“The real issue is compliance,” the orthodontist looked deep into my eyes for just a second before he quickly shifted to the charts on the table. Hold on a second, I started in the middle of the story. Let’s rewind.
It was time for our oldest to get braces. The dentist had examined his teeth and triumphantly stated his bite was nearly perfect. The gap in between the front teeth -- purely cosmetic; the fix would be fairly easy. I drove home in a state of euphoria, explaining to my entire brood about my overbite that took 12 years of intervention to fix. My fourth grade school picture was just one tragic documentation of the torture – I was actually wearing my headgear. (In hindsight, I wonder what the hell my mom or the photographer were thinking – would it have been so bad to take the socially crippling contraption off just for a few moments to get a nice school portrait?)
The kids marveled at the stories, horrified at the idea of the awkwardness of my headgear and the social stigma that went with it. But this was a new generation, new world: Jackson was going to have it easy. So we ended up in the crowded office, all of them in tow to experience a new cycle in our lives. Monthly vaccine visits to the pediatrician that dominated my previous decade were now to be replaced by the tightening and adjusting of teeth for the next.
The orthodontist immediately impressed us with how trendy he was – he kindly showed us multiple options to reduce his gap. Jackson was eyeing the clear brackets, I asked him which ones he wanted and he shyly pointed at them.
“The clear ones are more expensive right?” I asked the expert. He nodded.
“Yeah, you are so not having those,” I laughed, picking the standard silver brackets.
I caught the doctor suppressing a chuckle. “That’s kind of funny that he thought he had an option,” he smiled and I knew he was silently saying to himself, “nice to see a parent making that decision.” My first clue that this new generation, new world was very different from my own. (To reiterate, I wasn’t even allowed to take my headgear off for a picture, let alone chose my own type of braces…)
Then he hit me with the price. Wow. Multiply that by four and we could probably take down a small cattle farm in Argentina. “I thought you’d go easy on me,” I told him. “We were saving all our cash for Teddy, the thumb sucker.” Immediately all eyes turned to my third (who broke out into a nervous smile, revealing a ridiculous over bite.)
“My man,” the orthodontist tried to sound calm, “let’s get you into the chair and have a look at these chompers.”
With that Jackson’s basic charts were taken off the screen and up popped the picture of…a neck gear.
Oh man. New generation, same mechanism for buck teeth. All the euphoria drained from my body as I knew my future involved multiple phases to fix Teddy’s teeth. He immediately burst into tears, as the others looked on sympathetically. Now, I was really kicking myself, why had I been so over the top about the horror of it all? I never should have gone there….
“It is all about compliance,” the orthodontist told me. “If he can wear this at night, we can be successful – IF he complies.”
If, did he say? Although I was in shock at the dramatic turn of events, I hadn’t lost my mind. Trust me, I have an if: IF I’m going to pay thousands of dollars, there would be no IFS. This child WILL wear his neck gear, daytime too IF he's told. When I double-checked the diagnosis with our amazing dentist, the same word came up: compliance.
Then something clicked: As much as we have evolved, there was something to be said for the grin-and-bear-it generation that I grew up in. 12 years wearing a torture contraption actually taught me about grit, perseverance and results (I have really nice teeth.) Today, the question is whether we even make the hard choice as parents, forcing our kids to comply, which would then result in some real tools for life.
“It is a new era of -- not helicopter parents -- but snow plowers,” a friend told me as I explained the difference of 20 years. “Parents want to smooth the way, and there are a lot of unintended consequences for doing that.”
Not on my watch, I told myself as we sat in that orthodontist’s office. Biting my lip, and looking squarely into my child’s tearing eyes, I told him this was something he was going to have to do, just like I had. He smiled warily in our solidarity and hopped off the examine chair as his siblings snickered and teased. Olivia proclaimed she had perfect teeth (we’ll see) and Jackson threatened to tell Teddy’s whole class about the neck gear if “he didn’t pay up.” And I had to swallow my need to make it all right. Because it just was not going to be for a while.
But you know, that son, with the perfect bite, was three days away from braces when a lacrosse stick managed to hit his beautiful (but very exposed) front tooth, shattering it in half. As he cried, blood spurting everywhere, I realized we never get off easy. We constantly have to prepare for the neck gear, and the unexpected, armed with resilience and grit. Yeah, I think I’ll comply.