Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brace Myself

"At fourteen you don't need sickness or death for tragedy." Jessamyn West

"The troubles of adolescence eventually all go away - it's just like a really long, bad cold." Dawn Ruelas

A good chunk of today was spent with my family undergoing a marathon block of dentist appointments. While my husband and daughter were spending a rainy morning at her soccer game, my son and I, along with my son's friend (who had to be dragged along with us, since his mother didn’t get him at the agreed upon hour), walked briskly in the drizzle to make it to the dentist on time. When we were done, my husband and daughter joined us to take their turns.

I saw the hygienist first, so my son could spend time with his friend (But I really wanted to get it over with). Enduring the cleaning was easier with the barrage of corny jokes I was subjected to:

“What has cities, but no buildings; forests, but no trees; rivers, but no

waters? A map.”

I was admonished for being a Social Studies teacher and not knowing


“What was the pirate’s wife’s name and nickname? Eileen and Peg.”

Get it? I lean? I missed that one, but I got Peg.

"What's a pirate's favorite element? Arginine."

Do pirates even have favorite elements?

“What was the snake’s favorite subject in school? Hissssstory.”

Of course.

All of this fun reminded me of when I used to visit my orthodontist. My initials were TB, for Theresa Brown, and every time, Dr. Schwartz would say, “TB, or not TB: that is the question.” Who knew that you could learn about geography, pirates, science, history, and Shakespeare from the people who take care of your teeth?

I was happy to know that I had no new cavities, which wasn’t unusual, since I'd inherited my maternal grandmother’s strong enamel. But I also inherited my father’s small mouth; making x-rays an ordeal because the plates dig into the roof of my mouth. Three years up again already? At my previous dentist’s office, my appointment occurred the dental hygienist’s first day, ever. He took an inordinate amount of x-rays, all which came out blurry, so the dentist had to do each one over again. Double the discomfort and extra exposure to radiation? Win and win.

A small mouth is also a curse for tooth spacing. When my eleven-year-old son finished his appointment, I heard the phrase I’ve been long-expecting, “It’s time for you son to get braces.” Both of my children inherited my small mouth, with their baby teeth tightly packed together, so I knew it was only a matter of time before they'd lost enough teeth to get braces. I’m just hoping they inherited my strong enamel, since I have few cavities. I planned to make the orthodontist appointment as soon as possible, so my son would have them on and off as soon as possible. I'm hoping his teeth are straightened by the time he's really interested in girls, so it will be one less thing for him to be self-conscious about.

My braces were installed when I was thirteen-years-old, which I don’t recommend. Somehow, my sister got her braces at age ten, and they were removed at age thirteen. Wearing braces from ages thirteen to sixteen is not an ideal time, since I was already going through an awkward phase that had begun when my adult teeth came in, gigantic for my small head. Add frizzy hair (before mousse, good styling gel, and flatirons), being skinny as a stick, and… you get the picture. The consequences of those horrible three years lasted many years beyond. No matter how much we grow into our new bodies and figure out how to put forward our best selves, inside of us lurks our gawky teenage selves.

When I write teenage characters, I always make them attractive. Whatever their problems, it’s never their appearance. I’ve delved the depths of many personal painful experiences for inspiration, but never my superficial flaws. Maybe one of these days, I’ll explore those ungainly years, if I dare.


  1. I find it odd how people fret over their braces. I can understand like headgear but the actual braces themselves? You look around and half the people in your school have them. I've already had them for a year (and am going to for another, stupid gaps) and have had no problems.

    But then, my mother told me I look cuter with braces. Is that a compliment you think?

  2. Brooke, I commented this morning, but blogger was down. It's finally back up for me!

    When I was young, I don't remember many people having braces. But I think it was just the age - everything made me feel ugly.

    I think it is s a compliment. The braces probably make you look younger.