Hadley and I are walking into her orthodontist appointment: the one where she’ll get a metal bridge—I guess that’s what it’s called—attached to the roof of her mouth. It’s going to straighten out her very unstraight jaw. It’s going to make her drool. It’s going to cause her pain, and Hadley’s going to have to learn how to chew and swallow with a wire in her mouth. I don’t know how long she’ll need the retainer. I don’t know if this is an anecdote to future braces. All I know is that the appointment is at 4:40 and we are walking up the stairs holding hands because Hadley is nervous.
A very pregnant woman walks down the stairs as we walk in. I watch her as I hold the door for Hadley, and my uterus skips a nostalgic beat. I smile at this soon-to-be-mother walking towards all the firsts: first contraction, first push, first swaddle, first Target trip with the baby, first smile, first coo, first night sitting outside the baby’s room wondering if the cry-it-out scenario was really meant for her child. Surely the authors of Baby Wise hadn’t heard this child’s screams. If they had, they’d re-write the book.
I watch this woman walk all the way down the sidewalk, unlock her car, and get in it. Meanwhile, Hadley pushes the button for the third floor outside the elevator. “It’s here, Mom,” she calls. I trot towards the elevator to catch up to Hadley, and together we head to her first orthodontist appointment.
The appointment is not going well. Hadley’s sobbing while the nurse fits her retainer in her mouth. As we were warned, Hadley’s drooling, and she can’t figure out how to swallow when it feels like a piece of hard candy is ready to drop down her throat. The nurse walks away, giving us a minute alone. I wipe away Hadley’s tears and promise her any Minecraft toy she wants.
“Why do I have to do this again?” Hadley asks, wiping her face of spit and tears. Hadley is a rational girl. Cause and effect resonate deeply with her. Today, she is asking me for a reminder: tell me the reason I have to endure this, and I’ll do it. I can’t remember why. Is it to get her teeth straightened? Or is it her jaw? Really, though, is this life or death? Or is this just cosmetic? Why did I agree to do this?
I mumble something lame and blame the dentist; he ordered this. Hadley nods, not satisfied but resolved that it has to get done. She lays back down in the chair, closes her eyes and extends her hand, so I can hold it. The nurse walks over and finishes the job.
* * *
The next morning, Hadley’s subdued. Always a hearty eater, she won’t nibble on anything because she’s afraid. I give her applesauce and yogurt, and she dabbles at it: one arm propping her head up while she stirs, uninterested, with the other.
This week, Hadley and Harper are in VBS, but Hadley doesn’t want to go until she can figure out the eating and swallowing, so we drop Harper off. Harper skips into the church, and I turn to see Hadley, miserable because she wants to join in on the fun.
On the drive home, I’m thinking of something to do to cheer Hadley up when “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake comes on. I turn it up. “This is the song you first moved to when you were in my tummy,” I tell Hadley. She looks at me in the rearview mirror.
“You know why, right?” I ask, and Hadley looks at me again. “Because you’re bold. And fierce. I knew that the moment you kicked that day. This baby is a force to be reckoned with.” Hadley tries not to smile and looks out the window again. “I like this song,” she says.
* * *
Once, when Hadley was a baby, I strapped her in the Bjorn, and we went shopping for flip-flops. I held yellow and gold, gemmed and striped summer choices while Hadley studied them quietly. When she was in the Bjorn, she was so quiet and serious that Jesse and I used to call her The Warden. While I shopped, I'd squeeze her legs and plant kisses on her head.
“It’s nice when they’re that close,” a woman who was apparently watching me said. I looked at her, and she added, “ Mine don’t fit in Bjorns anymore,” she chuckled. “They’re 12 and 14.” I nodded and smiled.
“It’s easy when they’re right next to you, and you can hold them.”
I nodded again, but I wanted say, “Was it easy? Because I find this really hard. Of course, I love my baby, but I don’t know if I’m doing anything right. I don’t know how to get her to sleep. I’m unsure about immunizations. I don’t like breastfeeding, and I feel so guilty about that. She’s not crawling yet. Should she be crawling? I heard once if babies walk before they crawl, they won’t read. Is that true?” But she turned, a pair of Havanas in her hand, leaving me clinging to Hadley’s legs and “It’s easy now,” ringing in my ears.
It’s not the lost firsts I’m upset about. I have firsts every day, and I do not know if I’m doing any of them right. Every day is a mystery, and I am defined by that mystery. I do not feel strong. I do not feel brave. I feel lost and unsure.
* * *
“You know Hadley,” I say as we pull up to the house. “I know you’re in pain, and you have a long list of things you can’t do right now.” We walk up the sidewalk to the front door. “But you know something you can do that has nothing to do with your teeth?”
I unlock the door and let her in. “Hadley, you can dance!”
I turn on the stereo and find my Justin Timberlake playlist. The sharp, synchronized beat of “Sexy Back” drops and both of us bop our heads and put our hands on our hips. I turn the volume up, and we twirl and stomp into the kitchen because that’s the best space to dance in.
Hadley’s a natural, but I can tell she’s watching me and attempts to do what I do. If I were to pause the music and break the moves down, she wouldn’t like that. She’s not interested in getting it right: she’s interested in moving to a beat that makes her feel unstoppable. She sees something that I’m doing that she likes—a bold move. Maybe it’s that my head is high and my shoulders are thrust back. Maybe it’s my fancy footwork. Maybe it’s the smirk on my face and the sparkle in my eye. I’m not sure, but I know she’s watching.
So we twirl, and we jump; and don’t care if we are doing it right. We are dancing in the center of a throbbing mystery. It’s a first I never want to end.
Written by Callie Feyen.