I got a FaceTime call from my son in the next room.
“My laptop needs to be recharged and I need you to get the plug,” he said. I went into the family room and fished around before I discovered he was sitting on it.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked.
I don’t ordinarily wait hand and foot on my kids, who are both young adults and capable of doing things for themselves. But my son had his wisdom teeth removed and is taking his oral surgeon’s advice as gospel: lay low for at least two days to prevent dreaded “dry sockets.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone undergoing wisdom teeth extraction because I still remember the procedure and recovery at age 16. My oral surgeon said it would be helpful if I stayed awake during the removal of my four wisdom teeth so I could assist him by turning my head in different directions.
He failed to mention that staying awake involved eight shots of Novocaine in the roof, bottom and sides of my mouth. I remember thinking the shots to my upper and lower palates were the most painful thing I’d ever experienced. Looking back on it now, it’s right up there with an endometrial biopsy, in which a piece of uterine lining is removed without anesthesia. Yea, that smarts.
Extraction day came at the tail end of my son’s final winter break from college. He graduates in May, and would like to move to Boston. I don’t mind too much, but it’s not something I want to dwell on. I like the rhythm of having a kid in college – away much of the year, but still technically living at home – and I know it will take some adjustment. Did I mention that I don’t do too well with adjustments?
I forgot how demanding my son could be until we began driving home on Interstate 95, and I decided to take an earlier exit to avoid a traffic jam we’d seen on the way to the oral surgeon’s office.
“What are you doing?” he mumbled, sounding a lot like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” with all the gauze in his mouth. “The doctor said I’m supposed to take it easy. Why aren’t you taking the fastest route home possible?”
I flashed back to when he was four and demanded that I turn the car around every time we passed his favorite playground. He was a little tyrant: he once got so mad at me when I told him we had to leave the playground that he bit my upper inner thigh with all his might. Yes, I saw stars.
Truth be told, I’d sort of been looking forward to Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day because it was a chance to really take care of him like I did when he was a little boy. I wasn’t relishing the procedure, face swelling or intense pain he’d suffer, but it was nice to know that he still needed me, if only for a day. At the very least, he needed me to drive him home – something he hasn’t wanted or needed for six years.
Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day puts us in full-on Mommy mode, sending us to the store for soft foods like pudding, Cream of Rice and Greek yogurt. It forces us to clear our calendars: sorry, I can’t work or do anything today because my kid is undergoing surgery and needs me. It’s like when they’re little and running a fever, or have a stomach bug. You’re at their beck and call, counting your blessings that they’re usually so healthy.
Most importantly, WTED puts us squarely in the driver’s seat in terms of our young adult’s well-being: yes, you can brush your teeth, but don’t rinse vigorously; yes, you can have homemade butternut squash soup, but wait until it cools off; no, you can’t go bowling with your friends 48 hours after the procedure. You’re still healing and look like a chipmunk.
I was doing remarkably well ordering my son around for his own good. It was nice to be in control because he’s the kind of kid who’s been disagreeing with me since he was 13. Overnight, we went from best buddies to adversaries, and there were times when I thought he detested me (and he probably did).
I was assured by my Mom friends that this stage was normal and would pass. But it seemed to go on forever, or until about age 20. Slowly, steadily he wanted to talk to me again and hear what I had to say. But the kid still has his own mind and can be stubborn as an ox.
We reached an impasse over bowling. I said no. The last thing I wanted was dry sockets, which develop three to five days after surgery and are legendarily painful. My niece recently had her wisdom teeth removed and was in agony when a dry socket developed. I wanted to avoid that complication, particularly since he’s leaving soon for second semester.
My son wasn’t swayed. He Googled bowling after oral surgery. Apparently, this is a common question among kids having wisdom teeth removed. There were a variety of answers, but apparently it’s not recommended on the same day as surgery. No big surprise there.
He then called and texted everyone he knew with a connection to dentistry, including his friend Drew.
“Drew says it’s fine,” he said.
“What does Drew know about dentistry?” I asked.
“His Grandpa is an oral surgeon.”
“Oh, so I guess that makes him an authority,” I said.
We battled back and forth all day. And then I realized that there’s only so much a parent can say or do. You can kick, scream and threaten to take the car keys away, but ultimately they’re adults and have to make their own decisions.
I told him he could go bowling if that’s what he really wanted to do. But I said I wanted him home by midnight. I wanted to play the Mom card for as long as possible, and hadn’t successfully imposed a curfew in years.
He went bowling and didn’t score well that night, no real surprise given his compromised physical condition. But he did come home a half-hour before curfew, making a point to stop into my room to show that he was home. And though we never agreed on the bowling issue, I think he learned an important lesson: sometimes, mothers know best.