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Nellie is on her third retainer.
In three months.
Her first retainer, having already been rescued once from the school lunch garbage can with help from a friend and a pair of gloves, is now somewhere in the landfill, wrapped in a napkin, accidentally left on the lunch tray next to a plastic spoon and an empty milk carton.
Rule No. 8 on the orthodontist’s instruction sheet: “Do not wrap your retainer in a napkin, which you then put on your lunch tray. It is likely that you will forget and accidentally throw it away.”
This rule is now circled.
Nellie’s second retainer ended up in a puppy’s mouth, where it didn’t even come close to correcting the dog’s overbite.
Rule No. 3: “Do keep your retainer away from your pets. They are attracted to the scent.”
Nellie, 9, would argue that she didn’t actually violate this rule, since the puppy that ate her retainer wasn’t HER pet. And, she would add, who knew a puppy could get on top of a dining room table?Nellie would be right.
Again.
My middle child presents the greatest challenge to keeping my New Year’s resolution.
In January, some friends and I ate Thai take-out while we narrowed down our resolutions to a single word or phrase that summed up our aspirations for 2008.
My friends came up with inspiring words like “act,” “peace” and “streamline.” One friend’s mantra this year is “enjoy the ride.”
My word is “embrace.” Literally and figuratively, to embrace my life, my husband, my kids. To see each of our children as individuals, to acknowledge and celebrate their unique attributes and contributions to our family and our world.
In other words, I need to let Nellie be Nellie.
Nellie does not want to be controlled, directed or corrected. She’s a creative nonconformist with her own quirky sense of style and strict adherence to the Code of Fairness According to Nellie.Her preschool teachers predicted that Nellie would be a Supreme Court justice when she grows up. They were not kidding.
Her room is a disaster. Her backpack’s even worse. She loses things, including her temper, on a regular basis. She refuses to brush her hair one day, and then spends an hour in the bathroom with a curling iron the next.
After babysitting Nellie for six days, my sister Laura pronounced that she “leaves a trail of chaos in her wake.”
She’s loud and smart and determined and opinionated and, as they say in the South, “a mess.”
After I complained about another one of Nellie’s dramatic outbursts to a friend, he said, “Just like her mother.”Huh?
I am Nellie? Is she me? Perhaps that’s a source of our conflict.
I’ve resolved to embrace Nellie. It’s easy to embrace this beautiful girl with very straight teeth when we’re reading together at night, or when she’s reciting a hilarious story she’s written about the time I locked us out of the house, or when she’s organized a Barbie fashion contest with her brother and sister.I’m working on embracing her all the other times too.
I e-mailed a picture of the kids to a friend recently. She wrote back asking, “School spirit day? Or does Nellie always have blue hair?”
“No, it’s not always blue,” I replied. “Sometimes it’s purple.”
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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