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Monday, May 14, 2012


Today I had to go to the dentist. Again. To have more cavities filled. I have a deep phobia about the dentistry profession, which relates back to my childhood as a missionary kid in Africa. I have really bad memories of dentist experiences, growing up. There was the time that I was probably about 8 years old and had a cavity. Our family wouldn't be going back to America for at least another year, so I had to get my cavity fixed in Africa. We went to the African dentist up north. He wouldn't let my dad stay in the room with me while I had my cavity filled. The dentist spoke to me, but he was speaking half French, half twisted English, and I couldn't understood what he said. So I just shook my head. The filling was torture. My dad was finally let back in to see me. The dentist laughed and told my dad I was so brave, because he had asked me if I wanted Novocaine and I had said no! I hadn't understood what the dentist had asked, so had accidentally said I didn't want my mouth numbed! Not a good memory. So now, as a grownup, I would rather do anything than go to the dentist, although my dentist happens to be a lovely person. But he's still a dentist. So I did survive, but I write this with a tongue that feels 5 sizes too big for my mouth and a jaw that is totally numb. I know this is all part of the dentist experience, but I really hate it. It's so unnatural and creepy. I found out several things tonight. First of all, I apparently have strange mandible anatomy, according to my lovely dentist.  Because of this odd jaw issue, the first shot of Novocaine didn't take, and was very painful. The second shot was more painful and did take. Thank God. 

The second thing I learned tonight was the reason I have such bad teeth with recurring cavities is not because of bad hygiene, but instead because I grew up in the Central African Republic, in West Africa, basically in the bush, with no flouride in the drinking water. AH HA! That was a BIG 'ah ha moment'. Apparently the Novocaine has affected my brain, because I'm very excited that I have found the root (no pun intended) cause of my bad teeth, because I brush and floss and rinse and gargle religiously. So the fact that I have bad teeth is very irritating because I work so hard to keep them healthy. Now I know I can at least partially blame my crazy teeth on my African childhood!

My childhood in Africa has affected my grownup health in some other interesting ways that I never would have thought of. Or at least some questions about my health have been raised by the fact that I grew up in Africa. Take my obscene amount of allergies, for instance. I just found out this year that I am allergic to basically every living thing, including some fruits and veggies and many animals. My kids joke that I'm allergic to everything on Earth except for them. So are my allergies due to the fact that I grew up around a totally different set of wildlife? I always joke that I grew up about three blocks from the equator. As a child I wasn't exposed to the trees and flowers and foods that we have here in the U.S., so maybe that is why I sneeze every time I breathe the air here. Who knows.

Over the past couple years I've also realized my hearing is not good. I finally got it checked out because it's so aggravating to hear that someone is talking to me but not be able to understand the words they are saying. I have pretty significant hearing loss, in fact I could be labeled hearing impaired when I don't have my hearing aids in. I did a lot of research on hearing loss, because it seems so strange to me that someone on the young side and in good health would just have random hearing loss. It's not really a genetic thing in our family, and to make it even more of a conundrum, my best friend- who is Danish and grew up with me in Africa- also has hearing loss! I finally dug up that hearing loss may be related to taking antimalarial medicine. We took antimalarial meds my entire 13 years in Africa! So you never know, maybe this had something to do with my hearing loss.

Alex teases me because I say everything in my life relates back to Africa. And he also reminds me that I have sensory issues much like my kids. This is true. When you grow up in the bush of Africa, you don't have a whole lot of choices about the things that people in developed countries sometimes take for granted. I am constantly overwhelmed by stores that have too many choices, too much stimuli, too much noise. I get a migraine as soon as I enter a fabric store, an electronics store, a grocery store...ok, pretty much any store I guess. The sounds and sights and smells just overwhelm me, even though I've lived in America for longer than I was a missionary kid. In Africa, you don't have three-hundred-and-seven choices of shampoo. You have one choice. It smells like apples and is a pretty green. You don't have forty-two choices of syrup flavors. Alex teases me mercilessly because I eat my pancakes with Karo Light Syrup. He says it's for cooking, not eating on pancakes!! Whatever. When you're a missionary kid you feel lucky to get any syrup! Growing up, we didn't have electricity except for a short period every evening. The mission had a generator that one of the missionaries turned on at 6pm and then turned off at 10pm. Alex says it's funny that I hate the humid heat of an Illinois summer, but it's because now I have the choice of air conditioning, something we never had growing up. Now I can say forget this heat! I'm going in to my cold house! Take that, Mother Nature! I've realized that many people take so much for granted in developed countries. Growing up an MPK (missionary pastor's kid) has made me appreciate many many things about life. So many luxuries we have in this country, so many opportunities, so many choices we can make, so much life is available for us to live. It's incredible!

I have the ultimate trump card as a parent- my African Childhood. Whenever my kids complain that there's nothing on TV, I can say oh yeah? Try growing up with NO TV! My privileged American children gasp with horror. When they say there's nothing to eat in our pantry, I can say oh yeah? How far away is our grocery store? About 6 minutes. Do you know how far we had to travel to the nearest grocery store in Africa? A whole DAY of driving!! My well-fed children exclaim in disbelief. When my boys forget to flush the toilet, I can say oh yeah? Try squatting over a hole, outside in the sweltering heat with flies swarming at your tushy and trying to aim your poo into that dark, stinky hole, like African children often have to! My forgetful boys run back to flush the toilet. When my children complain that they are thirsty, I can say oh yeah? How far away is our faucet, with safe, cold water? African kids don't have safe, cold water flowing from their faucets like we do. My sweet children frown with the pain of knowing that some kids in the world don't have everything they do. We live in such an amazing culture. Every step of my day is filled with privilege and luxury, compared with the people who filled my life growing up. It's hard to get used to the amount of choices and products and privileges that fill this society when, as a child, you lived in a world that satisfied all your needs but did so without excess. 

I love pondering how my childhood has made me who I am today, and the examples are endless. I was a psych major for a reason, I guess. I love the threads that tie life together, past to present, loved ones to strangers, shampoo to syrup. I love finding meaning in who I am today because of who I was growing up. I wonder who my children will become as they grow, because of the childhood Alex and I are giving them. Everything ties together, and what I had the opportunity to experience as a kid in Africa has made me who I am today. No matter how much my dear husband teases me about how "everything relates back to Africa."

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