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The Middle Ages: Enjoy that mouthful of metal, son

I’m always on my wife about our finances. “Look, we can sell these children at a tremendous profit,” I’ve been telling her for 20 years. “In this market, it’s silly to keep them.”

I mean, our 401(k)s are fine, and we have a bit of equity in the house.

Yet, Posh refuses to sell the children. So, as with new cars, the kids have become less valuable over time. The one who would probably fetch the most is the little guy. And last week, he got braces.

Braces may be the most medieval of American traditions. The little guy is at that awkward age where he grows so fast that his clothes never fit, and his feet are too big for his body and his tongue is too floppy for his mouth.

Amid those other pubescent challenges, we gave him braces.

For two days, his teeth hurt so much that he could barely eat – my wife fed him from her mouth like a baby sparrow. I thought that drastic, but as Posh pointed out, “He was super hungry and he had a three-hour baseball game that night.”

To be fair, braces have come a long way since I was young. When I was 12, having braces was like having a motorboat inserted in your mouth. Back then, ironworkers installed them, using rebar and welding torches.

“Show your dad! Show your dad!” a proud mom would say when you got home.

When you smiled, the Earth warmed a little. The only thing your face lacked was headlights.

Now, braces are more streamlined, smaller and – for some reason – colored like Easter eggs. They are part plastic, but as befits tradition, still laced with sharp metal cleats.

At lunch the other day, my friend Elizabeth noted the perfect smiles of the young adults she knows, much of it attributable to the wonders of American orthodontia.

How freakish, right? We have given the youth of America perfect teeth, then given them a world in which they have little to smile about. “Here, take these diamonds. Now pardon us as we turn out the lights.”

Meanwhile, the little guy got his top braces last week and gets the bottom ones soon.

The braces come as they are studying the Middle Ages in school, an irony that is not lost on them. The kids read about the Inquisition, then at 3 p.m., their mothers whisk them off to the orthodontist, where he inserts spring-loaded metal traps inside their mouths.

Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaap. “There, that ought to shut you up awhile.” But it doesn’t.

It’s both an odd tradition and a sign of affluence. As my friend Elizabeth noted, you can’t discount the amazing results. Like head lice, braces will always be part of an American childhood.

Do you ever worry for childhood, the crush of expectations, our parental neuroses? Seems we treat kids like show dogs sometimes – insist on too many activities, even taking the fun out of their fun and games (i.e., travel ball).

In a related development, my buddy Paul showed up at the first tee the other day and the starter teamed him with a 10-year-old golfer. The kid proceeded to scorch the first nine holes with pars and birdies.

Turns out, Paul said, that the little prodigy’s parents dropped him at the course and left him out there with a perfect stranger.

In truth, the kid couldn’t have been blessed with a better golf partner. Point is, it could’ve been anyone. And the whole thing seemed mercenary and bizarre, though not inconsistent with much of what we are seeing.

Since when did perfection become a parental goal? I guess since the dawn of time. But not everyone is Tiger Woods, and look what became of him anyway.

As with many prodigies, Woods had no real childhood. So when he became a man, his inner child burst out and undermined much of what he’d accomplished.

That’s not a cautionary tale; that’s just a tiny side effect of our quest for perfection.


Email Chris Erskine at, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.