Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brace Face

Bar Mitzvahzilla got his braces back on two weeks ago. At this point in his orthodontic career, I truly can't even keep track of exactly what's been done to his mouth. I know he already wore them once because I have a school picture of him wearing them two years ago. And, of course, I remember writing a really big check to the orthodontist.

I also remember a mounted retainer and an arch expander. I remember waiting for his molars to fall out. And I remember vague threats from the dental hygenist about how if he didn't improve his brushing, his gums were soon going to cover his teeth and there'd be no teeth left to put braces on.

After that, it was all a blur.

So he got upper-only braces this time and you would think that they had amputated a limb. Moaning and wailing, he couldn't eat. He was gumming his food, moaning, wailing, bringing home his lunch box full, and he's fourteen - the age of insatiable hunger.

I tend to be a little unsympathetic about orthodontia. After all, I spent a total of five years wired up, three as a kid and two as an adult. Part of that time was to fix the crooked chiclet teeth I'd been born with and to yank down the fangs that were growing in the middle of my head. I was happy to wear the braces then, happy to know that soon I'd look like a regular human being instead of like I might end up on display in a circus.

The second time was part of treatment for jaw surgery I had at age twenty-nine. It was especially fun to wear braces right then since it coincided with my divorce. I was easily the only woman in Jewish Singles in 1989 wearing braces like a twelve-year-old.

This inability of Bar Mitzvahzilla to cheerfully withstand discomfort bothers me a little. I can't talk him out of it by relating mine and others' many acts of courage in the face of debilitating medical problems. A teenager, he's sure he knows everything in the world. Maybe in ten years? It worries me because even though I know he's nice and caring and a wonderful kid so far, there's this thing that whines inside of him, the plaintive wail, this thing that stops him from being able to measure his pain of braces against, say, the victims of the Earthquake in Haiti.

There's no real answer. I make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a while and glare at the contents of his lunchbox that keep returning day after day.  Then, when he finally gets used to it, I unzip the lunchbox one day and notice it is empty.

Do your children have the ability to handle pain or discomfort cheerfully or does the way they handle it ever make you worry about their inner character? Any orthodontic stories? Fangs? 


  1. I have fangs...we couldn't afford I have crooked teeth.
    Both my kids have my high pain tolerance.
    Although my youngest freaks at the sight of blood.
    Kids have no concept of the relativity of pain.
    It'S A tradgedy when they stub their toe.
    I wouldn't worry too much, it takes experience to develop empathy.

  2. My boys are still too young for me to tell; they're at the stage where reaction to injury has everything to do with how the others around them react. I learned quickly not to make a big deal with every bump or stumble.

    I wonder if there's a similar strategy for helping them deal with existential pain?

  3. "The plaintive wail." Too good.

    This was poignant and funny at the same time. My two boys had very different responses to different types of pain - different fear before, different "during," and both have grown out of them. It took awhile. I suspect that in another two years, you'll find the same is true.

    Kristen raises a good point about other sorts of pain. Emotional pain. It's far more difficult, and knowing how to comfort them through that remains an evolving journey. Even with older teens.

  4. Jesus, my girls howl and yammer about any little thing. DRAMA. All the time. In fact, yesterday Miss D. fell off her scooter, skinned up her knee and foot pretty good...okay, I expect tears but you'd think she'd been eviscerated, the way she howled. It's not freaking Braveheart! It's a skinned knee and foot, and yes there's blood but you aren't headed for the morgue.


    Obviously, I can relate.

    I can relate to braces, too. I got mine on 2 days before Thanksgiving in 7th grade. Luckily, mashed potatoes and gravy are my idea of an ideal dinner.

  5. I had fangs, too. And then after 3 years as a teenager, I am going to need to them again as an adult. I'll have to email you and get your thoughts on adult orthodontia.

    My daughter has horrid pain tolerance. A stubbed toe is the end of the world. It is enough to make me crazy! My son, on the other hand, has such high pain tolerance that he'll barely complain about an abscessed tooth for weeks before you happen to look and see how awful it is. My other kids are somewhere in between.

  6. Chris, the funny thing is that my son loves his fangs! Only a boy, of course. He's not thrilled that soon they'll be pulled down to be in allignment with the other teeth. And thanks for the words of solace.

  7. Kristen, I'm actually much better at helping them along with existential pain, philosophical pain, and all the ponderings that come with realizing we're mortal! I'll tell him that, though, next time. "Stop whining. I'm only offering comfort for existential pain today..."

  8. BLW, funny you should mention emotional pain. My son has only had unrequited love (in that, he's much like me at the same age) and so we're always having to deal with his emotional pain at not having feelings reciprocated. But eventually there will be an actual relationship and an actual breakup - the stuff of real emotional pain. Standing by.

  9. TKW - You are killing me! Eviscerated! I'll put your cry babies up against my cry baby and we'll have a cry-baby Olympics. I think mine could medal for sure.

    And, do you remember showing up with your braces that first day (mine was in 6th grade) and deciding you were never going to smile for the rest of the year? And then suddenly there you were, all flashing silver teeth?

  10. Charlotte, I swear with the kids I'm always staring at their invisible injuries while they're relating blood-curdling tales of how they occurred and there's NOTHING THERE! It's annoying. I need some evidence of injury to treat.

    Hey, about adult orthodontia, how about those new "invisilign" braces. Someone has it at my exercise class. It looks like a clear retainer and pushes your teeth back into position, probably perfect for someone who's worn braces before.

  11. I never had braces but I have teeth that need fixing. Oh well.

  12. Amber, with multi-kid households, I don't know how parents are supposed to do it. In my family I think 4 out of 7 had them! But, again, our mouths were gnarled...