Saturday, February 28, 2009

Euphemisms are for sissies

When we had our first child, my husband and I made a decision about names. No, I'm not referring to those that end up on birth certificates. I'm talking about what to call ::ahem:: those all-important parts that are supposed to stay covered up. We were going to teach our children the true names. No euphemisms for us!

We knew that we would be opening ourselves up to embarrassing situations in public, but we were prepared for it. Who cares if the stranger in the next stall hears our child use an anatomically correct term? We're in the bathroom for heaven's sake! I've heard a few giggles over the years. Then came one Sunday.

We were sitting in an oh-so-quiet congregational meeting when my two-year-old son grabbed at me and yelled, "Nipples!" Those around me tried unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter. So much for my pride.

And with three sons, we hear a certain non-euphemism on a regular basis. For the most part, we have de-mystified the term and it is used without giggles or hush-hushes. However, these are BOYS we are talking about.

Sometimes I wonder what my children hear when I teach them a new word. My youngest son has learned that the brown delivery truck is called the "Yoo Pee Ess" truck. He loves to see and hear it go zooming past our house. It doesn't matter that it rarely stops to deliver a package; it has wheels and rumbles! Sometimes he waves through the window, an unseen greeting. Not this time.

The truck had stopped at a neighbor's house. My little guy ran to the door and threw it wide open, greeting the truck and driver with a loud and gleeful, "Hi, _____ truck!"

I'll let you fill in what you think he said. But I'll give you a clue: this anatomically correct term was definitely not a euphemism.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Small moments

My oldest son's basketball season is winding down. As the coach, I will miss my little athletes but I am also ready for the end. It's been a long season.

The first time I met my players I was a tad concerned. One of the kids was too young to be in the league but the organizers had placed him on my team because they knew me. I took it in stride. As for the rest of the players, it seemed that most of them were in a perpetual state of withdrawal from a massive dose of Ritalin. Weeknight practices certainly didn't help any.

One of the athletes really caught my attention. His parents never came out and told me that he had an attention deficit, but it was quite obvious. I never needed an explanation from them. I just dosed up on some extra patience before each practice and game.

I've come to love this slim, strawberry blond bundle of frenetic energy. At first, if he found the ball in his hands, he would turn into one of those wind-up toys and frantically tap dance down the court, forgetting to dribble. He entertained the entire gym with his earnest, forgetful attempts. He still has a hard time with remembering to dribble, but he has improved.

He struggles to focus on my instruction and I need to constantly redirect him. At times I have to physically turn his head toward me so that he will hear me. His eye contact is fleeting, but I am used to that. I can tell that he is eager to please and really loves to play.

I spend much of my vocal energy on reminding the players to stick with the person they are guarding. This young man is no different; in fact, every time he runs down the court, I need to remind him. He tries so hard and during a recent game it was no different.

We were in the thick of play when suddenly I saw him launch his body at a rebound. Little people were everywhere as the rest of the players did the same. He emerged triumphant and passed it to a teammate. He knew immediately, as did I, that he had done something great. I saw his head pop up out of the crowd, searching. Not for the referees, not even for his parents. For me. He stood rooted to the spot while the others ran past. Finally we made eye contact and he beamed at me.

I'll never forget that joyful expression on his face as he searched for validation. And I hope he always remembers how I celebrated that small moment with him.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A bit of fear is good

After high school and during a couple of college summers, I worked for Six Flags near Los Angeles. The second summer, I ended up in Guest Relations at the new water park. It was a less-than-thrilling job but ideal for a carefree college kid.

At one point during the summer I decided to train to be a lifeguard. This was a big deal for me, as I am a land beast. My swimming skills were sufficient to save my own skin but not to save anyone else's. The idea scared me, so I chose to tackle it head-on.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first aid aspect of it, memorizing the ratios of chest compressions to airway ventilations for children and for adults, with two rescuers or with one. I missed one question on the written test and passed the CPR practical with a perfect score. I did not, however, become a fabulous swimmer. I certified to lifeguard in the shallower pools of the park and left the buff swimmers to save those in the wave pool.

I was quite proud of myself for doing something that frightened me. Since then, I have never used the lifeguarding skills in an emergency. And not one of my first aid courses over the years has compared to the militaristic lifeguard first aid. But those skills can come in handy.

Today I had a house full of rambunctious boys out of school due to the holiday. We had already visited the doctor and the pharmacy, thanks to a raging case of pink eye in my second child. The weather was just cold enough to make playing outside uncomfortable. Needless to say, I was ready for the day to be done. I heated up some hot dogs and served them to my crew.

Mealtime is an opportunity for me to get something done. I eat while standing up, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, or whatever else needs to be finished. The boys are stationary for a moment and I must jump on the chance.

So I was in the basement when I heard coughing. I could tell from the timbre that it was my newly-three year old. I called up to my oldest whom I could trust to make a fair judgement:

"'T', is 'L' okay?"

A pause. Then, "Mom, you need to come up here RIGHT NOW!"

I took the stairs twenty at a time and found 'L' with his hands grabbing at his mouth. Sure enough, the lifeguard training kicked in. I became very calm. CLEAR MOUTH.

I reached in with my index finger and hooked out an enormous chunk of spit-sodden hot dog bun. I heard air moving down his throat and sighed in relief. He coughed and retched a little, then turned away. He took a few steps and I heard him gasp. Then I heard nothing. He whirled and threw himself at me, grabbing for me with those little hands.

I scooped him up and ran into the kitchen. I didn't know if he needed to throw up or if, heaven forbid, I needed to do abdominal thrusts (not p.c. to call them the Heimlich maneuver anymore.) I held him over the sink and tried to clear his mouth again. Nothing. He was still flailing so I knelt to the floor and held him upside down, over my knee, and whacked his back.

Kneeling in this position, it finally hit me that this was serious. I whacked him a few more times while trying to ignore the little voice that asked, what if I can't help him? What's going to happen? I tilted him back upright and POP! Out came a soggy yet solid pellet of hot dog bun. It was small, but it was the same round shape as his trachea.

He stopped flailing immediately and I held him tightly. My fingers tingled from the adrenaline. His lower lip jutted out and tears welled up in his eyes. Then came the understatement of the year,

"Mom, I just a lil' bit scared."

You and me both, kiddo.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stomped out

Dear Betty Crocker,

I am a big fan of your Warm Delights microwaveable treats. They are the perfect antidote to fourteen hours of three little boys running amok. What more could I ask from a tiny bag of dessert mix that only requires a tablespoon of water and a few stirs? Forty-five seconds in the microwave and voila! The sheer artificiality soothes my tattered soul.

There are a few hurdles to jump over. First I must remove the outermost cardboard box that has the nummy picture of gooey goodness. Then I have to tear off the shrink wrap that surrounds the plastic bowl you so kindly provide. You know, the one that will survive not just the radioactivity of my microwave but that of an entire nuclear holocaust? Recycler's guilt starts to trickle in but I push it away.

Then I tear open more plastic to get to the mix itself. After adding water and nuking the morass, I have to cut open yet another package. You know, the one with some kind of metal in the lining? After squeezing the chocolate syrup onto my treat, I survey my counter. I am dismayed to find an enormous pile of trash for one tiny dessert. My gustatory pleasure is STOMPED out by the giant carbon footprint your treat has left behind.

Please, Betty, find me a way to enjoy your dessert without destroying our little planet!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You never know

Last year I signed up to coach my oldest son's co-ed basketball team. Upon entering the coaches' meeting, I discovered that I was the only female head coach in the league. I tried not to let my nerves get the best of me; after all, this might be my first time, but the kids were just six and seven years old!

I have no daughters with whom to share my skills and philosophies. Basketball would be my chance to make a difference in girls' lives! I would be fun! A knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher! A great role model! I got my roster-- and one girl graced the list. ... No matter! She would be my star!

Or so I thought. Minutes into the first practice, I could tell that she would be a challenge. She was not at all motivated or even interested in touching the ball. I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.

During games, she was content to stand in the middle of the fray, twirling her long blond hair around her fingers. Don't get me wrong-- she took it well when someone plowed her down on the way to the basket. But her parents and I continued to hope.

And then: oh frabjous day! It was the middle of the season and my ridiculous sideline antics spurred her to dribble the ball. She barely made it past half court and the referee gave her MUCH leeway in the double dribbling department. But she was able to pass it to a teammate! We cheered! We clapped! Progress!

At a subsequent game, there was a "loose ball" (no one had possession of it at the time) that caught her eye. She pondered it for a moment before seizing it and dribbling through the crowd. I don't even remember what happened next because I was overcome. Initiative! Aggression! We were getting somewhere!

I never saw her again.

Her father called a few weeks after that game to tell me that she had lost interest in basketball. I was heartbroken. What had I done wrong? He assured me that it wasn't me or my coaching skills. It was just his daughter being herself. I tried to shake it off, but it was difficult.

Sometime later I was packing up after a practice with my all-boy team. Families had arrived to pick up their little athletes so there were extra people milling around. I turned to address my son and for a fleeting moment, caught a girl staring at me. She was probably ten or eleven, too old to be playing in this league. Our connection was so brief that it took a moment to process the look on her face. But it was staggering.

I admire you. I want to be like you.

Maybe I was just trying too hard. All I needed to do was be there, for all the little girls in the crowd.
This year, I have two girls on my team. And they have stuck with me all the way.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Over the hill

I am a classroom teacher and individual tutor for a major test preparation company. I teach teenagers how to handle the SAT. You should see the reactions I get from people when I tell them what I do. I can now empathize with my dad, who is a dentist.

"You do WHAT?" or

"Uh, that's nice..." (turns and walks away,) or

"Eeeeewwww." or


Sometimes it's just a frightened pucker, like someone didn't want to eat a lemon, but forced it down, because they thought their future and career depended on it and because their parents paid a lot of money for it. It's amusing.

The other day I was assigned a tutoring student whose previous tutor was too low-key for him. The student has attention issues (diagnosed.) I have been assigned to sing and dance. No, really, I got on the phone with his mom to reassure her that I have plenty of experience with such things. After she quizzed me on my math abilities, we bonded over high-maintenance children. She apparently was satisfied with my qualifications once she knew I was a nurturing type as well. What I didn't expect was her relieved outburst:

"I'm so glad that you're an older woman!"

I was speechless for a moment. Deep breath. She's never met me, I reminded myself. I just laughed it off and told her that I was glad I could help out her family.

I wonder if she'll remember what she said when I walk in the door, all 32 years of my old self.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Not chocolate

My youngest son is a little delight. Don't get me wrong, he is still two years old, and reminds me of that fact in grand style. His tantrums are loud and at times destructive. But when compared to those of his autistic brother's, his are downright cute.

He loves to snuggle and cuddle, and since he is my baby and my last child, I treasure those moments especially. A few nights ago he had his little arms wrapped around my neck and was kissing my cheek and lips. I squeezed him tight. He nestled into my neck and caressed my dark hair, which has grown long in these past months.

"Is soft." What a sweetie.

"Why, thank you, 'L'. I washed it just for you." He inhaled.

"Smell good." Patted me again.

"Oh, that's nice."

"Is not chocolate." The snuggly moment was over as I burst into laughter.

Quite an observation. I'm just glad that he ignores the gray that insists on creeping into my hair. Because what would he call that?