On a Saturday, my wife and I were busy preparing for our son’s first dental check-up. We felt a bit nervous, wondering if we had been taking good care of his teeth. We drove to the dentist’s office and took our son with us in the elevator. While we waited in the lobby, we gave him some toys to play with, hoping to make him more comfortable with the doctor. After a short wait, we were called in to see the dentist, and everything went just as smoothly as we had hoped. Our son held his mouth wide open for the examination. The dentist recommended that we start flossing his teeth every day since they were large enough for food to get stuck in between.
Since then, flossing his teeth has became a part of his bedtime routine. Although he initially cooperated with this new routine, he soon developed a dislike for the floss weaving in and out of his teeth. Every night, I found myself explaining how awesome, wonderful, and marvelous flossing is and how cavities are sources of immense physical pain, emotional damage, and financial liability. After persistent persuasion, he would reluctantly open his mouth, but it would quickly snap shut. I must admit that I’m not particularly dexterous, and my clumsy hands always shiver in frustration when I try to fit my fingers into his tiny mouth. I am not even sure if it is possible to keep my son still and his jaw wide open without ‘hurting’ him.
My recent struggle with flossing feels particularly tormenting because the issue seems so small. I’m not attempting to solve world hunger, negotiate a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russia, or tackle any significant existential questions. Instead, I’m just trying to keep my son cavity-free, and it’s causing me an undue amount of stress. Flossing has become a symbol of the numerous challenges I’m currently grappling with. It’s just one of many completely unexpected, seemingly insignificant, yet profoundly annoying problems that life has thrown my way. I suspect these issues will persist even if I manage to master child-friendly flossing techniques.
Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about an alternate universe where all my troubles simply cease to exist. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had remained in the United States. Would I have an easier time flossing my son’s teeth in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
A few months ago, our family embarked on a trip to Seattle and Vancouver, exploring the Pacific Northwest to see if it lived up to the idealized image where troubles dissolve like lemon drops and all my troubles away above the chimney tops. During our journey, we had a great time immersing ourselves in nature and reconnecting with old friends. However, it was unsurprising to discover that they, too, were grappling with their fair share of challenges. We bonded over the shared experiences of finding joy and enduring the struggles of raising a family, working, and managing issues related to health, finances, time, and relationships.
Approaching my late 30s, I’ve come to accept that life often beckons, nudges, pushes, and even propels me into challenging, and sometimes seemingly impossible, situations. Life feels increasingly demanding with the growth of my family, greater responsibilities at work, and the inevitable changes that come with an aging body.
But what is life without these challenges?
The challenges and responsibilities, despite their weight, inseparably underscore the incredible fact that I have someone else to care for, to provide for, and, perhaps most importantly, to love. What more could I possibly ask for in this mortal life?
I recognize that life can be cruelly hopeless, as evidenced by the many who struggle with depression and anxiety. It makes me feel both privileged and humbled to have cherished memories of the people I love weaving in and out of my life. I am fortunate to share this life with my wife and my son, who are among the many reasons to remain optimistic and hopeful.
In about a month, I’m expecting my second son, and I’m fully aware that this will introduce a whole new set of problems and challenges. I can’t help but look forward to the way they’ll turn my life upside down all over again :)