I hear you out there, Em. I can hear you singing the same refrain, “you’ll never go home, you’ll never go home, you’ll never, never, never….. you’ll never go home.” It’s a catchy tune, a little sad, but I try not to read anything into it. It’s just a song you like, with a repetitive tune. Eventually I go out and ask what you’re singing. You hesitate and say nothing at first. Then you tell me, “Central Park, it was a long time ago, you see Peter Pan.” And I know that you saw a production of Peter Pan many years ago in Central Park’s Marionette Theatre. I smile and tell you how much I love hearing you sing. You indulge me with a few refrains before snuggling back into the rocking chair and falling silent.
Today we are going to the orthodontist. He’s going to put braces on your back molars to expand your mouth. All those years of thumb-sucking have taken a toll on the curvature of your mouth. It sounds painful to me, but I’ve been assured it’s not. You cannot bite down with your front teeth any longer. There’s a permanent gap there, a thumb-sized gap, a space created from years of self soothing. People warned us over the years. People said you should make her stop doing that. People said, she’ll have serious problems, her teeth will be ruined, her mouth will become distorted and change shape. They were right. It did. But would it have been better to stop you from doing the one thing that made you feel calmer, the one thing that soothed you more than anything else, the one thing you could completely rely on? Would that have been better?
In another few hours we will go to the orthodontist and you will have bands put on your molars to begin the expansion. We’ve been preparing you for this for months. “Go to dentist. You’re going to get braces!” You’ve said for the past few weeks. We were given the option of having a metal “thumb guard” put into your mouth as well, but opted not to do that. The orthodontist made no comment upon hearing our decision, simply nodded his head and said, “I understand.” Maybe he does. We just couldn’t do that to you without knowing what harm it would do. You have only a few self soothing tricks up your sleeve and sucking your thumb is first in line. How could we take that from you? What would you substitute that with? Something better? Something worse?
We’re your parents. We’re suppose to know these things, right? Wrong. Being parents is a lot trickier than anyone ever mentioned. There was all the talk about pregnancy and labor, we went to the required classes teaching us how to regulate our breathing, but there were no parenting classes required, we didn’t need a license or a certificate, we didn’t even need a permit. Pretty quickly we learned that what’s best for one child, isn’t necessarily what’s best for another. That was a tough concept to fully take in. Thumb sucking? She’ll grow out of it. One day she won’t need to do that, some people said. We weighed the pros and cons. We took a chance. We didn’t stop you from soothing yourself, were we wrong? Who knows. And now today, off we go to the orthodontist. As bumps in the road go, this is a small one. I told the orthodontist, “we’re not going for perfection here.” He nodded as he peered into your mouth. “Right,” he said. “We’ll go with the expander and then braces. We’ll discuss as we go.
That sounded reasonable.
I can hear you in the other room. You’re not singing any longer. You’re doing a familiar monologue, “Not safe to hang on the pipe and not safe to go in the ledge. What happens when we go in the ledge? We might fall down. It’s not safe! We bump your head if you go in the ledge. We’re not going to take go in.” (You always say that last line in a sing songy way. As though it were part of a song.) “No not going to take go swimming. No. Go to the dentist. Get braces. Yeah, going to go get braces then Emma gotta have to go. Yeah, Emma gotta have to go on the airplane.”
Those are your words, Em. That’s what you said this morning just now. Is this the verbal equivalent of sucking your thumb? Is this how you’re trying to work through fear, uncertainty? Are you scared? I realize I don’t know the answer to this. I’ve learned that when I don’t know how you feel or what you think about something to ask you. So I ask you, “Hey Em are you scared to go to the dentist?” “Neeyah,” you say, shaking your head no and laughing. “You get to put on braces!” you say. “Are you happy you get to have braces?” I ask. You nod your head up and down. “Yeah! Put on braces, then come home work with Pascal!” “Yeah, Em. That’s right. We have a Skype call with Pascal this afternoon. Are you looking forward to that?”
“Yeah!” You say nodding your head emphatically.
So who’s fearful? Not you. You’re singing now. To MJ. You love dancing and singing with abandon and that’s what you’re doing now as I type this. As I try to work through the decisions we made that led up to this moment. This moment… a moment when you are laughing, singing and dancing in the other room with the music blaring. Here, let me hit “publish” so I can join you.