I didn’t have a root canal until I was in my 30’s but sigh, Will is going to have his first, and I hope, only, one of his life at the age of 18. It is the consequence of what I call a “stupid boy trick.”
It’s not that I think boys, in general, are stupid. But it’s a “thing” because I believe that boys, more than girls, sometimes will act out of impulse in a way that can be physically dangerous, and as Will prepares to go off to college next year, this worries me greatly.
In this case, Will and his lacrosse buddies had stayed overnight at the home of his friend. My son woke up first, and seeing this one friend splayed out and snoring, thought it would be hilarious to capture video of the sweet sight. So he put his phone right up into said guy’s face and proceeded to try to prod the sleeping bear awake. Well, you know what happens in nature when hibernating animals, deep in slumber, are awakened before their time.
Will’s friend rose up, still half asleep, with a roar of outrage, lashing out with his powerful arm—right into the phone (still recording), which swept upward into Will’s #7 tooth, the one to the right of his two front teeth. Are you impressed that I knew what number the offended tooth was? Don’t be. I only found out after calling our dentist after the endodontist’s receptionist made Will feel stupid for not knowing. I was not aware tooth numbers were common knowledge and made sure I told her so. But that’s another story.
I was visiting Katie in Texas at the time, so Will and Bill decided to spare me the bad news; seriously, why stress me out on a good trip? When I returned, Bill told me that Will had “chipped” a tooth but not to worry, he had gone to the dentist, gotten a cap, and all was well, though there was a possibility he would need a root canal.
That possibility turned into bitter reality one afternoon when my handsome grown boy was doubled over in pain, practically in tears, because that tooth was throbbing.
Enter the endodontist and the now obligatory root canal, to be followed by a new cap and sigh again, a lifetime with a permanently damaged tooth. The tooth was not “chipped.” Bill had seriously underplayed that scenario. The X-ray revealed it had been broken almost to the gum.
It could, however, be worse, a lot worse, and I am now talking about Timothy Piazza, the 19-year-old Penn State fraternity pledge who died after a night of drinking, hazing and heartbreaking abuse and neglect at the hands of his so-called brothers. The story is splashed across national headlines and has revived the debate about Greek life and its place in college life. Eight young men are facing charges of manslaughter, another 10 facing related counts in Timothy’s sad and untimely death. The lives of 19 young men destroyed, one forever, and the ripple effect across their families is too heartbreaking.
My wish for my son and all of the members of the soon-to-graduate class of 2017: have fun, be good, and please be safe.
Especially haunting to me is the photo of Timothy proudly wearing his #65 football jersey flanked by his mom and dad on the football field at his New Jersey high school. Any parent of a high school athlete can relate to that. We have the very same picture, Will, with me and Bill on either side beaming on the lacrosse field as he and five others were honored on senior day just a couple of weeks ago, traditionally taking place before one of the last games of the season.
Studies have shown that brains are not fully developed until people reach the age of 25 or so, which means that our children—for all of the years that they fly the family nest for college—are not always firing on all cylinders when it comes to judgment.
You have to trust that they are going to make good decisions but ultimately, it all boils down to hoping that 1) your child will do the right thing and if not, 2) his friends will do the right thing. Given how much drinking, hazing and general shenanigans take place in college campuses across the country, it is perhaps amazing that most kids survive; the Timothy Piazza case is an example of the perfect storm that ends in tragedy.
Have fun, be good and be safe, are the words that follow Will every time he walks out the door with his friends. I don’t admonish him to “do the right thing” because lecturing makes them tune out, and you hope that all the years of trying to bring him up straight and true will protect him like a guardian angel. But college is a different place altogether, where peer pressure in unfamiliar territory can shake even the best training and intentions.
It is hard to believe that all 18 kids involved in the Penn State death were that stupid and careless or that their parents raised terrible children. No, it is context.
It is judgment addled by too much booze and testosterone and a desire to be accepted. Rocking the boat by administering help or calling an ambulance for poor Timothy as he suffered through the night—though absolutely the right thing to do—would have been perceived as a cop out.
In the scheme of things, Will’s broken tooth, while painful and troublesome, is small, an unwelcome souvenir of teenaged horseplay. There are so many more dangerous situations—some that are an inevitable part of everyday life, others that are self-inflicted.
My wish for my son, his friends, and all of the members of the soon-to-graduate class of 2017: have fun, be good, and please, most of all, because your parents love you so much and your entire future awaits, be safe.