My 11-year-old son got braces last week. While I was at work, he texted me a picture of his mouth, which was brimming with blue and orange rubber bands.
My thoughts drifted back to my own childhood.
When I was in second grade, I reached down to pick up a napkin in the lunchroom of Riverside Elementary School in Columbia, Tenn., and my mouth hit the edge of a cafeteria table — bang! When I sat up, one of my front teeth was shaped like Nevada.
Consequently, from second grade until I was a junior in high school, I tried not to smile. This was not conducive to good mental health.
Unfortunately, dentistry in the 1960s was not as advanced as it is today. Our family dentist said, essentially, tough luck — until the nerve receded in my broken tooth a crown was not possible, he explained. So live with it. That was easy for him to say. His nickname at school didn’t become “chisel tooth.”
It’s funny how our kids cue memories from our childhoods. Almost every day something happens with my boys that sends my mind spinning back to the 1960s. Memories lie dormant for decades, like smooth river rocks, until something kicks them over and stirs the water.
My younger son, age 6, starts first grade next month. This summer, he asked for a notebook with a lock so he could journal his private thoughts.
We were sitting together on the couch the other day and I decided to text his math skills.
“How many sides does an octagon have?” I asked.
“That’s easy, Daddy, eight,” he said.
“What’s one-half of one-half of 100?” I asked, sure that would stump him.
“Twenty-five,” he said, yawning.
When I started first grade in 1964, kindergarten was not mandatory. My first day of first grade was essentially my first day away from home.
I couldn’t draw a straight line or spell “cat.” I’m not sure I could add two plus two. I do distinctly remember taking a foam rubber mat to school for afternoon naps and watching in wonder as my 6-year-old classmates created puddles of drool on their fold-away pallets.
First-graders don’t take after-lunch naps any more. Instead, they write poetry, do algebra and study for the SAT. My younger son has essentially been in school since he was 9 months old.
Part of being an older dad is being eternally stunned by the pace of advancement in children. Kids today are simply smarter and more socialized than those of us who made up the vast baby boom generation.
Remember that the next time you read reports in the mainstream media — which is still controlled by baby boomers, by the way — that say future generation are doomed to decades of lifestyle regression. Boomers simply can’t fathom that younger people will ever out-do them at anything.
Remember, these are the same graying journalists who told you: 1. Japan’s economy will one day rule the world; 2. Y2K will stop time as we know it; and 3. Lurking inside your mattresses are bed bugs the size of Skittles.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebookf.com/mkennedycolumnist.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...