How Young Is Too Young for the Orthodontist?

Graduating from high school in the late 90s meant that I came of age during the era of grunge and Friends. It also meant that, come senior portrait time, I was sporting The Rachel. This was not because it was flattering to my face shape, but because every hair dresser on the planet gave it to you whether you asked for it or not. It also meant that I was “too cool” to wear makeup. As if these two factors alone didn’t guarantee an unfortunate senior portrait, the fact that I had braces sealed the deal. Yes, I visited the orthodontist at the age of 17. In the 90s, visiting the orthodontist into your teenage years was pretty typical. This is a fate my children may never know. After my 7-year-old daughter’s most recent visit to the orthodontist, I’m not sure this is a good thing.

90s Senior Portrait
This is a picture taken of my senior yearbook page. Because my mom didn’t have a copy of this picture in her home. Enough said.

Six months ago, when our family dentist told us that he was going to refer my then 6-year-old daughter to an orthodontist, I thought that maybe there was a nitrous tank leaking in his office. After asking around the schoolyard, I discovered that this is now common practice. Apparently, orthodontists can create a picture perfect smile that will last your child a lifetime, even when your kid is still rocking baby teeth. Well, they at least want to can start the process. I had my doubts, but since I cannot say no to anyone, I made an appointment with the orthodontist. You know, because who knows what that nitrous sniffing dentist would think of me otherwise.

Our first trip to the orthodontist was tons of fun – if your idea of fun involves laying on a dental chair with a frantic child writhing on top of you. My daughter, who has typically done well at the dentist, was terrified of the orthodontist. I’d like to think she was shown a copy of our bill and was protesting in outrage, but I kind of just think she enjoys inflicting physical and emotional pain upon her mother. My daughter would only agree to open her mouth for the orthodontist if she was on my lap. Have you ever sat in a dentist’s chair and hugged a child at the same time? The strain on your neck makes tipping your head back at a salon sink feel like a hot stone massage.

This practice continued for every visit. And those were just consults to look inside her mouth and get her “comfortable in the office.” At her latest appointment, she had to get impressions. She reacted as if we told her we’d be pulling all of her teeth and she’d be eating porridge and gruel the rest of her days. She sobbed hysterically as the hygienist, orthodontist, and I all tried to reassure her that nothing would hurt. I laid there on the chair sweating, getting neck cramps, and wondering whether I’d plucked my chin hairs recently as the orthodontist’s light shined down on my exasperated face. I put my mom through some business when I was younger, but I guarantee she didn’t have to go through this when I got braces.

So why was I doing this? Does it really make a difference physically to get braces at age 7 instead of 12? Are fourth graders not allowed to have wonky teeth anymore? I get not wanting to have braces in high school (believe me, I do), but why isn’t middle school good enough? Aren’t our awkward years the ones when we learn to develop our character? I’d like to think that if I’d had straight teeth in high school that I’d have the personality of a wet blanket. Who needs to make jokes when you have a dazzling smile to win people over? Moreover, are these early trips to the orthodontist simultaneously causing my child emotional turmoil while also depriving her of her character building awkward years?

We were told my daughter needs an expander and braces now, and again in five years. This first go round will make the final one more efficient. In my meeting with the orthodontist, I should have been focusing on words like, “prevent having to pull teeth” or “super easy process at 12.” Instead I was perseverating on the “key” I was supposed to use to stretch the expander on the roof of my daughter’s mouth each week. The mouth of my stubborn child who I imagined holing up in her room to wire her jaw shut in protest. Don’t believe me? You should have seen the jaw strength on this one at her last appointment. She even wrote me an unsolicited apology note that was discreetly left on my bed later that night.

kid apology note
Maybe if your kid can’t spell orthodontist (or picture), they’re too young for braces. PS: I never got that pecher.

This last trip to the orthodontist has made me question today’s new orthodontic practices. Are 7-year-old’s ready to maintain a mouthful of expensive orthodontics? If my kid freaks out over impressions, what is she going to do when she experiences mouth soreness after a tightening, or, worse yet, the sharp pain of a broken bracket? When I experienced these discomforts, I was old enough to appreciate the “no pain, no gain” mantra. I was willing to do whatever it took to attain the end product – a straight smile. My kid is going into second grade. In a world where  jack-o-lantern smiles are celebrated, she has zero interest in having straight teeth. Basically, there is no incentive for little ones to appreciate or care for their orthodontics. So why bother?

I made an appointment for my daughter to start this process – you didn’t expect me to say no in person, did you? But I am having second thoughts. Surely someone so young and terrified can wait just a few years? Perhaps we can all agree that she’s still got a few cute years left in the yearbook and her 7th grade class picture should be the most awkward. Never fear though, we’ll make sure her senior portrait is memorable for one thing and one thing only – a bad haircut.

WMDW: The Straws That Broke Mama’s Back

If your house is anything like mine, you can walk into any room and find a used juice box straw, or, worse yet, the wrapper of one. I have always found this mildly annoying, but after two full months of this, I am ready to blow a gasket every time I see one. I recently may or may not have threatened to take juice boxes away for two weeks if I saw any evidence of juice box consumption on the couch. Well, it seems I underestimated my dear daughters because they doubled down on Mama’s threats. They are now collecting the straws. Yes, they are collecting used juice box straws. Well played, girls.

They aren’t just collecting these straws whole. No, they are taking their straws and cutting them into filthy germ-filled pieces beads and storing them in an old lunch box. Their goal is to fill the lunch box and then turn these straws into necklaces. To think, I once thought their desire to collect Dixie cups was their rock bottom.

collected straws
That’s what a lunch box full of cut up straws looks like.

Maybe I should be focusing on their desire to reuse plastic. Perhaps I should hope that this leads to successful careers as modern artists focusing on repurposing common household items. Instead, I am living in constant fear that this lunchbox is going to spill or that I’ll one day be forced to wear a necklace covered in the residue of kid backwash.

straw collector
Why can’t she have this much pride in…literally anything?

Either way, Mama’s going to drink some wine and consider which is worse – the wrath of my children if I throw this crap out, or the pain of cleaning these out from every crevice in my home for the next few months.  

When Trump Blames “Many Sides” He Contradicts Vital Lessons We Teach Our Children

On Saturday, my husband and I sent our daughters outside to play as we watched the horrific images coming out of Charlottesville. We watched as men clad in swastikas, carrying weapons and torches, shouted hate throughout the streets of a typically lovely, tranquil college town. We watched as a car rammed into a crowd on a street usually filled with students and families out for a stroll or a bite to eat. We then watched, equally horrified, as our president placed the blame on many sides. I peered out the window at my daughters innocently playing in the backyard and was as grateful that they hadn’t heard these words as I was that they hadn’t seen the images of the protest.

Blaming many sides contradicts critical life lessons we teach our children. When we blame many sides, we equate the behavior of hate-filled groups who stand for the oppression of others to the behavior of those who are willing to risk their own safety to stand up against hate. When we give people a pass for standing alongside Nazis, but denounce those who stand up to them, we need to stop and think about what message this sends to the impressionable youth of our country.

Bullying prevention is taught in school across America. We teach our children what we know to be true, that bullies and victims are few and the majority of the participants are bystanders, those who witness bullying and do nothing to stop it. Most kids are bystanders out of fear of retaliation, or feelings of helplessness. While the mindset of a bystander is completely understandable and teachers are sympathetic to their feelings, we encourage them to act as upstanders. We implore our students to stand up for someone being bullied, assuring them that they will be protected. If we can expect an 8-year-old to be an upstander, then why aren’t we encouraging adults to do the same?

When our president condemns “many sides,” he condemns the upstander right along with the bully. President Trump is equating men marching through streets spewing hate to the men and women who filled the city center of their community to show that hate does not have a place there. On one hand there is a bully marching for the oppression of women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ communities, and on the other is the upstander sticking up for those who have been marginalized. By placing equal blame on upstanders, we are sending a message to our children to allow hate. We are teaching them apathy. We are telling our children to continue being bystanders, for otherwise they will be condemned along with the bully.  

strong kids

As parents, we have concern over who our children spend time with. We want to meet our children’s friends and their parents so that we may consider their values and character. We encourage our children to surround themselves with positive influences who will bring out the best in them. We are concerned over who our children align themselves with socially because we know that these people will not only have influence over them, but also determine how they are judged by their peers, their teachers, and people in their community.

If my child was continually hanging out with friends who openly used drugs, though assured me she was drug free, would I feel unconcerned? Of course not. Even if she stayed sober, she would be aligning herself with a group whose values did not stand with her own. School officials and future employers would have every right to question her judgement. If the police entered a room filled with drugs, she would find herself in trouble just by being present. We teach our children that they are a reflection of those around them. We must hold adults to the same standard.

When we refuse to condemn white nationalists for Saturday’s despicable riots because “other groups” were also marching, we give people a free pass to align themselves with hate while skirting blame. Forgive me if I have little sympathy for men who claim to have been marching simply to save an historic relic. You chose to knowingly march with leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. You chose to align yourselves with hatred and you should reap the consequences, whether that be public shame or a loss of your employment.

When our president makes vague remarks about placing blame on “many sides” and refuses to condemn hate groups, he is sending a clear message to our children. Waiting two days to condemn specific hate groups still sends the same message. My children were playing outside on Saturday, but many weren’t. Children and teens across the nation heard the words of the president and received a message which blatantly contradicts the lessons they have been taught by their parents and teachers. Today, they heard a politician backpedal after national outrage that spread across party lines. So what can we do?

We let them hear our outrage. We let them know that today’s words were a start, but not good enough. We teach our children that hate is unacceptable. We encourage our children to stand up against hate of all kinds. We teach them to make their friends based on who is kind and who brings out the best in them, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Whether they see a classmate being teased over her headscarf or the contents of his lunchbox, I will teach my daughters to be fierce friends who always choose to be the upstander.

I will teach with my words and I will show with my actions. If I want my daughters to be fierce, they need a mother who is too. So my daughters will see me feel anger over injustice. They will see me defend anyone being subjected to hate and oppression. They will see their mother align herself with people and groups that celebrate inclusion and love. For my daughters, there will only be one side, and that will be the side that fights hate. Always.