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Brace yourself: No piece of garbage at my son's school was left unturned in pursuit of his missing retainer


When most young women think of the man they want to marry, they consider his appearance, temperament, financial viability, etc. Might I offer another important consideration? Dental records.

Forget prenups! I should have requested my husband's adolescent dental X-rays.

After spending nearly $50,000 on my children’s teeth, I blame my husband and his family’s genetically inferior narrow palates. Before we had children, I never even knew that contraptions like a rapid palate expander or a flat plane occlusal splint even existed. Now I own them. Several.

Not only have we wired five kids into braces, two wore them twice. Don’t ask. We have spent so much on metal, we should have invested in stainless steel futures, or better yet, gone through orthodontic school ourselves.

I have wasted hundreds of hours languishing in orthodontic waiting rooms, reading six-year-old People magazines heralding the news that Jen and Brad might be divorcing, and trying to find the hidden objects in the pages of Highlights magazines that have already been circled and erased a dozen times. The office has dedicated a chair to me, like a church pew, nameplate and all.

On top of that, my son Christopher is the proud owner of the “most-retainers-ever-lost” award at his orthodontist’s office. Woo hoo! We finally have a kid who has won first place at something! When the receptionist saw my number on her caller ID, she would forgo her typical greeting and just begin with, “Hello Mrs. Keenan! Would Christopher like this retainer in the same color, or would he prefer to try something new?”

One toasty June day, I got a casual midday call from Christopher. Chuckling nervously, he queried, “How’s the coolest mom in the whole world doing?” I offered stunned silence on my end as I sat down and began my breathing exercises.

“OK," he forged on, “don’t yell, but I maybe, sort of, might have lost another retainer.”

“'Might,’ as in, ‘Oops! Never mind. Here it is in my pocket?’” I proffered hopefully. No such luck. Enough was enough. That was his fourth retainer. This one would be found. Like Magellan and his addled son, we went off to the New World, spelunking.

Within an hour, on a sweltering 95-degree day, he and I became reluctant residents of the junior high dumpsters, wading through pounds of steaming, decomposing tuna sandwiches, liquid banana/bologna/J-ello medleys, dissected frogs entrails fresh from the biology class, and wads of Kleenex, whose past mission one can only deign to imagine.

About an hour into my quest, my cellphone rang. I carefully pulled it out with hands covered in peanut butter and Cheetos dust. It was my friend, Alyson. Alyson, as in always perfectly dressed, stunningly coiffed, and has 10 perfectly manicured nails. She doesn’t even take out her own trash much less wade through it. The reality of where I was and what I was doing hit me like a tsunami. What would she think?

“Hey, what’s up?” she asked. Would our friendship endure my honest response?

“Oh just some orthodontics stuff with Christopher,” I hedged.

Suddenly in the companion dumpster I heard Christopher. “Hey! I think I found it! Oh wait, never mind. Eww! It is just part of an old, half-eaten apple.”

“What did he say?” Alyson asked as I quickly attempted to cover the mouthpiece.

“Oh,” I responded, “he is just asking if he can have an apple. I’ll call you later.”

Miraculously, after three hours of searching, I found it. There it innocently sat, under a greasy, potato chip-stained lunch bag, stuck to a chewed piece of purple gum. It felt like one of my greatest life accomplishments. I had found the Holy Grail. I climbed out of the Dumpster, looking like an ad for a hazmat suit, pencil shavings on my cheeks and spiral notebook rings entwined in my hair, as I performed my own personal version of the end zone dance. Observing my moment in the sun, Christopher hunkered in the Dumpster, praying for invisibility as staring kids passed by, wondering if they should call 911. I staved off the overwhelming temptation to immediately shove the retainer into Christopher’s mouth.

A month later, he lost it again.

“Look on the bright side, Mom,” he said proudly — and seriously. "I have never, not even once, lost one of the plastic containers that holds it.”

Jean Keenan is a part-time writer and full-time crazed mother of five. Once you get to know her, you'll be proud of your own parenting skills. Contact her at