The first thing I saw when I looked up were balloons. Then a gift bag. Then his grin.
“How does it feel?”
“I don’t even know,” he responded. “It’s so weird.” He compressed his eyebrows together as he ran his tongue along newly freed teeth.
After the obligatory selfies in a moment like this to document the milestone after two and a half years, we carefully tucked the balloons into the back seat and climbed into the car.
As I began the drive back to school to drop him off, Daniel examined the contents of the goody bag. Out came a bag of microwave popcorn, a Milky Way, tootsie rolls and other sticky or crunchy candies. He gazed in wonder at the bounty.
“You know what those are?” I asked.
He seemed puzzled.
“Those are all things you weren’t supposed to eat while you had braces on.”
His face contorted like he was doing a complicated math problem in his head.
“Wait. I never stopped eating any of those things,” he marveled. “Well…I’ve never had this many tootsie rolls in my whole life.”
The ride to school was filled with his wonder. He couldn’t get used to how his teeth felt. He’d had braces for all of high school so far, and some of middle school, too.
When I let him off at the door to his school, he checked one last time, “The balloons will still be in the car when you pick me up after school, right?”
Yes, kiddo. They will.
All in the same moment he was grown up with a young man’s face, and the little boy with the goofy grin I’ve loved for years. And in my heart, he’ll always be both.