Four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, I’m sitting in a Hepa-Filter clean office, spacing six feet apart, filled with brace-faced kids.All of them are sporting some type of appliance guaranteed to straighten teeth, improve your bite, and make your smile gorgeous. None of them are older than fifteen.
None of them, that is, except me. I am brace-free and pretty far removed from the girl I was at fifteen.
Actually, during my pre-teen years I was only one of a handful of classmates who wasn’t wearing the so despised heavy-metal braces. My teeth had come in nice and straight and cavity-free. They were the one thing about my adolescence appearance that I liked. Glasses I had, baby-fat, definitely, but my teeth? Perfect.
But twenty-five years of teeth grinding over work and life in general had taken their toll, creating spaces between my front teeth. So it was that I found myself in an orthodontist’s waiting room, surrounded by pre-teens and kid centered magazines.
“Are you Greg’s mother?”
I turn to the sound of the voice and I find that I’m face to face with a girl wearing a retainer that circles halfway out of her mouth and looks like a medieval torture device. She has on black nail polish and is sporting a short blonde haircut with a few strands dyed magenta. That I am able to understand what she is saying is a commendable feat on her part. I could never, I decide, even mumble coherently with that thing in my mouth.
“No, I’m not Greg’s mom, sorry,” I say with a smile and open a magazine that has a cover question in bold pink letters shouting, “Can You Be a Media Influencer? Real Answers from Real Teen Influencers!”
“So, are you Jen’s mother then?”
“No, I’m not Jen’s mother either,” I tell her returning to the stalker article
“Well, who are you waiting for then? Most of the kids here are from my school and I know everybody, and their moms, well sort of. But I don’t know you. Of course, I’ve never even seen Taylor’s mom. Are you sure you’re not Taylor’s mom?” Miss Magenta is on a roll here and not to be stopped by polite negations.
“I’m not waiting for anybody,” I say politely, “I’m here to see the orthodontist for myself. I’m getting braces today.”
She doesn’t say anything right away, just kind of sucks on that torture thing and picks at the polish on her thumb. Then, “Wow! That’s awesome! I mean, how mad years are you? Wow! Oops! My bad, I didn’t mean you were, you know, like ancient times or anything but, wow! That’s so mad cool!”
Uh-huh. Fortunately, I was a linguistics major and I can pretty much translate kid-speak.
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I guess it is pretty weird getting braces when you’re older.”
“You’re almost as old as my mother and she’s already forty! Mad cool!”
She is only about twelve, I tell myself. To her, twenty is old, so don’t take it seriously.
“My name is Schuyler. I’m almost thirteen. Wow, and you’re what? I mean my mom is twenty-eight years older than me. Are you?”
I nod and smile and tell her my name is Kristen. She may be a little short in the manners department but she’s a child who doesn’t need a calculator to do simple math. That alone is impressive. Yay!
“So—why, Kristen?” Persistent little thing.
I’ve read the same paragraph on becoming a media influencer three times.
“Why do you want braces now? I mean, how come you didn’t get braces when you were a kid? Didn’t they have them back in the day?”
I sigh, put down the magazine, and tell her nicely that, yes they did have them ‘back in the day’ but that I just didn’t need braces when I was her age.
“So—how come you want them now, then?”
“My teeth spaced out. See? As I got older I began to grind them at night and that made them space out.” I demonstrate so she’ll understand.
“Oh, okay. So this is an age thing. Got it. When you get old and stuff, right?
I wince. Oh, boy! “I guess you could say it’s something like that,” I say a bit testily. “I mean, I’ve been grinding my teeth for a long time so, I guess it has to do with getting a bit older.
“Yeah,” she continues, “my grandmother had to have her teeth pulled out and then they planted new ones so she won’t look weird, you know so her mouth won’t cave in like this.” She sucks her lips in over her teeth. “But because of the plants, now she can eat anything she wants, even those candy apples which I think are gross.”
“You mean im-plants,” I correct, “not planted, your grandmother got implants.”
“Yeah, whatever. Except me and my brother still think she looks weird ‘cause
they’re too shiny. But, me, I would never say that to her. My brother might, though, he’s only nine. He says the planted teeth look like tinsel and—”
A dental assistant saves me from further comments about ‘planted’ teeth and a little brother’s big mouth. She takes my inquisitive new friend into the back to have that torture thing in her mouth adjusted.
I pick up the magazine, leaf through the stalker article, and then hear my name called, asking me to come to the front desk.
“Ms. Houghton? This is the estimate for the procedure and appliance. We just need you to fill in the insurance form. Okay?”
As I’m filling in the form, I comment about how it feels a little strange to be getting my first set of braces at my age.
“Oh, no, really, we have a lot of adult patients come in all the time. We even have a few who are in their sixties. It’s not a big deal any more, people just want to have nice smiles and look good. Actually, I think it’s a new type of status symbol for people our age. It’s almost like being a celebrity,” the receptionist replies.
I remark that I’m the only adult here today. Where are my fellow celebrities?
“Oh, well, you requested an appointment early in the day. Most of our older patients come in after six at night.”
A woman with short blonde hair comes in and the resemblance is unmistakable. This is Schuyler’s mom. She asks when her daughter will be ready, and just before she sits down to wait, a whirlwind comes flying across the room.
“Mom!! You got here just in time. I only just got done!” Pointing to me she says, “This is my friend, Kristen and she’s not Taylor’s mom. I thought she was, but she’s not. She getting braces! Isn’t that mad cool?”
Schuyler’s mother smiles at me in embarrassment and discreetly shushes her daughter.
“And Mom, I told her about Grams Melinda and her shiny new teeth and how now she can eat anything.”
A girl attached to an iPod comes in the door and Schuyler goes over to her. She pulls an ear bud out of her friend’s ear and whispers to her. The girl looks at me and mouths, “Wow!!” Schuyler nods her head and smiles at me.
“Schuyler? Daddy’s waiting in the car. We have to leave.”
“Okay, Mom! Just a sec.”
My magenta haired friend brings her girlfriend over to introduce us.
“This is Brittany.” Brittany just stares and says, “Hi” in an awed voice.
Schuyler gets close to me and says in a stage whisper,
“Listen, about the braces? Two things. One, don’t chew bubble gum, even the kind that doesn’t stick, ‘cause, believe me it really does get stuck. And two, well maybe you won’t have this problem, but, about kissing? If you kiss a guy with braces, just make sure you don’t get locked together. My fifteen-year-old cousin Justine did that with her boyfriend and, boy, they had a heckuva time getting loose. Mad crazy!”
“Schuyler? Let’s go honey.”
“Okay, Mom!” She looks at me and says, “Wow! Maybe I’ll see you next month! I’m going to bring Taylor! Anyway, good luck! At least you don’t need to have your teeth planted ‘Bye!”
I get up to and walk to the receptionist. I make sure that my next appointment is 6:30 at night. After meeting Schuyler, being with adult brace-faces sounds really good to me right now.
When I leave, a thought hits me—I wonder if they change the magazines to more adult fare after six o’clock. I hope so.
© 2021 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved