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When the Teeth Go, Does the Wisdom Follow?

How a daughter's dental procedure led her mother to embrace reality television.

What’s so smart about wisdom teeth? That’s what I used to wonder. But now I know. Curious? Too bad. You have to wait to find out.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Just because they take about 18 years to develop doesn’t automatically mean they’re wise. Take a look at most high school graduates. Am I right?

It wasn’t until my daughter had to have all four of her wisdom teeth pulled that I fully understood the depth of intelligence these little white nuggets contained. Shall I explain? 

I used to think that parents were the smart ones. Lucky were the offspring of the intellectuals, raised in households filled with music and art and books so accessible that the mere proximity to great ideas would spawn great thoughts.

And so my children were raised on a steady diet of English-major, English-teacher inspired efforts. They were, I reasoned, designed to be intelligent if not actually the result of intelligent design.

We read books to our one month old, hoping to imprint upon her a love for the printed page. Perched next to the gliding rocking chair in the nursery was a remote for the CD player. Admittedly, we weren’t piping in baby Beethoven. But the desire to formulate a taste for acoustic female Indie music, or “lesbian lite” as my college friends dubbed it, certainly crossed our minds. (Okay. It didn’t cross Tim’s mind. But I was in charge of the music selection, and who doesn’t like a little Joan Armatrading and some Indigo Girls while she’s nursing?)

Most importantly, we banned television from our daughter’s unpolluted eyes and brain. Ix-nay on elevision-tay, that mind-numbing, sloth-inducing, lowest common denominator of American culture. 

We were so smart… back then.

Our rule of no television for our baby turned out to be no different from every other rule, meaning it had an exception. January 20, 1993 was the exception. The event was Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. As engaging as it can be to sit in a book lined room with a thirteen month old infant, I thought tuning in to watch our new president get sworn in might be worthwhile. Plus, Maya Angelou would be reciting a poem. That made it intellectual, and thus the television went on.

This next part is true. When our still crawling child saw her first glimpse of television, she stood up and walked. She took her first steps right toward that screen. One small step for the infant, one giant leap forward for Barney.

Suffice it to say that by the time we had our second child, I found myself secretly praying that the nighttime feeding schedule would be synched up with Nick-at-Nite’s schedule. Turns out it’s much more fun to nurse to a re-run of Dick Van Dyke than to Dragnet. 

Thus the epic battle began: Edify-the-children versus Nickelodean-numbification. Our resolve weakened every time we watched CatDog, which pretty much summed up our dilemma. CatDog, an imaginary mixture of a high-brow cat conjoined with a low-brow dog, struggled eternally to resolve divergent life philosophies. Think Jekyll and Hyde. Think Abbott and Costello. Think Felix and Oscar. Oh hell. Think Ernie and Bert.

So it was with us. As the children grew up, we made compromises. No television on school nights morphed into finish your homework before watching Greek. Attempts to keep things high- brow translated into, “Let’s go to the fine arts theatre and watch something with subtitles.” Meek, admittedly, but still we clung to the tenuous pretense of introducing a bit of cultural enrichment.

Fast forward to last week, when the designed-for-intelligence child came home for college, ready to have all four wisdom teeth pulled. A week of recovery loomed before us, and rising to the challenge, I headed to the library. She’s reading a little E.M. Forster, so why not grab Howard’s End? Everyone’s seen Pride and Prejudice, so why not expand the Austen repertoire to include Emma? Did I dare suggest the BBC’s brilliant adaptation of  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited? Sure, it has a running time of eleven hours, but hey, it takes a while to recover from having those teeth out. Three of them were impacted, whatever that means.

What did we watch? A marathon of Project Runway. That’s right. We watched reality TV, in it’s unscripted glory. And in between episodes, we occasionally watched two or three episodes of Say Yes to the Dress, a compilation of reality shopping stories revealing the compelling, all-encompassing searches for the perfect wedding dress.

I couldn’t get enough of either of these shows after my daughter’s wisdom teeth were pulled. I confess that after she returns to school, I’ll keep watching. And I might rearrange my schedule to make room for the new season of Dancing with the Stars. Hey. Gladys Knight is a contestant this season. I’m watching.

What I didn’t know before my daughter’s surgery was this:  my brain was contained in her teeth. And now those pearly white chunks of wisdom are gone, gone, gone.

Sally Higginson March 17, 2012 at 09:12 PM
My daughter and I have also bonded over "Project Runway." And let the record show: "Fashion Star" is a feeble imitation.
Wendy Shorr March 18, 2012 at 04:52 AM
When our children had their wisdom teeth removed, we paid extra to have just the teeth extracted and the wisdom left in. I have to admit that "Say yes to the Dress" helps me say yes to the elliptical!
Molly March 18, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Has anyone watched the gypsy wedding show (UK)? It takes "Say Yes to the Dress" to a whole new level!
Betsy Brint March 19, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Is it wrong to admit that my favorite reality show was the "Pants Off Dance Off?"
Tina Helsell March 22, 2012 at 02:31 AM
You remembered CatDog, my favorite! Love the article. I have no more wisdom left to lose so I wonder what I'll be doing when Sophie's are pulled. Probably drooling in a cup all day long as opposed to only 1/2 day now.

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