KLUGMAN: Losing teeth, gaining wisdom

I spent my last few days at home looking a bit like a chipmunk. A chipmunk who stores a large number of nuts in its mouth to prepare for the coming winter. This is just one side effect of something many of us have gone through: wisdom teeth surgery.

The last thing I remembered before being “put under” was my dad’s attempt to make me laugh while I was under the influence of nitrous oxide (that is, laughing gas). His goal was to get me to laugh at the corniest possible joke. For example, “So since Maddie’s having her wisdom teeth removed, is she no longer going to be ready for Yale? Won’t her wisdom be all gone?!” I’m proud to say that — even while floating blissfully on a cloud of cotton candy over a field of unicorns — I did not crack a smile.

Despite my annoyance with wisdom-related wisdom teeth jokes, I agree that there’s something peculiar about that dental name. Wisdom teeth are called so because they usually appear much later than our other teeth, at a point where we are considerably older, more experienced, and therefore wiser. The age? 15 to 25: clearly the height of our sagacity. So the joke’s on you, Dad!

It’s strange that my teeth were being removed at this point in my life, at a crossroads between being the sophisticated high school senior and the fledgling college freshman. It didn’t help that the surgery made me feel and act like not just a freshman, but an infant. I (rightfully) lost my driving privileges immediately after surgery. I lisped (read: lipthed) every word and consumed baby-food-esque meals. My bruising looked like a two-year-old had doodled all over my face with highlighters.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve had your teeth out, we’re all feeling at least a little like infants, not just freshmen, as we start Yale. How could you not? No high school could ever match the impressiveness, the bigness, the splendor of Yale.

When I first visited after being accepted, I immediately started reassessing my place. “I’m going to feel so … small here,” I remember telling my parents. Months later, and I’m now realizing I’m not only going to feel tiny, but I’m also going to be exposed. In order to feel bigger again I would have to show people who I really am. This means I’d need to reveal myself to a degree I haven’t experienced in what seems like forever. How does making friends work again? Where do I begin telling someone about myself when there are 18 years of information? The whole routine of fake texting in an awkward situation probably won’t make the cut.

I then resolved to make these last days of summer not just about wondering whether the bruising would be green, blue, purple or gone during FOOT. Not just about enjoying the 24/7 access to prescription pain killers. Not centered upon multiple outings to slurp frozen yogurt. I did, however, resolve to take advantage of my swollen cheeks and, well, “store the nuts”.

I decided to look back into my 18 years of information to remind me of other times that I felt small. They didn’t seem so bad. I would love to re-experience my first year on the high school tennis team or the first time I drove on my own. It would be a dream come true to fully remember all the advice I’ve been given, as well as to remember how exactly I was able to use the advice to grow. So thank goodness that I, and the rest of us incoming freshman, have yet another opportunity to feel small and have the wide-eyed curiosity of Charlie at the chocolate factory. Fortunately, 18 years is far from the 18 of my wisdom.

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