Thursday, October 25, 2012

Braces, Braces, Everyone?

My oldest son got his braces off this month. This would be a financial coup, except for the fact that his little sister got hers on last month. Alas, are we destined to give all our savings to the orthodontist? Which begs the question, what about Kid #3? Today in my inbox I discovered a friendly reminder e-mail that he is due for an evaluation. Am I a bad parent if I ignore that e-mail?  

Son #3’s teeth are straight and even, with a few gaps (room to grow). He has a much bigger mouth than his siblings (not just physically). Seems to me if you’re bent on spending money you could find a reason to put braces on every kid alive. Probably most adults too. At one point does it become a luxury? These are thousands of dollars that could be spent on college education or a trip abroad. How critical are straight teeth? 

Son #1 has retainers now. Well, sometimes he does. Already I find them abandoned next to his breakfast dishes after he’s already on his way to school. He’s begun this incredibly annoying habit of removing his bottom retain with his tongue and then playing with it in his mouth like a gobstopper. When he does these things I emit a shriek characteristic of a cartoon mom and begin making threats like, “You’re going to pay for the next set of braces!” To which he replies, “I never asked for braces.” Which is a good point. He didn’t. 

In fact, his teeth weren’t so bad to begin with. Just a slight misalignment, nothing anyone would really point out. But he is our first born and you know how that works. Nothing is too good. How could we not want him to have perfect teeth? So on went the braces.  

The girl-child has had teeth issues from the get-go. Initially she didn’t get her first tooth until eleven months, prompting us to worry that she didn’t have any. When they did come in, it was in layers. Too many teeth for too small a space. It didn’t help that she held on to her baby teeth way past their expiration dates, necessitating six of them to be removed by the oral surgeon. She had an expander at age 8, a “Lip Bumper” at 9, and then the series of teeth extractions culminating in this past summer’s extraction of four permanent teeth. And still there is a stray tooth hanging around above her front teeth poking out of her gums looking for a place to land. Braces were never a question with this child. 

And now we come to child #3 and I ask you, are we obligated to put braces on this one? I keep looking at that e-mail in my inbox. It is my habit to leave messages in the inbox until I deal with them. I like a tidy inbox, so most don’t hang around long. I have a feeling this one might still be here by next summer.  

My concern isn’t just about the expense, well, okay, it’s mostly about the expense. But it’s also about the point. I had braces when I was a teenager. I mostly followed the directions. Somewhere in my college years I lost my retainers and we never spoke of it again. And now my bottom teeth are crooked as a witch’s nose. It’s as if there were never braces to begin with. 

My orthodontist didn’t take the lovely before and after pictures that we received in the mail this week substantiating the initial reason for the braces and the unarguable results. I don’t really know how crooked my teeth were before braces. Everyone I knew had braces, both my brothers, most of my friends. It’s what you did to make middle school even more awkward. And if you were really lucky, you got to sport your tinsel mouth halfway through high school.  

So, for the time being, I’m consciously ignoring the reminder e-mail and having an internal debate. My husband, having been the third child, always says, “the last one thrives on neglect.” It’s tough to be the third in some ways, but in other ways it’s quite the boon. My youngest stays up later, watches more TV, has more computer time, and gets way more privileges than his siblings did when they were his age. On the flip side, there is less video footage, fewer mementos of his childhood saved, and he’s known who Santa really is since he was eight. Even the tooth fairy quit early for him.  

In the end, I will probably roll the dice and take him for the appointment. I don’t want to worry that someday when his teeth are pointing in all directions but down, he asks “How come you never got me braces?” But maybe I’ll be able to say, “We took you to Europe instead.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Unclear and Present Dangers

This past summer I attended a writing conference with my oldest son. He writes as much and probably better than I do, so it was exciting to attend together. He still enjoys my company, although I know there are moments when he wonders how we could be related.  

This particular conference was held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were staying with a dear friend who lives in Victor, Idaho, just over the mountain pass from Jackson. Every morning I drove her Ford Expedition over the pass to attend the conference. Early in the evening before dark (the sun sets late in Idaho summers) we drove back to Idaho. 

The pass between Victor and Jackson is a road familiar to me. It is beautiful, steep, and offers a phenomenal view of the Jackson Valley from the top. The Grand Tetons are to your left as you come down in to Jackson and they are breathtaking, as is driving over the pass in general. I have been visiting this friend for 15 years and in that time I have never managed to ride over the pass without some moments of absolute fear. In recent years guard rails were added, which eased some of my fears, but my friend and her husband love to recount the stories of vehicles plunging over the edge of the pass. At one particularly sharp turn which has boulders instead of a guard rail, a potato truck crashed through the boulders and fell to the bottom, scattering potatoes for as far as the eye could see. “Did the driver live?” I asked hopefully. They chuckle and say, “Nope.” 

The runaway truck ramps offer no comfort and neither do my friend’s words when she says, “You’ll be alright. Just don’t use your brakes too much, otherwise you won’t have any left when you get to the bottom.” Easy for her to say. Her other words of advice directed me to not look in my rear view mirror because people tend to tailgate on the pass and it’s unnerving. 

The first morning I confidently climbed up the pass, resolved not to let any late-for-work locals intimidate me in to driving anywhere near the speed limit (50?!!). I pulled in to all the scenic vista spots to let my followers pass. When I reached the top, I flipped the rear view mirror up so I wouldn’t be tempted to watch the cars stack up behind me. There was no need for this since my son delighted in giving me regular updates, “Wow, there’s seven cars behind us now!”   

Each day’s travel became an adventure that we shared together. Instead of keeping his nose in a book, as is his custom, he monitored my progress commenting on how it wasn’t taking as long as it did the first day or laughing with me when we encountered an RV dragging an Expedition of its own and pondered asking for a lift.  

On the last trip back over the mountains, it was dark. We’d meant to leave earlier, but couldn’t drag ourselves away from wonderful new writer friends we’d met. One nice consequence of driving home so late was that there were very few cars on the pass. Still, we led a parade of about four vehicles as we descended into Idaho. I crept slowly around one of the first turns on the far side of the mountain and the truck groaned its way in low gear. Suddenly, we came upon a moose lumbering across the highway in front of us. Actually we came upon a moose’s legs. Moose are much taller up close, built upright like a giraffe. My headlights only illuminated his lower half. I was able to stop and we both held our breath as we waited to see if the cars behind us would find their brakes. 

Not our moose, but we did get a glimpse of this guy while rafting.
The moose halted his progression across the highway, his regal head just five feet in front of the truck’s hood, and regarded us. A moment later we could see headlights making their way up the pass towards us in the opposite lane. I frantically flashed my lights to get their attention and thankfully, the oncoming car also stopped. The moose was still undecided as to whether to continue across in front of me or go back the way he came. He didn’t seem panicked the way a deer would be – flitting back and forth blindly. He stood his ground, watching us expectantly, and when we didn’t move, he slowly turned and ambled back over the guard rail as if his huge feet were clod in snow boots.
We continued our drive down the mountain, only now the cars behind us kept a respectable distance. Arriving safely back at our lodging, we told our hosts of our adventure with the moose and how we had stopped and waited for him. We felt like old pros now, commuting over the mountain like locals. My friend poured me a glass of wine and commented, “Good thing that moose didn’t charge you. That would have really messed up the truck.” What? Who knew? Moose’s charge?  

Brady and I, the last day for the conference
in front of the giant metal Charlie Brown shirt.
(the conference was held at the Jackson Center
for the Arts)
Our moose adventure kind of sums up my efforts to keep my children safe these days. I am careful and attentive to the dangers I know, but there are so many I don’t know about. My kids are moving in a world quite different from the one I grew up in. I do all that I can, but in the end I must trust that they are smart people who will make smart choices. If I’ve done my job well, they won’t need me so much. They’ll sort it out, whether it’s a conflict with a friend, a decision about alcohol, or an encounter with a moose.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fabric Memories

People talk about how a song or a smell can bring back memories, but for me it’s clothes. There are certain t-shirts, dresses, even socks that transport me to days gone by, some of them special, but many of them the simple ordinary moments of childhood. The watermelon dress that my daughter wore incessantly was a soft red-checked poplin sleeveless number with a big watermelon framing her face. She wore that dress to preschool, church, play dates, even to ride her pony. And the Tigger sweatshirt that my oldest adored, forever captured in a photo at Disney World. The look on his face when he met Tigger reflected the enormity of the moment and reminds me of how magnificent his imagination always was and is. My youngest has filled my storage bins with sports t-shirts. His first year as a Phillie in T-ball ignited his love for baseball (and the Phillies). Or the England jersey stained with blueberry syrup from the year his soccer team went to the championship game under the lights.  

Baby clothes make me especially emotional. I remember the sweet faces capped by the tiny hats I’ve saved. The funny onesies that made everyone laugh at my baby showers – “Don’t call me cute, I wanna be smart!”. Gift clothing is a double bonus of gratitude – the giver and the wearer. The tiny crocheted booties a friend brought my daughter back from Ireland still sit on my dresser. I could never part with the gorgeous baptismal outfit chosen when an older and wiser friend took me on my first outing with my newborn baby, patiently waiting while I loaded every possible necessity in to my diaper bag and calming my worries about feeding him in public. Even the flannel receiving blanket that swaddled my babes in the hospital nursery, the one with the blue and pink line, the same given to every other child born in that hospital, makes me sigh.  

These days my children are still cute, but not quite so cuddly, yet I still hoard their special clothes. The t-shirt my daughter made that says, “You Laugh At Me Because I’m Different, I Laugh At You Because You’re All The Same“ captures a moment that must be saved to pull out when her own daughter is challenging her sanity. The purple tie worn to the first Homecoming dance recalls my teenage son’s awkward confidence. The faded T-shirt that proclaims, “My Uncle Flies Airplanes at Seymour Johnson AFB,” reminds me of the bond my youngest has with his uncle and makes me proud. These are the fabrics that embody the moments that have shaped who they are becoming. These get stashed in my “Keepsake Clothes” bin (actually three bins now).  

I have a friend who makes memory quilts as a side business. She is a master at sorting through a pile of old clothes and creating a sacred and treasured family heirloom. Some day I will enlist her skills to create my own quilt of memories. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cull the herd down to the material for one quilt. It may require several. Maybe one will be from when they were babies and I’ll wrap myself in it when I am missing them. Another can be comprised of their teenage years and when I’m doubting my own abilities to overcome obstacles, I’ll draw comfort from those memories. And one will be comprised of clothes that tell a story. Someday I can curl up with a grandchild and tell her about the “cow jammies” that her mother insisted on wearing every night, stubborn as she was. Or maybe I’ll just wrap myself up in the memories, knowing that the fabric of this quilt was worn soft by the lives of my babies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Daily Grind

There are times when I wonder if today will be the day that my life changes. It seems as if the last few thousand days have been preparation for something. Most days I move through the matter of caring for three children and too many animals on autopilot, doing what needs to be done. I pick up the stray laundry, the cheerios hiding in the kitchen corner, the twisty-tie the vacuum spit back out. I do this because there is no one else. It’s not that there is no one else capable of doing the things I do, certainly there are plenty of bodies and minds in this household who know they can do anything better than I. No, it is simply that there is no one else who will do it. The raisin smashed on the floor under the chair, the dog toy lodged between the mission table and the wall, the toilet paper roll spinning empty on the hanger, these things are not visible to the average resident of this household. They do not matter. 

And yet they do. 

Without a keeper of the mess, the chaos would suck us all under. Our collective disorder would make us grumpy, accusatory, overwhelmed. Or maybe that’s only my overly inflated need to justify my days. All I know is that when everything is in order, those rare moments that last only until 3:24pm when my freshly educated spawn blast back through the door, those are moments of contentment. But it is a hollow and lonely satisfaction, remarked on by no one, not even the cat. We sit together silently, me with my tea, and her with her superiority. I feel calm. 

And then the chaos ensues and there are papers to sign, stories to listen to, arguments to settle, and emotions to sidestep. Dinner is prepared, animals are fed, dishes are done, children are deposited and retrieved from practice or lessons or meetings, clothes are pulled off the line and folded, phone calls returned, my day winds down. Every now and again, I pause. I wonder if this is really me. Wasn’t I meant for bigger things?  

There are days when it is all I can do to put one foot in front of another. The bus is missed, the team not made, the child not chosen and I fear I will run out of caring. But I don’t. Somehow the well grows deeper. I can’t ever be sick or take a risk without a cushion because too much depends on me. There is some comfort in dependence. It’s pretty thin. And I don’t do all this with expectations of the reward to come. I know that life is tenuous and all manner of ills can conspire against this little boat. If today is not reward enough, what is the point? 

We say our grace and I silently count my blessings. Oh, I know I am drowning in them. My life is good and full and so privileged. How dare I wish for more? I just keep doing what needs to be done. But secretly, my heart does wonder if that next phone call or e-mail will change everything. If I keep working, keep writing, keep spending my emotional energies on the people and tasks before me, if then, just maybe, something will come of it. 

The hours spent cleaning spaces and things that will be uncleaned momentarily cannot be returned. The emotion expended on children, who do not register or necessarily appreciate my worries, is spent. I do the work that no one else has time or desire to do. I keep doing what needs to be done to carry this life, and all the lives that depend on it, forward.  

On my quiet morning runs in near darkness, I have space to wonder. After I mentally sift through all my plans and worries for the day, I sometimes imagine a bigger life. A life of a famous author, a rich lottery winner, a sought after celebrity. But then I get back home and someone asks me to cut the crusts off his sandwiches and sign the homework planner and I realize that I am already one rich and lucky mama who is a sought after celebrity in her own world.