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Greetings from Ashland

Wind chime close-up

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Well, it has been a while since I have had the physical or mental space to be able to write anything other than (yet another) to-do list, but today, my new office in Ashland is officially open for business.

My computer equipment and desk are the same, but the locale is different enough that my head is still spinning from the change. Instead of a four lane highway populated by trucks heading to the depot and students queuing up at the front entrance to the community college across the street, the view out my window now consists of a placid stretch of road only populated by leaves skittering in the New England wind and the occasional squirrel. The windchimes that Matt and I have spent our lives together slowly collecting are hung around the outside of the house, much as they have been in every home we have shared, but now, as never before, their songs are clearly audible no matter where you stand in the house, or how tentative the touch of the wind. It is almost as if we had been collecting them just to hang here.

Our return to what passes for normality in the Sheehy house occurred in a staggered fashion. Ana was very anxious to get back to her academics, and so I ran up to her school and got her enrolled and ready to go two days after we first walked in to our new house in Ashland. Frances was a bit more relaxed about it, and wanted to start the next day. Owen, predictably, wanted NOTHING to do with school, much preferring to stay home with me and fill my ears with his stream of consciousness chatter. This worked well for him given the fact that as a child who requires special education services he was a little more complicated to get enrolled in school.

When I finally got Owen started at school on Monday morning, one week after our Ashland landing, and after about two and a half weeks of no school, I walked back into our big house, filled only with boxes and cats, and felt the silence begin to close in like a woolen blanket until I was literally paralyzed by the stillness. It is kind of ironic that the quiet that I have craved as an ideal for all these years would be so unsettling when it becomes the reality of my life instead of an abstract goal to work towards. I drowned out the silence by finding my local NPR station and using it to fill the empty audio spaces with familiar voices and shows, although periodically I would so a cognitive double take when I realized that the weather report being announced was for Boston rather than New York Metro or that the announcer was drawling the “r” sound as only a New Englander can. Other than that, the sounds of Public Radio soothed me like an old blanket and made me feel more like I was at home rather than visiting some far away land and I began to dig through boxes, feeling like I was opening presents, even though it was just my same old stuff that was contained inside each box.

Later, as I prepared to retrieve the kids from their various schools, I realized that it was not so much the quiet that unsettled me as the sense that I was really alone here in this place. My life has always been somewhat solitary, and it usually suits me quite well to have several hours in which I need not speak to anyone but  my cats and I can explore ideas and be able to examine, and express my thoughts without interruption and without the need to attend to the needs of others. Always before, however, once I left my house there was a world outside that contained friends and familiar faces that I might encounter. Here, the world outside is undiscovered, and that reminds me of my solitude. I guess I am lonely…but I am not unhappy.

Life is good, and I am thankful for mine, in every respect.

Owen and His Egg

In all the madness of moving, Owen’s school has decided to gift us with the opportunity for him to participate in a time-honored program designed to teach children responsibility….

THE EGG

Egg of Columbus. I ate it 10 minutes later.

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I remember this particular activity well. The child is entrusted with the responsibility of “caring for” an egg, which arrives in the classroom adorably swaddled in Easter grass and nestled snugly inside a small, easy to tote around box. Everywhere the child goes, the egg is supposed to go along, and their tandem journey is to be recorded in an “egg journal”.

The whole program is oh so adorable, and rich in layered lessons as well as a healthy dollop of language arts. A wonderful lesson.

At least, in theory.

The reality of this exercise out in the trenches, however, is that an eight year old boy, no matter how well-intentioned and enthusiastic typically has about as much impulse control as your average squirrel.

I knew I was in trouble when Owen came sprinting out of the school on day one of his Egg Odyssey simultaneously cradling his precious egg in his hands (“mommy he is so CUTE! I will call him batman!”) and plotting with his friend Nick about how they were going to pimp out his little eggmobile. This poor egg, profoundly adored by its guardian was to be the focus of all of Owen’s energy for the next week.

I shuddered as I thought of the potentially scrambled ramifications of my son’s devotion on something as fragile as an egg, and decided that I was grateful that his teachers had at least thought to hard boil the eggs before sending them to their foster homes.

My conviction that this project was probably not so appropriate for a bunch of second graders was reinforced when after testing the aerodynamic properties of his ovoid charge he decided that his planned modifications of his egg box needed to be revised to accommodate wings.

Alarmed that the project would end even before the first journal entry was made, I discouraged further flight testing.

Owen’s serial attempts to modify the egg box he was sent home with eventually resulted it its complete disintegration, and the egg spent the remainder of its ordeal in a recycled egg carton. As can be expected this egg became almost as much my responsibility as it was his. Supervising a rambunctious 8 year old supervise an egg seemed an impossible, if not cruel task to set to any parent, much less one trying to coordinate a long distance move on short notice.

The week of the egg odyssey eventually came to an end, and he did manage to bring most of the egg back to school on the final day. I was somewhat comforted when I saw some of the other bedraggled specimens, with their cracked eggshells held together with band aids, being brought back on that final day.

I do wonder, however, if all the children were as honest as Owen was in his journal. Several of his entries simply read “mom put egg in the fridge”.

Moving update

Since we began the humongous effort of relocating our entire clan I have spent hours scrambling my belongings, stuffing the things that I am not consigning to the rapidly growing rubbish heap on the side of my house into boxes while staring in horror as my home transforms itself back into a house.

One of the first things we found out about moving in a bad housing market is that we basically have to buy our way out of our house. Second best does not cut it…the house has to be perfectorwewill be stuck with it. The contractors, of course know this, and they descend like sharks on a blood trail…

I do not care to disclose the disgusting amount of money we have had to invest in this house that we are leaving behind, but suffice it to say that I knew we were in trouble when the basement guy that we had in our living room one night early on gave us a lecture (complete with visual aids) on the reputation of his company and the quality of the materials they use before he would even consider break input his calculator to give us a figure. He also had smelling salts on hand to administer to the shell shocked homeowners after he dropped his bomb.

While the concrete over our new basement floor was drying we packed the kids and headed to Massachusetts to find a place to live, and actually found paradise.

The house we are going to rent (with the informal assumption that we will eventually purchase it) is a grand center hall colonial with a variety of amenities that I never imagined I would have in any place I called my home, such as a wet bar and a jacuzzi in the master bath. The real selling point, however was not what was in the house, but what was outside it. Standing at the far edge of the lawn, Matt and I looked down into the shallow ravine where a tiny brook burbled over the stones, and realized that the only sound other than the song of the stream was the rush of wind through leaves and the clatter of a squirrel sprinting up a tree. This blessed loud silence was a far cry from what we hear when we stand in our yard in Edison.

Matt and I looked at each other, my eyes filled with tears and I knew we were home.

The rest is just logistics.

More to come…..

A Tale of Woe?

The only thing more disorienting than the activity of taking your life and loading it into boxes is the affiliated activity of deciding which parts of your life merit “box real estate”. My strategy has been not to look too closely at things, and try not to touch any one thing for very long. Inevitably there will be the wrong call here or there, but it is not to be helped….the countdown is on and it is ticking down FAST.

One lesson that Matt and I have learned from our experience with this house is that the decision to move out is often paired with the necessity for major home repairs and renovations, which upsets me not only because it is expensive, but also because as home sellers we by definition do not get to enjoy the fruits of our investments.

That in mind, yesterday I had  the pleasure of sharing my day with a swarm of contractors who were only quiet when it came time to answer questions (each of which was greeted with a noncommittal shrug and a finger pointed at someone else). And I learned that the dirt underneath my basement floor, which I have never before seen (thankfully) has a rather nasty odor and that in general, the percussive song of jackhammers is about as soothing as having a death-metal band playing a lullaby.

Needless to say the constant noise and fetid aroma wafting from the nether reaches of my home was quite enough to drive me out of what is left of my mind, which is why when it came time to go to gymnastics I was READY to go. Three hours sitting in my quiet car waiting for practice to be over was infinitely preferable to another moment of staying in my chaotic, loud, increasingly box -filled house.

It was lovely and relaxing. Thursday is actually the one day a week that all three children have practice at the same time, so I do not have to entertain or listen to bored whining (or garbage pick for that matter). It is also an opportunity for some adult conversation, which I often take advantage of, but today I only craved silence. So after I ran a few necessary errands, I pushed my seat all the way back, opened the windows to admit the sweet (non-basement smelling) breeze, crossed my legs, plugged in my audiobook and got out my stitching. I spent the rest of my time happily listening to my story and blissfully stitching the tabby-striped foot of Frederick the cat who is whimsically sleeping between the (partially stitched) books on a bookcase.

As 8:15 rolled around, I packed up my stuff and prepared to gather my kids and head home. Owen practices at a different facility than his sisters, so I drove over there to pick him up and then returned to the main facility to get Ana and Frances.

Everyone dutifully filed out and piled into the car, and descended upon the bag of grapes and some cereal that I had for them to eat as a snack. I left the keys in the ignition so Ana and Owen could watch their movie in the car and ran over to have a quick chat with Victoria the girls’ coach (as well as a friend of mine). Our conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and would have lasted longer, but when Frances texted me to remind me that she had homework that still needed finishing I regretfully headed for the door.

I got into the car and turned the key…and nothing happened.

At first I could not believe that this could happen.  After all, my car may not be a fancy luxury car, but it is fairly new and kept in good repair…so I tried again with the same result. I do not know much about cars, but this situation I knew how to diagnose because the Honda Pilot, of which I was a proud owner, is very prone to this particular issue.

The battery was dead.

I think I can chalk this one up to losing track of things, which is easy to do on a regular day but with my life upside down I think the risk is even higher.  In any case, as far as I can reconstruct, the battery was killed by a combination of lights left on and DVD player in use with the car engine off for a grand total of about 10 minutes. I could go on about how ridiculous it is that the battery should die in such a short period even under such conditions, but that would not change the fact that it did, nor will it change the fact that I do NOT have jumper cables in my car.

A helpful stranger came and lifted the hood of the car, but since he did not have jumper cables either, and I have no idea what I am looking at, this did not help very much, no matter how well intentioned. In the end, I knew there was only one thing I could do that would be productive and that was to call Matt to come and rescue me.

For some obscure reason I can not  fathom, the fact that the car would not start also made it utterly uninhabitable to the point that none of us even considered sitting in the car as we waited for Matt to arrive. So it was that I found myself standing in the cold, dark parking lot with my three shivering kids and Victoria, who decided to keep us company as we waited.

We stood huddled in a circle talking quietly about not much in particular except to wonder why Ana refused to put her sweatpants on over her leotard (which would have gone a long way towards helping her warm up). After about 20 minutes we suddenly realized how silly it was for us to stand around outside when we had the KEY TO THE GYM and could just as easily (and much more comfortably) wait inside.

So Victoria let us in, flicked on a light and I suddenly realized that I was in the gym, complete with trampolines, trapeze swings and all sorts of fun stuff, and we had it all to ourselves.

It was about a second before I processed that we were all by ourselves, and there was nobody watching to enforce the normal rules of gymnastics-parent conduct.

In a flash I was ecstatically bouncing on the bright yellow mesh trampoline that I have spent years jealously watching my kids enjoy but have never been able to use myself.  I can definitively say that it was well worth the wait…I have been on trampolines, but this one totally takes the cake for sheer bounciness and fun. I went sailing up into the air, landed on my rear only to bounce back up to my feet….over and over, laughing harder each time I did it.

In short order, all three kids were squealing with laughter,  not only at Mom’s antics, but also with the joy of playing together in this, the ultimate gymnast’s playground. Victoria and I sat and watched them, laughing together as we watched them.

The highlight of the interlude was when Frances buckled Owen into the tumbling harness over the trampoline, and hauled him up into the air where he howled with mirth and executed 5 very noisy backflips in a row. Frances was laughing so hard she could hardly hold him up, which made ME laugh because she was so busy having fun she forgot that she was a teenager and that her brother is a pest.

Matt arrived in due time, and got my car started (as I knew  he would). Traditionally, a story of being stranded by a dead car should be a tale of woe, but I can say that this time I am glad that it happened because I got the chance to bounce.

So there is this Boy…..

One day, as we drove to gymnastics together, I made innocent conversation with Frances by suggesting that The Boy who had sent her roughly 3000 texts in a single month, might just “like her” in that that special way.

This backfired terribly, as she vehemently denied such terrible slander, sniffed derisively at my shoddy parental detective work and defective intuition, and continued to tap frantically at her phone with her thumbs composing yet another text.

Already knowing the answer, but somehow not able to stop myself, I asked her who she was texting with. She looks at me sideways, and rolls her eyes at me in a way that lets me know that I have done it again.

The Boy.

Of course.

I nodded, and returned my attention to the road, chanting one of the commandments of parenthood to myself to keep from breaking out in gales of laughter:

THOU SHALT NOT LAUGH AT THY CHILDREN UNTIL THEY ARE OUT OF EARSHOT

Over the course of the ensuing year, Frances did finally admit that not only had The Boy “liked her” in that special way, but also that they had “gone out” for a while.

Of course, they never actually went anywhere, so I have to conclude that the modern translation of “going out” is that they spend their time texting, facebooking, and video chatting.  I think roller-skating would be more fun, but what do I know….after all, I can’t even tell when a boy likes a girl.

In any case, she insisted that this part of the relationship was old news now, although this assertion was somewhat undercut by the simple fact that the frequency of text messages had not appreciably slackened. When I dared to share this simple observation with her and she became adamant: The Boy is simply her best friend who she tells everything to, and needs to speak to constantly.

Granted, I am old, and everybody knows that once you pass the teenage boundary your brains turn to mush, but I do remember a time in the distant mists of antiquity that I once had a best friend of the opposite gender who I needed to speak to constantly and tell my deepest secrets.  I am also pretty sure that I had those kinds of feelings for that person.

I bit my lip to keep back the autobiographical information which she would more than likely view as completely unrelated to the current situation. I still felt the need to say something, despite my certain knowledge that she was not going to go along with any of my ideas and that she would be very likely detonate if I did not immediately cease this line of discussion.  So it was that over my own internal voice screaming at me to stop I heard myself wondering out loud  that perhaps The Boy might still like her.

I guess I had to say it, but true to my prediction, she goes off like a roman candle.

NO WAY, she insisted…That is just gross!!!! The Boy is my friend and I do NOT like him that way! The denials continued along that vein for quite some time, but even though I managed to silence myself, I had more than a glimmering of the truth now.

As the last sultry heat of August beat down on us, heralding the start of school, Frances became increasingly moody and withdrawn.  This in itself is not such a strange thing in a teenager, but it was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in the density of text messages from The Boy, so I was a bit suspicious and a little concerned.

Finally came the day when the dam broke.  In a staccato torrent of emotional declarations, the story emerged.

Apparently The Boy has had a long standing crush on That Girl, who apparently possesses just about every negative characteristic it is possible for a teenage girl to possess without actually being the spawn of satan.   Now, at long last, The Boy has succeeded in winning the hand of That Girl, and they are now “going out”. Of course, since Frances is not interested in The Boy that way, it does not particularly bother her that he is going out with someone in the abstract sense, she patiently explained to me. It is more that he is going out with this particular someone that bothers her. After all, she continued with profound sadness in her eyes, she has been warning The Boy about That Girl for quite some time, sharing with him her sure knowledge that That Girl was not right for him, and would bring him nothing but heartache.  She is upset and mad at him, she concluded with a tearful sniffle, because he did not trust her and failed to follow her advice to stay away from That Girl, therefore demonstrating that he is not as good a friend as she previously thought.

I nodded knowingly and suppressed the impulse to question the emotions underlying her pique.

I do NOT like him!!!! She cried, obviously seeing past my façade and hearing my unsaid comment.

This morning was the first day of school.

As went about her morning routine, taking quite a bit longer than usual,  I noticed that she had really put together quite a ”first day of school” look for herself. Gone was the carefree preteen athlete in her baggy sweats and faded t-shirt. She has done away with the messy bun and no longer wishes to rely on her dazzling smile alone to enhance her face.

Today, my teenage daughter is chic and put together.

Her clothing is simple and flattering in shades of black and grey set off by carefully layered bright necklaces. Her lightly freckled face is framed by her painstakingly straightened hair and she has lightly lined her eyes with a bit of black eyeliner (parentally sanctioned, of course) to accent her thick lashes and the pale blue of her eyes.  She is not overdone, and she is devastating.  I know I should have snapped a picture, but I suspect she would have regarded the lens of the camera as akin to the face of the gorgon and run.

She glided out the door, heading for the bus stop, yellow binder in hand, too cool for a backpack. I mentally fumbled with the idea of a photograph again, and in my hesitation the moment slipped away.

If asked, she would probably insist that her sudden interest in fashion and makeup has nothing at all to do with boys in general or The Boy in particular (that she most definitely does not like). In fact, she recently told me that she was so disgusted with The Boy and That Girl that she has decided that she is done with boys until they regain their collective IQ points.

I translate “boys” roughly as The Boy….who I think is in for an interesting time.

The Ol’ Rusty Gazette: a look back

Trailer Date: Summer 2009

The trip did not start out soggy, but when it began to rain, the effect was no less than spectacular.

On the first night, the five of us were first jarred awake by the deafening clamor of a storm hovering over our heads. Lightening cast stark shadows through Ol’ Rusty’s cloudy plastic windows, and the thunder seemed to be strong enough to shake us off the earth altogether. Silently, we lay in our beds, in awe of the power of the storm, yet feeling snug and safe in our portable little home.

There is definitely something to be said about experiencing the raw power of a storm in the woods and we all shared that elemental joy as we lay in the deafening silence.  We knew that there was little to fear from this stormy night.  We were all together, the rain could not touch us and we did not need to fear the lights suddenly going out.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and we took advantage of the abundant sunshine to try and dry out our gear. The storm had insinuated fingers of moisture into our trailer despite our best efforts, and there were quite a few things that needed to be hung out to dry. The reality of weathering a storm such as that one is that we can endure it, we can admire it, but we can never truly escape it. On a more concrete note, Ol’ Rusty was so named for a reason, and she does leak a bit around the edges.

We enjoyed our slightly damp day enjoying the smell of the water, squishing around camp and tromping through wet leaves in the woods. By days end, my toes were unpleasantly withered and white from the constant wet. I kept my smile and my sense of humor, but there was a rather large part of my heart that longed for surfaces not spattered with mud, my clean(er) house and my soft bed.

That night, another storm rolled in.

This storm lacked the awesome power of the first night. It was not a storm of rolling thunder and cracks of lightening, but rather, more of a medium sprinkle that was just enough to create puddles on the leaves of the trees above us that then descended to the ground in irregular sloppy drops creating a legendary stew of mud.

In the face of these meteorological conditions, Frances and I did what we deemed sensible, and retreated into the camper and burrowed into our sleeping bags. We took turns cranking our wind-up lantern so we could read. Our precautions helped us stay as dry and warm as is feasible in such conditions.

A bit of honesty here: I love camping, and am a big fan of nature, but I am not as big of a fan of mud, and I despise being cold, so I would just as soon escape the great outdoors when the sky begins to leak.

Call me a wimp, but there it is.

Matt and the younger kids decided to embrace the mud instead of hide from it. Frances and I shook our heads ruefully and told them not to bring mud into the camper when they were done.

Not much of a fire was possible in the damp drizzle, but the three of them capered around the fire pit anyway, sloshing in the mud, giggling and singing songs. Matt is well known for rewriting songs on the fly to suit his fancy, so trying to sing along with  him can be an interesting  proposition, but the kids valiantly tried to keep up with him and they would all howl with mirth when he sang the wrong words on purpose.

At some point during the festivities, the squeals of delight suddenly turned to frightened cries, and I bolted from the camper to find Matt standing somewhat unsteadily beside the fire pit with the side of his face covered in blood.

He insisted he was fine, and tried to revive the dance, but he was very unsteady, so I had to talk him out of it, and try to convince him to sit for a minute so I could get a look at his head.

As I stood next to Matt with a clean towel pressed to his head, looking critically into his eyes without knowing quite what I was looking for, I realized that this might be serious… but life not being as definitive as it might be, I was not sure.

I had questions such as:

Is the wound serious?

Is there a concussion?

Does it need stitches?

We are in the middle of the woods…where do we go?

When I looked around for someone to ask, I realized that all eyes were on ME to give the answers.

I suddenly felt very alone.

One of the things I learned as I left my childhood behind is that life is painted in shades of grey. As a (so called) adult, finding answers is not as easy as asking a question. There is often nobody to ask for guidance, and you simply have to stumble along as best as you can.  When you add parenthood into that equation you not only have to stumble along, but you have to ACT as if you know the way or risk scaring the kids.

This would really be so much easier if there were a procedures manual, but failing that having a partner helps a great deal. Unfortunately for me, my partner was in questionable condition, and needed me to take the helm alone on this one.

Honestly if I had known that this is what it meant to be an adult and in charge, I am not sure I would have signed up voluntarily.  For that matter, when did I become a grownup anyway?

Returning to the problem at hand, I tried to assess things objectively.  Scalp wounds bleed a great deal, I told myself, so the amount of blood does not necessarily equate with the severity of the injury.  On the other hand, I had heard too much about sneaky injuries that can look fine, but have catastrophic consequences down the line unless promptly checked by qualified medical practitioners.  Of course, these stories were gleaned from the tabloids and medical tv shows, so the truth behind them was suspect at best.

As I tried to decide whether to drag my reluctant, and very muddy husband to the nearest ER (wherever that might be), he continued to insist that he was fine.

I wavered, and by reflex I almost capitulated to his insistence, but in the end, I decided that it was better to be cautious, and I made my decision to take him in, and I dragged my now complaining, and still very muddy husband out of the campsite and back into civilization.

The GPS answered the question of where. Civilization is not as far away as it seems when you are camping in the woods, after all.  The doctor in the ER, after eyeing Matt’s extremely dirty feet, examined his head, and ordered a CT scan and some socks.

It did not turn out to be terribly serious.  He had a mild concussion, and needed about 5 stitches. These days, the dent the experience left in his forehead is only visible from some angles, and when he regained his wits the next day, he thanked me and acknowledged that the trip to the ER was not a total waste of time.

On a more profound note, the whole experience illustrated how relative the experience of adulthood really is.

Sometimes the blind really do lead the blind.

As for me, I am glad that I have a partner to help me navigate the darkness.

Owen goes to the Orthodontist

Owen has crooked teeth.

Basically, his two bottom front teeth are in front of each other instead of next to each other, resulting in certain esthetic deficiencies as well as the practical problem of how to keep the corn from lodging between them at a barbeque.

Our dentist noticed this quite a long time ago. In fact, the day in kindergarten that I brought Owen in for his first evaluation and cleaning the Doctor shook his head and advised me to start saving my pennies for braces.

In fact, several months ago when I last brought the kids in for cleanings, I was advised in no uncertain terms that THIS was the time to take him to the orthodontist. It seemed a bit early to me, as Owen has only lost 3 of his baby teeth, but times change I guess. Early intervention works in education, so why not in dental engineering?

Even so, the very thought of bringing Owen into the den of the dreaded orthodontist shredded my heart. I had no desire to inflict on my son the social stigma, physical pain and esthetic disruption associated with the installation of assorted metal hardware into his mouth.

I remember the tales I had been told in the period before I learned the reality behind the metalmouth myths. The pain…the suffering…the total deprivation of all things chewing gum related.

The truth, as I experienced it, was much less sordid. The wax that they gave you to cover the sharp bits of the studs was very well suited for sculpture, and was fun to chew during class. The tiny rubber bands were wonderful for securing the tips of tiny braids, and if you were exceptionally skilled you could hook one end of a band around a single stantion, covertly draw it back so that rubber band would become a tiny projectile capable of sailing an impressive distance.

About the only thing that lived up to the horror of the tales was the night brace. I, like every other person I have ever spoken to about this private night time torture of youth, hated that horrible contraption. I tried to wear it, but inevitably I would forget to put it on at bedtime or I would take it off in my sleep. Considering that my teeth became straight despite my non-compliance I imagine that its true benefits were considerably overrated.

Even more serious was the fact that the thought of paying large sums of money to make Owen’s mouth even larger consistently made me break out in hysterical giggles. Not a good situation in which to start a professional relationship with a new medical office.

In the end, it took me about 6 months to get it together enough to actually make the call, despite the numerous reminders I left for myself scrawled on sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor or scrawled large with double underlines in bright yellow chalk on the kitchen blackboard.

When I told him that I had made an appointment for him, I expected him to be reluctant, or perhaps a bit scared, but he was fairly calm about the whole thing almost seeming to look forward to the new adventure. It was not the reaction I was expecting, but I went with it, assuming that he did not have enough background to have developed a scary scenario for himself.

So it was that I was more nervous that Owen when I brought him in for his initial evaluation.

Bracing for the worst (so to speak) I held his hand as we walked through the door. Just inside the door, greeting us before we even laid eyes on the receptionist, was a pair of arcade style video games sans coin slots. As predictably as any dog in Pavlov’s lab, Owen smiled and drifted towards them with thumbs outstretched as I walked to the receptionist’s desk to check in.

Sitting behind the desk was a woman with the whitest, straightest teeth I had ever seen. I wondered if the office required a dental evaluation as part of an application for employment, and if denial of employment due to an overbite would be considered discrimination under current law.

As Owen played some games, she sat me down in a graciously appointed office to sign papers and give me the orientation talk. Her coverage of the nuts and bolts of the procedure consisted primarily of some vague gestures towards the model teeth. I felt my heart begin to sink as she spent a significantly longer period of time covering the financial aspects of the arrangement. I was startled to find out that she possessed an incredibly detailed understanding not only of how dental insurance worked in general but also knew off the top of her head the specifics of how my particular type of coverage worked in particular.

Braces are expensive. This was not a surprise to me. What was a surprise, however, was that this office did not work on the pay-per-office-visit model that the rest of the medical community operates under. Instead, they work more like an auto body shop. An estimate is given, the work is done, and then the bill gets paid.

Very tidy.

As she wrapped up the orientation talk with a bit about follow-up care, she slipped in the fact that she was 48 years old and that she still wore her retainer every night. I am not entirely sure I needed to know this about her, but it certainly explained the almost eerie perfection of her smile.

The orientation talk done, Owen and I were led into the office for our tour. The office consisted of a row of standard dental examination chairs, each facing a flat screen television displaying a current movie piped in from Netflix, and I was told that even though all the screens play the same movie, they will take requests.

I also learned that the braces themselves have had a 21st century makeover. Instead of the standard gunmetal grey, today’s brackets are now fastened to the ever present wire with tiny colored bands that are available in a rainbow of colors, can be installed in an infinite variety of color combinations and patterns and are easily changed to suit the chromatic whim of the proud brace-ee.

There were two chairs occupied in the office on the day we were there. One, we were told was a young man getting his braces off. It went without saying that this was an important day in the life of any self-conscious adolescent. The other chair held a young girl who was getting her braces put on.

I received a blinding sliver of a smile from our guide as she indicated the chair that held the girl with the newly minted metal smile and told me that this girl has been looking forward to the day she would get her braces since her older sister first got hers. She paused after this announcement to look at me expectantly, which good because I had stopped in my tracks as I processed this last comment.

Owen had drifted back to the video game as the tour and exam wrapped up. As I peeled the controller from his hand on the way out the door, he looked up at me, and with the light of excitement in his eyes asked me when we would be coming back.

Complete reversal of orthodontically related urban lore and public opinion in a single generation.

Years of propaganda and market research seem to have finally paid off….although Owen would probably say that it was just the video games.