M. was one of my classmates in graduate school. We had a lot in common: young families, non-psychologist husbands, relocation for the purpose of school. And yet we were never especially close, particularly after the first semester or so. We got the kids together to play a few times – her daughters were just a few years older than Emily – and spent one memorable evening talking about all manner of subjects while sitting in a car for hours waiting for traffic to move after a county-fair fireworks display. But, over the years, we developed different sets of friends and different priorities within the program, and at the end we parted ways cordially and without much emotion.
A successful graduate-school relationship, really, or at least one version of successful. Not everyone needs to go on and be friends for life, or to heave a sigh of relief when it becomes clear that they’ll never have to see each other again. There’s a reason that the words “happy” and “medium” hang out together, often.
Anyway, though, during one of those early conversations, M. said something that stayed with me. Because her daughters were just a bit older than my own, there was a certain sense of prophecy and omniscience that I attributed to anything she said about parenting or childhood. I don’t remember having this conscious thought, but if I had to explain it, it would be something to the effect that, “Her children have lived longer than mine and appear to be pleasant, likeable, well-adjusted sorts of people. She must know what she’s doing. It’s probably worth listening to her.” Most of her pearls of parental wisdom, assuming she had pearls and shared them, have faded from my memory, but one of her observations lodged in my brain.
“Make sure you take a lot of photos when they get their first loose tooth,” she said. “Because once those teeth fall out and the adult teeth come in, their whole face changes.”
I admit, I was a little bit skeptical. I could see that her daughter’s full-sized teeth in a grammar-school-sized mouth seemed a little awkward, but I hadn’t known the child before then. Maybe she had always been a little gawky. Who knew? I looked at my daughter and saw bright, inquisitive eyes and hair with a mind of its own, and I had a hard time imagining that her teeth would really have that much of an impact on her overall appearance.
But, being both an obedient soul at heart (stop snorting, Willem; I am, too) and possessing a tendency to take a lot of pictures under any circumstance, I have photos of my daughter before and after, and after and after again, as each tooth came loose, came out, and was replaced.
And it turns out, M. was right. Emily’s face has changed. Her wide-mouthed grins are uneven and somewhat snaggly right now, as her teeth continue to do their thing regardless of the day’s small dramas and enthusiasms. They’re growing in slowly, and without photography it would be easy to miss.
A year ago, it was this:
And now, it is this:
Her face changed. It’s subtle, almost ignorable, and yet indicative of any number of changes lined up and ready to thwap me upside the head with all of the grace and subtlety of a teenage girl.
Ready or not, here they come…