This morning, The Princess went to the orthodontist to get her braces. It is a huge day in her life, and there has been a great deal of weeping about both the practical and aesthetic implications of this new factor in her life.
But she was not unprepared. Last Thursday, she had an appointment to receive separating elastics. These little bands of blue were inserted between upper and lower teeth behind certain molars to begin making space for her braces. Snowman didn’t help much last Thursday when he told her the separating elastics hurt more than the braces, although it may have bolstered her courage for this morning’s events to know she had already survived "the worst."
I’m thinking about the times life has been like the separating elastics, the times when a painful, but ultimately helpful, preview of coming attractions helps us prepare for loss or for transition, for growth or for death.
When my mother’s melanoma metastasized in 1992-93, it traveled in a number of different directions: a lung, the colon, the liver, her brain. I knew as soon as I heard my daddy’s voice on the phone that we were dealing with the worst news possible. I remember working at the library that day, unable to focus because that evening the doctor was going to call and talk to me, tell me the things my dad had only been able to express by saying, "It’s bad." I spent that day in a state of emotional vertigo, considering for the first time the possibility that my mother might really die. New feelings, new fears, new realities pushed me open in painful directions. And that opening prepared me for the real death that came four months later. Oh, it still hurt! But I was prepared for the hurt, prepared for the shifting.
I have been one of those mothers who tries to prepare her children for changes. When I worked in the Children’s Room at the library, I brought home stacks of books for #1 Son. We read books about having a new baby when Snowman was on the way, and we read books about death when my mother was ill, read them until he asked me to stop bringing them home! I came to realize that he did not relish being prepared the way I did.
One thing I could not prepare them for was divorce. Unlike some people, who report growing up in houses full of contention, my children had no idea their parents had a problem. The news that their father was going to move out of the house came like an unexpected blow to the head. Each boy remembers what he was doing when we asked them to come and talk, and each remembers what he did after the conversation was over, and each remembers feeling stunned.
They had no separating elastics to give them a sense of what was to come.
But I remember the first day I drove up the hill to attend classes at seminary two years before, and I remember wondering what it would be like to live there on campus with my little boys, a separating thought that shocked me.
It was a separating elastic that began to make room for something new, something unwanted, something necessary, and something ultimately better for everyone concerned.
I will try to remember how excruciating it felt to be in the first two phases when I hear my daughter sniffling, having forgotten for the moment how cute she looks with those pale pink and baby blue ligatures alternating on her teeth. I will try to remember and offer comfort and Motrin and whatever else it takes to get through to the next day or the next week or the next month. I will try to remember and be patient with her as others were patient with me, when the separating elastics of thought gave way to the hard wear of life.