eat again? Okay, drag that tooth out.)is a no-brainer. We’d hardly have to think about it. But when you’re nine, those few extra seconds of pain are a huge big deal. He doesn’t have the experience to imagine the time beyond when it hurts, it hardly seems real to him.
I was puzzling over that for a while yesterday, trying to think of ways to explain it to him, to use examples from times in the past where the trade-off was worth it. I was mostly stuck though because if memories of our own pain can be described as blurry at best, then memories of someone else’s are practically obliterated.** Eventually something got through, and he gathered up his courage and let me try.

The damn tooth is seriously wedged in. It caused him a lot of pain for me to pull on the tooth and there as no gain. The plan backfired.

He’s still struggling with his tooth this morning, and I’ve been giving the whole thing a lot of thought.

Sure, most adults would trade the small pain for the large gain in that context, and we’d know to keep trying after the first experiment didn’t work. But how about in other contexts? How many other things do we try, only to stop when things get a bit painful, a bit difficult? How good are we at translating our successes in one area to motivation for another? How much discomfort are we willing to endure to accomplish something we really want?

A lot of the time, I think we give up after that first bit of discomfort, taking it as a sign that we weren’t meant to do the task at hand. I wonder how much we’d gain if we thought of more situations like that loose tooth – requiring a spark of intense discomfort in order to gain improvement?

I figure anything has to be better than the sort of limbo you are in when the metaphorical tooth is giving you grief and you try to live with that low level, constant discomfort rather than taking a risk that might make things a lot better. I think, from now on, I’m going to ask myself ‘Is this something I should live with, or is this a tooth that needs to be yanked out?’

Then I’ll think of TLG, gather up my courage and pull.