Pictured left is my blue-eyed first born, my “trainer baby” (the one on whom I’d practice motherhood). I witnessed with awe and excitement every nuance of this kid’s growth, including the cutting of the first tooth. From the first one at 6 months to the many more that followed, those baby teeth erupted out of her sweet baby gums in neat rows of shiny white. Her smile was perfect. She was in first grade when she lost the first baby tooth. More followed suit, and as she grew, that little smile kept changing. Teeth came loose one by one, making room for new ones.
But the new teeth missed a signal somewhere along the way. They didn’t come in neat and tidy like the baby ones had. The incisors came in at angles, and the canines came in terribly confused, poking through the tops of her gums a good tooth-length above the rest, like guests who show up too early for the party.
So we altered them — by force. With metal brackets and wires and rubber bands, we re-trained those teeth to line up in straight rows. And for two years, she got canker sores where the braces rubbed against her mouth. Her teeth were often sore from being pulled out of their preferred position. She couldn’t chew gum or eat super crunchy chips or carrot sticks. And after much coaxing and cajoling, the teeth in her mouth slowly angled in the directions the orthodontist took them.
The braces came off, and my blue-eyed first born started smiling — with her mouth open. We were told, however, that after all that straightening, her teeth would naturally want to move back to their old position. If we wanted to keep them straight, she would have to wear a retainer, every night, always, for the rest of her life. The teeth wouldn’t stay straight simply as a result of wearing braces for two years.Their inclination would always be towards their former position.
That seems like a fitting metaphor.
I have been mentally and emotionally preparing for fall and the return of my children to school. I’m using this grand return as an opportunity to turn away from some old habits of mine. I’ve made some “school year’s resolutions.” And I intend to do some re-training on how I start and finish my days. It’s not going to be easy because I’ve been doing things the same way for a looong time. But it’s not really all that great a way to do things. I need to get healthier — physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s time to return to the work of coaxing and cajoling my life into new directions. It’s time to put the braces on.
What I know all too well is that even though it’s painful to re-train my way of life into a new pattern, it’s an equally great challenge to maintain that pattern. It’s kind of like losing weight and keeping it off. Losing weight can be hard. You have to give things up that you enjoy. You have to add things in that you don’t so much enjoy. But it’s really nice to put on a pair of jeans that have become increasingly tight and find that they’re loose. And the tendency is to slacken at this point in the journey and enjoy the fruits of your labor, except that what was lost with such great effort is often regained with very little — because like my daughter’s teeth, the natural inclination is backward.
So Hello fall!, I say. I’m ready to do this re-training. I’m scared that I’ll put a lot of effort into making changes and then witness the sneaky, slow progression backward. I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to try and make some straighter rows of things. But I know that that is not the hardest part of this making-straight deal. The harder part is keeping the new pattern from slipping back towards the old. It’s the every day, for-the-rest-of-my-life retainer gig I gotta learn.