It was a lengthy consultation, and the end result was a plan to say goodbye to four teeth and several (SEVERAL) thousand dollars.
Two of said teeth would be Abby’s, and the other two would be Ellie’s.
The money would be ours.
We had prepared for the latter, but the former was troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I was going to have to tell them they were having teeth yanked out.
Maybe I should rewind and clarify.
They are tender girls; prone to concern the same way their mother is. We cover our eyes when people get hurt in movies and we cry when we say goodbye for a few days. We don’t do “new” or “change” well, nor do we relish the idea of medical treatment.
When I was in junior high, my parents gave me a book about a giraffe who was afraid to have her tonsils taken out because they thought it would help me get over my fear. For the record, I still have my tonsils. And all of my wisdom teeth. But I got rid of the giraffe book. Never mind the fact that I received a cartoon book a few years before my driver’s license. Let’s not concern ourselves with labels here; tender will do just fine.
I told them about the teeth. Very nonchalantly, as if everyone did this sort of thing. They were watching carefully and I actually played it off pretty well.
It wasn’t a fantastic response, but we got through it.
Several weeks passed and the appointment was coming up, so I reminded them that this was the week that they were going to get braces and also maybehavetheirteethremoved.
There were mixed emotions. Some excitement about the braces, some nervousness about the orthodontist chairs and tools, and a whole lot of talking through different scenarios.
The night before the appointment, Todd and I kissed them to bed and sat on the couch to talk about how we were going to tag-team the next day. I asked Todd how we were going to do the payment, and he explained that we were going to split it up between 2 credit cards. Because I know that some of you like your envelopes and such, I will ease your minds. We don’t keep balances on our cards, but we (read: Todd) like to get our airline miles when we can, and let’s just say “braces for twins” is a RIPE mileage opportunity.
A few minutes after this discussion, Abby came down the stairs to where we were sitting and informed us that Ellie was sitting in her bed crying. I told her to tell Ellie to come down and talk with us, and a few seconds later our red-faced, tween-ish, how-did-she-get-that-tall daughter came into the room and plopped on the couch.
Because I have an advanced degree in these matters, I took the reigns by telling her it was natural to be fearful, because for CRYING OUT LOUD THEY ARE GOING TO YANK PERMANENT TEETH OUT OF YOUR HEAD.
She listened patiently and then explained that she wasn’t afraid. Or rather, she hadn’t been before my little tirade. I had successfully paved the way for terror, so I prayed the same prayer I do many times a day, in which I ask the Lord to omit this memory from her mental scrapbook and replace it with some sort of baking adventure.
“Oh. Okay. So you’re not crying because you’re scared?” I asked. “Then what’s going on, babe?”
She hesitated. She started to speak and then her lip quivered and she tightened her mouth.
“It’s okay, hon.” Todd offered.
After two more attempts, she finally got the words, “two cards” out and we pieced it together. She had come to the edge of the stairs and had heard us discussing payment options, and she was concerned that her straight teeth were going to leave us in financial ruin.
My heart broke. She kept telling us she didn’t care about her teeth and that we shouldn’t worry about it if it was going to be that expensive. We reassured her and sent her back to bed, both of us shaking our heads. Todd, because he thought she was so thoughtful and me because who thinks about money when there’s a drill with your name on it?
In any case, we made it to the next morning and joked around the whole way over to the orthodontist’s office. Abby kept reminding Ellie how much she liked the “funny juice” when her arm was broken, so Ellie was at least looking forward to having that experience.
Before we got out of the car, I prayed for them. I asked to take a “before” picture and we all smiled like we were happy. It’s what you do for scrapbooks, right? Even though years from now we will sit around a table and look at it and I’ll tell them I was trying not to panic. And then I’ll tell them that I watched their tall legs walk themselves into the office and I had to push my feet to follow because I wanted them to be too young to open doors alone.
We made our way back to the check-in area and as I started answering the questions the woman was asking, I noticed Abby swaying side to side. The sway is the pre-cursor to the tears for her, so I kept her on my radar.
Finally I looked right at her and saw that her cheeks were hot and her eyes were a blink away from spilling over. As soon as she saw me looking at her, she crumpled her face and buried herself in my side. Ellie was trying to be tough but she wasn’t far behind.
I whispered to Abby and rubbed her back, reminding her that this was a normal thing and we were going to be just fine.
The receptionist had watched it happen, and when she saw the tears she stopped tying and looked Abby straight in the eye.
“You’re scared, hon?” she asked. Abby nodded.
“Do you ever pray when you’re scared?” she asked. Abby nodded again.
Her eyes were kind and weathered with years of watching nerves and hormones collide, and without another word, she reached her hand over the counter.
Abby lifted hers up, placing it in the woman’s.
“Dear heavenly Father,” she began. “Please help my sister to be brave. Help her know she is in good hands, and that this is a place where we pray for our patients and take good care of them.” She continued for a few moments while I mentally thanked God for this provision. I watched her fingers smoothe Abby’s hand while she lulled her with the prayer, and they both squeezed at the end.
Now we were all teary-eyed, and the receptionist asked Ellie if that was her full name. Ellie explained that no, it was short for her middle name, Elisabeth.
The woman smiled and said she had almost named her daughter that but she was afraid people might call her “Beth,” and she didn’t want that to happen because she had been teased in her childhood by a “Beth.”
I giggled, asking Ellie what she though of when someone said the name Beth. I knew what she was going to say, and we all laughed when she said, “Umm, Mrs. Beth Moore.”
“Well she sure makes me like that name more!” the woman said. I nodded. Me too, I thought. Me too.
We sat in the waiting area for a few minutes before they took the girls back, and they drank their “happy juice” while we waited. Abby had told me (and the receptionist) that her biggest fear was walking to the area where they would work on her.
She wasn’t afraid of the braces, necessarily. And she was handling the tooth-pulling thing like a champ. But the hallway-that was the part she had dreaded for weeks.
I asked the nurses if it would be okay if I walked them back and they enthusiastically assured me I could. I put one arm around Abby and the other around Ellie and made small talk as we traveled that long hall. I talked about the paint colors and the funny drawings on the wall, and they just listened.
Finally, they got into the main room and the sweet ladies told them where to sit. They climbed up in the chairs and introduced themselves, and when Abby started to say she was fine, her face betrayed her and she had to wipe her eyes again.
I didn’t want to stay too long because I didn’t want to be in the way, and also I wanted them to see that they were fine without me. I told them I would be right outside the room and if they needed anything, the ladies could come get me. Then I squeezed their toes through their shoes and gave them a big wink.
“See you soon!” I said, and slipped out the door.
They were fine. They were really fine.
At one point the nurse came to get me because Abby wanted to show me that she was doing a lot better. She certainly was doing better. She was cracking jokes about wanting to drink coffee and she couldn’t keep her eyes from crossing, so there was that.
Right before the teeth yanking (which came after the brackets were put on), they got me and Todd again from the waiting room to show us their new braces. We told them how great they looked and then went back out while they went into another room for the “extractions.”
It didn’t last too long, and they both did phenomenally. All the ladies working there told me how amazing they were, and how their manners were so incredible. I nodded thankfully, saying how proud I was of them and how grateful I was to be their mom.
It seems like a silly thing to say, but it was a hard day.
I have spent so many nights tucking them into their covers and asking God to bless them, and I couldn’t help but realize that all of it-the years, the moments, the songs, the late-night talks, the pancakes, the gum in the carpet, the pages of books and life…
It’s all a hallway.
Arms around them, stepping forward, eventually to tell them I’ve done my part and then point to where I’ll be waiting.
You’ll be fine. You’ll be more than fine.
Just get me if you need me.
I’m not leaving, I’m just going to be out of eyesight. And if you call me, I will race right back here and stroke your hair while you cry.
And if you don’t need me? Well that’s okay too. I mean, I’ll make it okay.
Because you are brave and smart and strong, just like your mommy.
One day we’ll do it, girls. We’ll spill out the pictures on the table and you’ll say, “That’s the day I got my braces!”
And I’ll smile and tell you the truth.
That’s the day I walked back down the hallway by myself, and I cried when I did.
I didn’t want you to see it, and you didn’t, but I steadied myself on the bright walls and covered my eyes with my hands. You couldn’t have understood it, but I bet one day you will.
And until then, just know this in every breath God gives you:
Walking with my arms around you has been the greatest joy of my life.