There are a number of middle aged scenarios that could have easily influenced my reluctant approach to turning forty. Some buy sports cars in an effort to distance themselves from the worn-out minivan that carried multiple carloads of children, rotating them out of the magic marker stained passenger door like an overused turnstile . Others assume younger dress and longer hair in a last ditch effort to keep up with youthful, fresh faced cohorts who have yet to experience the evils of gravity. And then there are those who open home equity lines to buy various miracle creams and chemical peels as seen on QVC that promise to grammatically eradicate the parentheses mark between brows, the semi-colons around the mouth and the exclamation points punctuating the area around sleep-deprived eyes.
All of these things, among a litany of others, had the propensity to lead me to age-defying waters all in the name of splashing and then cannon-balling into the fountain of youth. The countdown to forty, however, would unwittingly lead me down an entirely different path. My mid-life crisis would turn out to be mid-life crooked.
I use the term crisis very loosely here because it was unknown to me that the potential for chaos was brewing along in my mouth. For my oblivious part, it never occurred to yours truly that I might chew food in a sub par manner as thighs that touch when standing clearly vouch for success in this area. My smile, while far from perfect, never scared small children or demonstrated unsightly rot; imperfections that never lessened my joy or caused awkwardness when laughing.
Dutiful visits to the dentist, brushing twice a day and flossing when I can find it - usually tied to a door knob with a Star Wars figurine dangling precariously over any choice of galaxy - resulted in a satisfactory state of dental health as evidenced by the free toothbrush and sample toothpaste awarded after each dental hygienist encounter.
So it was with a bit of surprise to receive the diagnosis that would lead me to my current predicament. At an orthodontic appointment for my son, Chandler, I noticed the metal work of a similarly-aged friend employed at the office. I commented to her that I thought that it made her look younger - words that would later mock me - and she began to tell me the circumstances that led her to the orthodontist’s chair. Concerns for crowding as the jaw line grows smaller, a condition adults experience as they age, influenced my friend’s decision to join the ranks of prepubescent teens all over town. Peering intently at my mouth, she then said the words that unbeknownst to me would distance me from my love for all things in the chip aisle:
“Why don’t you let Dr. V have a quick look while you wait on your son?”
I had already perused the Southern Living magazine in the waiting room, and played two rounds of Lady Pac Man in the game room, so I had a little time to spare for a fast inspection.
Quicker than the spin cycle on my front load washing machine, I was swirled through x-rays and tossed to and fro in a photographic session that distorted my lips in a manner that would make the Joker look handsome. Every nook and cranny of my mouth was documented making me wish that I had taken some time that morning to untangle some of the floss wrapped around my son’s bedroom door. Remnants of a strawberry pop tart would later materialize in an unfortunate photo close-up.
The end result was a similar assessment as determined for my friend, and a course of treatment was presented. The kind orthodontist gently encouraged immediate action as the crowding was only going to get worse in the future, necessitating the removal of a few bottom teeth to maintain proper dental hygiene. I flip-flopped between the choices offered until I remembered an unfortunate incident at the local Waffle House that involved missing teeth. Suddenly, the decision seemed clear.
Soon after, my mouth was outfitted with more metal than the Commandments should allow. I am now commiserating and swapping complaints with my ten year old son in similar state, sharing wax and antiseptic cleanser just like the three other mother/son orthodontic combinations reported in our region of the country.
That monumental age still looms on the horizon, but it doesn’t quite intimidate me as much, as I find myself bravely, albeit reluctantly, bracing for the future.
Besides, forty is the new thirteen.