We took our middle daughter to the orthodontist today, for a consultation visit. In many ways it went well: I liked the orthodontist and his very friendly, kind staff, who all did a good job of making a rather scared young girl feel better about things. There was some good news and some bad news; the good news is that the orthodontist thinks it's too early to start work, and that it will probably be some time next year before we begin; the bad news is that it's going to cost about half as much as my husband's first new car, and that it's going to involve the dreaded H.
I feel for her, I really do. I wore headgear myself (not something any adult anywhere ever wants to admit). I hated it, with the intense fury of an adolescent girl who's already had one experience of just how unfair life was going to be. My hatred of it apparently penetrated deep into my subconscious mind, as my father had to duct tape the release hook together to keep me from taking the darned thing off in my sleep. (He and my mom thought I was removing it on purpose, and when I protested tearfully that I wasn't, they crept into my room late one night and apparently witnessed me roll over in my sleep, encounter the obstacle, and yank it out, all without awakening.)
Eventually, braces became a memory so distant that it almost seems like imagination. Do I really remember the taste of metal in my mouth, the dull throbbing ache right after an appointment and tightening of the bands, the feeling of passing my tongue over the rough bumpy surface of the braces, the 'click' with which the headgear locked into place on the upper back teeth? I might be tempted to think that it never really happened, but I have the 'scars' to prove it: my tooth enamel turned out to be unusually weak, and when my braces were removed they took some tooth surface with them, necessitating the filling of dozens of tiny surfaces.
I wish I could tell our girl that it's not going to be so bad, that of all the things life might possibly throw at her in years to come, braces are a minor annoyance and only involve the kind of pain that usually gets called 'discomfort.' I wish I could be more reassuring, more positive about the whole thing. But the fact is, there will be things about braces that she will hate as much as I did, and the only really good thing in her case is that as a homeschooled child she won't have to put up with the kind of teasing that any kid who ends up having to wear headgear to school has to put up with. (Luckily, that only happened to me for a short time.)
But that's one of those things about being a parent. We can help our children, guide them, hold their hands, shield them from pain, for only so long. Then life with all its grand adventure starts to intrude into our carefully concocted cocoons, and the restless child begins to go to it. The price of adventure may be bumped knees and scraped shins at first, but more serious tolls may lie ahead.
And we can't take their places. We can't wear the cast for them; we can't get between the dentist and his drill, or the orthodontist and his headgear. We can't suffer the broken heart on their behalf when a friend moves away, or a beloved pet dies; we can't take their sorrow the first time they experience the death of a relative or friend.
And that is a good thing.
Because if we could, we would also be robbing them of something they need; we would be stealing from them the lesson that life involves both joy and sorrow, both health and sickness, both gladness and pain. We would be stunting their growth, and making it impossible for them to cross the threshold into adulthood; we would be removing from them the very sort of experiences that lead over the rocky path of our fallen nature to the placid sea of Wisdom.