Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dealing with it

I am very proud of my eldest daughter Alannah.

It's not easy being a kid these days.

Especially an eight year old little girl.

She wants to be Hannah Montana. She wants to be popular, and she wants to be a pop-star.

Not a nurse like her Mum, or a computer geek like her old man (thank God), or anything else really. She wants to be a pop star.

The problem is – right now at the age of eight – she can't sing worth a lick.

But she loves to watch Hannah Montana, and other videos by teen stars like Taylor Swift. She loves American Idol and Canadian Idol – the thought of being on a stage singing with millions of people screaming for her – well, that's what floats her boat right now.

I was hoping for a shortstop myself.

Last week, my lovely wife Darlene took Alannah to the orthodontist. It seems that Alannah's teeth – beautiful as I think they are – suffer a crossbite - and are not quite perfect enough to win auditions for toothpaste commercials.

Her newest teeth are trying to come in, but the older new teeth (still with me?) are in the way. So the orthodontist wants to spread out her upper jaw.

So the orthodontist put in an expander - or a spreader as I call it.

The spreader is a device that attaches to her upper molars and eye teeth. It has a little crank in the middle that - when turned with a key – spreads the upper jaw wider.

So the new teeth can come in.

It makes it hard to talk. Your tongue has to learn to work around the crank case in the middle of your upper pallet.

I know, I had one when I was younger. Not when I was a kid, but around the age of thirty five.

I was born with a cleft pallet. And at the age of thirty five, I found my self – single at the time – in a position where I could try to take advantage of the new technologies that didn't exist when I was a child. But before that work could start – they had to spread my mouth open wider.

I remember the weekday morning that I had mine put in. I was going to visit Dr. Lathyam – a very well respected orthodontist in London who specialized in helping mostly young children who were born with the same condition I was born with. His office was full of children with their parents. But everyone of these kids all looked great.

Since the age of 19, I have worn a mustache to hide the scar of my hair lip and cleft pallet birth defect.

It was a very big deal to me from my earliest childhood memories . I was very self conscious and shy. I thought that the first thing everyone noticed about was this bump above my lip and the crease in the middle of my lip. I thought everyone thought I was a freak. And I certainly did not feel like I was a normal person.

Now of course I wear a full mustache with goatee. Both are probably a little longer than they should be – but only to ensure the scar is well hidden.

When you're a kid, other kids can be rather cruel. They would tease and call me names. It made them look cooler to the other kids. Sometimes I would fight, other times I would just stand there and take it.

The times I fought, I lost more than I won.

The times I walked away, I was chastised as I left.

It just wasn't a situation that offered any positive outcomes.

I had always had a good sense of humor, so often I tried to joke around the situation. But it was such a morally deflating situation that I sometimes crumpled and just had to sit there and take it.

That was until my family moved to Lawrenceville, Georgia.

I was a little older then. Just about to enter high school. And I was a pretty good athlete which helped me fit in better. The guys in my neighborhood there didn't give me any of that kind of nonsense. There, it was just about being a guy. A good guy. If you could just be a good guy, you were in.

There was the odd clown who tried. One kid, who I think was a little slow – perhaps from perpetual inbreeding within his clan, would sometimes walk up to me and just punch me in the nose – and as I would hit the ground he would say "fat nose funny lip". But another guy would come over and knock his block off.

Another kid, who had been deemed to obese to remain on the wrestling team would constantly simply refer to me "hairlip". Oddly enough, this kid had friends that surrounded him and would laugh as he would say it. Often during practice, this kid would sit up in the stands and call it out as we were running drills. And his little gaggle of friends would laugh – which encouraged him more.

Coach Brown told me one day to go up in the stands and beat the … out of this kid. I looked at Coach Brown, whose respect meant more to me than anyone other than my own Dad at that time, and said "Why? That won't make him stop. He'll do it more."

Coach Brown just looked at me and walked away, his respect lost.

But other guys I really looked up to, like Mark Zirkle and Bill Huseby, and Damon Brown and Kirk Ewing would tell me that I was right to just walk away.

Since this fat kid was a wrestler, I just assumed that all the guys on the wrestling team felt that way, so I distanced myself from them. That was too bad, because there were some really good guys on that team. Guys I didn't realize were good guys until later.

There was one girl in my neighborhood who was just simply (to me anyways) the most beautiful girl in the world. She was part of our Plantation Woods gang, and would hang out with us at the pool. Usually lying in the sun to get a tan. This girl was way to pretty for me to ever tell her that I thought she was a princess. She did have a friend who was cute, and I thought she was more in my league. One day, as our group was hanging around, one of the other guys told this second girl that I liked her.

"Oh gross", said the girl, with the princess standing beside her.

I crumpled inside. I knew I was gross. But, as I remember it, I answered with something stupid like:

"I don't like you".

Pretty cool eh?

Most likely her response had nothing to do with my fat nose or funny lip. It probably had more to with the fact that I was a dork. I didn't figure that out until much later.

But I really did like the princess.

Shortly after that, I heard that the princess actually like me.

How did I handle that? Not very well, because – truth be told – I was indeed a dork. So I tried to impress her with goofy jokes and such.

So much for that.

But – even though I did screw that up so bad – it was a major turning point for me. I started to realize for the first time that it wasn't my fat nose and funny lip that mattered – but my personality. I can never thank that princess enough for teaching me that. To this day I am still very proud – that at least for the short course of a couple of days, maybe a week – this girl, the most beautiful in the world – would actually take to liking me.

As I left Berkmar High School and went to University (for the first time) on a soccer scholarship (which I basically pissed away) – I grew this mustache. And I grew my personality – based on the way my Plantation Woods friends taught me to be .. a guy.

I had a great circle of friends, and I dated some pretty good looking and fantastic girls. And that whole self-conscious part of me shriveled up and left. I had confidence. I had a personality that people liked to be around.

I changed.

As I grew up my confidence grew. It grew from playing very high levels of sports. It grew from becoming extremely good at what I finally ended up doing for a living. And it grew from some public speaking I had to do for my job – presenting to an auditorium of people that I could not only inform but entertain as well. They enjoyed my sessions at various conferences that we held.

And it was during this time that I read about some new technologies that had been advanced since my childhood. Some that would almost eradicate the one self-conscious issue that I still periodically wrestled with.

That is how I found myself in Dr. Latham's office, being fitted for this spreader. It would spread my jaw to allow further work be done. But man, that spreader was hard to get used to. I had to learn how to talk all over again. And I had to wrestle with all those self conscious demons all over again. Only now I had to maintain my professional poise as I talked with colleagues and customers – in person or on the phone – trying to form words around this stupid contraption in my mouth.

Quite often I would be in the middle of trying to pronounce a word in a sentence as I spoke – only to realize I had no chance of doing so and being understood – so I learned how to swap out words I couldn't say with words I could say – on the fly – and get the same meaning.

This is where some of my humor comes from. That self conscious side of me. The side that knows I am not perfect, but I'll be damned if I let you know that.

I certainly am not perfect.

That is why I am so proud of my little girl Alannah.

Alannah is very beautiful and has no such distinguishing marks to impact her confidence. Ashley-Rae – while born three months pre-mature and was doubtful to live, let alone to grow into the healthy beautiful girl she is now, also has no such defects.

But I teach them every chance I get to not judge people by their outsides – but by their insides.

And of course, not to be dorks like me.

So Alannah has only shown a slight frustration with this spreader in her mouth. She comes to show me frequently as she adapts to talking with it in her mouth.

"Look Dad, now I can say "precious" … see "pre-shuish", as she smiles at me.

"That's great, darlin!", I reply.

"And I can sing better too", she says with the excitement only an eight year old little girl can project. She picks up the microphone to her little Karioke machine and sings along with Hannah Montana. Only this time she doesn't sound so nasal, and she is thinking about how to make her voice sound clearer.

"Wow", I say. "You keep on working on that you just might be a great singer!"

And then I give her a great big hug.

"You're sure handling this better than your old man did."

What a little princess.

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