The orthodontist appointment is supposed to begin at 10 a.m. We arrive a full five minutes early, which, for us, is nothing short of a miracle. We're never early for anything. Oftentimes, we don't even show up.
When we started with this orthodontic practice, I put the office phone number on my cell phone's speed dial just so I could make frequent, frantic calls as I careened toward nearly missed appointments. So on those rare occasions when we get there promptly, I feel we should be rewarded with a short stretch in the waiting room.
From the moment I open the door to the receiving area, I know we're in for a 90-minute wait even before my son is called back to the brace-face bullpen and my daughter and I are invited into the consultation room.
How do I know this? Just three seats are empty; all others occupied by several moms and dads who clearly set up camp a while ago. Briefcases and laptops, backpacks and magazines are strewn everywhere. The reception area reflects all the efficiency of a blizzard at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
We take the few scattered seats that are left, pulling off our winter coats as we acclimate to the stuffy medical smell drifting through the air vents. I grab a copy of People magazine — the one with Patrick Dempsey and his newborn twins on the cover — and settle back for some mindless pop culture.
Then, as if on cue, one of my children complains.
"This is taking too long," Jimmy fusses. "I'm bored."
I give him a look that says, "Make the best of it" and turn back to my magazine. An entire section is devoted to inside scoop from Oscar night, an event that hasn't made my radar screen since I started buying mac-and-cheese in bulk.
"I'm too tired to wait any longer," Amy says. (It has been all of five minutes.) "Besides, why am I here? I don't want any metal in my mouth."
"Find a book," I say, pointing to the collection of children's reading material.
"The Highlights magazines are all two years old." She sits back in her seat with a "harrumph" to tell me how unhappy she is.
The 10 a.m. appointment time comes and goes. We wait so long that I actually read the entire issue of People — even the stories about regular folks such as the Indiana sorority girls who claim to have been booted out of the house for being chubby and unpopular.
Just when I think I've consumed the entire magazine, I turn the page to read about Will Bowen, a Missouri pastor who's trying to rid the world of complaining, one cranky whiner at a time.
If you don't know, Mr. Bowen and his congregation have started a campaign called A Complaint Free World. Using inexpensive rubber bracelets (available free at www.ccunitykc.org), participants of this effort attempt to stop complaining for 21 days, the period of time experts say it takes to break a habit. If you catch yourself complaining, you switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other and start over counting the days without complaining.
I tear through this article in fascination — and also because I know I'm about to be called in for a discussion of Amy's myriad orthodontic issues, which will require me to leave the magazine in the waiting room. For some reason, the concept of eliminating complaining as explained by Mr. Bowen strikes me as a revelation.
Sure enough, just as I finish the article, Amy and I are called into an exam room. Jimmy joins us with a pained look on his face, his new wires installed with blue bands. His braces are tight. He is miserable.
At last we leave the office, our visit — anticipated at 40 minutes — having taken close to two hours.
This is reason enough to complain, and we do.
I notice that at least one of us is griping at any given time for the duration of the ride back to school. I'm annoyed about how long it took to get in and out of the orthodontist's office; Jimmy is unhappy about the pain in his mouth and that he has just learned he has a phantom tooth that will require oral surgery to remove; and Amy is wailing from the back seat about missing recess.
Nevertheless, somewhere in a deep, uneasy corner of my mind, I'm uncomfortable. I think that corner is the place where I know it's morally wrong to complain about your blessings.
Here I am, lucky enough to have a flexible job that allows me to take my children to an orthodontist; and here they are, lucky enough to have parents who can afford to give them straight, healthy teeth, but it's too time consuming and too painful, and we're too spoiled to just put up with the inconvenience of being fortunate.
Shame on us.
A few days later, I tell my family about Mr. Bowen's complaint-free bracelets. "I ordered 10 of them," I say. "Six for us and four for anyone else who might be interested. I'm hoping they get here in time for us to take a complaint-free spring break." My idea to pitch them on a vacation without complaining seems twisted, but there you go.
I'm telling you, those bracelets can't get here fast enough, because you know what my family did when I finished explaining this positive, complaint-free way of living?