Watching my oldest daughter reclined comfortably in the orthodontist’s chair, excited to finally have her braces removed, brought back so many memories.
Like my daughter, I started my freshman year of high school with braces. Unlike my daughter, I also sported a home perm that left me looking absolutely nothing like Jennifer Grey but did bear a tragic resemblance to Willie Aames.
But I wasn’t worried. I had great friends willing to overlook the hair-tastrophe, most of whom had braces themselves. And for my ace in the hole, my dad played on a softball team with several teachers from the high school, giving me an automatic in with them.
After spending every Tuesday night all summer in the stands of my dad’s softball games morphing into the most awkward teenager alive, I attended the team’s end-of-the-season pool party with my family and more enthusiasm than any teen should ever have about anything at all.
Braces on and perm frizzy from the August humidity, I boldly approached my future biology teacher, Mr. Pierce, to glean some wisdom in preparation for my rapidly nearing freshman year. But not before hitting the dessert table and grabbing a scrumptious piece of chocolate cake.
Mr. Pierce kindly spoke with me far longer than I imagine he wanted to, talking about school, lockers, homework, all the things teachers dream of chatting up with 14-year-olds during their time off.
I grinned ear-to-ear, trying to make a good first impression with the man who would come to instruct me for three years in high school, inspiring me to earn a degree in biological sciences, and who still to this day remains the Class of 1990’s favorite teacher. I smiled wide in between bites of chocolate cake and laughed at his stories of senior pranks and freshman mistakes, grateful for the opportunity to get to know him early.
When Mr. Pierce finally found a way to exit our conversation, I turned to join the party, ready to seek out the history teacher I’d heard so much about from my mom, when my younger sister jumped in front of me.
“You have chocolate cake all over your mouth,” she bluntly stated.
I wiped my lips, cheeks and chin with a napkin, but she just rolled her eyes.
“Julie,” she sighed, “it’s all over your braces. They’re covered with chocolate cake.”
She was even more disgusted with me than I was. It took three cups of lemonade to wash the cake from my teeth. I swore I would never eat in public again, a vow that lasted until the party’s hostess emerged with more dessert five minutes later.
Mr. Pierce never seemed to hold the see-food experience against me, and within two years, not only had my perm grown out, but I was on the orthodontist’s chair having my braces removed.
Ellie has demonstrated much better oral hygiene than I did, though, and I would never dream of giving her a perm. Sometimes the best lessons are learned outside the classroom.