Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bye bye braces

When I was in my twenties, I used to write in cafes and coffee shops and pubs and parks: sometimes stateside, sometimes by the sea, sometimes in the capitals of Europe. Today I’m writing in the waiting room of a suburban orthodontic practice.

But perhaps for the last time. It’s a long appointment today because Tim is getting his braces removed, two years almost to the day after they were put on.

In general, I’m one of the few parents who does not remark on how rapidly my children’s childhoods have passed by. While other parents are prone to saying “How did it happen so fast!” and “Where did the years go?”, I tend to feel like the past fifteen years or so have happened pretty much in real time. I don’t think this suggests that I’ve enjoyed my kids’ childhoods any less than other parents have enjoyed theirs. I think it’s just that as an essayist, blogger and journal-keeper, I spend so much time examining the minutiae of everyday life that it sort of expands for me in a way it doesn’t for everyone. Very little goes unremarked upon; this somehow keeps it from hurrying past. Socrates may have said “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but he probably could not have known just how meticulously I would examine every aspect of my life and my children’s lives.

So I almost never say that babyhood or the toddler years or grade school has gone by quickly. But orthodontia seems to be an exception. I feel like it was just weeks ago that I was sitting here waiting for Tim to emerge from the examining room, new brackets and wires sparkling just like the tears welling in his eyes. This was a kid who couldn’t stand tags or buttons in his clothing; it hadn’t occurred to us that his sensory sensitivity would extend to his teeth, but he hated the bulkiness of the wires in his mouth for at least the first several days.

But that passed, and the braces became normal, and yet suddenly they’re gone again.

I’m not sure why this was the one milestone that seemed to come and go so quickly. Maybe because I thought it would all be a lot more work for me. Other than struggling to boost Tim’s spirits in those first few days, though, he didn’t need much from me. He figured out how to keep his teeth clean and what he could safely eat, and his appointments were straightforward twenty-minute events at eight-week intervals. It was a surprisingly simple process.

So as silly as it seems with eighth grade graduation, presumably a much more significant milestone, looming just five weeks away, this one feels big to me. For years before Tim got braces, we stressed about the affordability of it, but already it’s paid for and the braces are off. Tim walks out of the examining room beaming, and the change in his smile seems to accentuate all the other changes he’s gone through in twenty-four months’ time: now fourteen and a half, he’s about six inches taller, broader through the chest and shoulders, his voice deeper, his straight shiny hair gone curly.

It’s not quite enough to make me tearfully sentimental. That will probably come in five weeks’ time with graduation. But it’s one of many tangible changes he’ll undergo in the upcoming months and years. And I’m happy today to be here bearing witness.

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