Might Be

We were visiting my father-in-law, who lives on a secluded, wooded acreage. Hal came running into the house, with that worried almost-cry that kids get when they are scared or possibly hurt.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

With a trembling voice, he replied, “There might be a monster out there!”

“Oh,” said his dad, “well, I might be concerned.”

There was a brief pause while daddy comforted son. “Might you be ok?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He might be. But he didn’t sound too sure.

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Booster Seat

Once upon a time, a little boy decided he wasn’t so little anymore. He loudly insisted to his parents that he no longer required a booster seat at the dinner table. His father said fine and unbuckled the seat from the chair. His mother was not so sure. She tucked the booster seat away for the time sure to come when he would complain that the table was too high.

The time didn’t come. The boy grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. For more than a year, he sat at the table without his booster seat. There were many times when his mother thought that surely he wasn’t comfortable. Many times, she cringed as his shirt sleeve dragged through his ketchup because his shoulder was even with the edge of the table. Many times, she watched him struggle up onto his knees so he could reach his milk cup.

She tried suggesting the booster seat in the beginning. He always stated that he was fine and did not require it. Eventually, she packed it away in a box that went to a local church for their garage sale. More time passed. The boy grew taller. And then, one day, during the fourth year of his life, with great agitation and indigation, he announced: I NEED A BOOSTER SEAT!

His mother was taken by surprise. “Honey, we don’t have a booster seat anymore. Remember? You said you didn’t need it so I gave it away. A long time ago, sweetheart. You haven’t sat in a booster seat at home since you were two.”

This truly did not matter to the little boy. A need is a need and it must be met. His mother flashed back to her childhood. She didn’t remember any fancy plastic booster seats that strapped to chairs. She did remember phone books. Unfortunately, the internet had all but killed the ready availability of super large phone books. And they lived in a small town anyway.

With a sigh, she walked to the all-purpose room that serves as office, library, exercise area, guest room, and bulk storage area. She spied a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary. The internet has all but obsoleted the need for dictionaries too, but this was a gift from her mother-in-law years before.

Well, she thought. It’s the fattest book we’ve got. I guess it’ll do.

The little boy was elated. Ever since that day, he has sat tall on his new booster seat. He proudly showed it to his Poppy when he came for a visit. If he wanted to sit in a different chair at the table, he’d move his booster seat.

Then, one recent day, while his mother helped his older siblings with a craft project, he sat the book on the table and climbed into the chair to sit on his knees.

“Mommy,” he called, “I am reading my booster seat.”

booster_dictionary

A Really Bad Thing

We were driving into town, all five of us packed tight in our little Prius, when Hal made an announcement.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, dear.”

“If I pooped in my pants, that would be a really bad thing. If I pooped in my pants.”

Daddy: “You know what else would be a really bad thing, Hal?”

“What?”

“Hitting your face with a hammer.”

Hal: “Well, you know what else would be a really bad thing? Hitting your butt.”

Daryl: “No, a really bad thing would be farting in the car.”

Jane: “A really bad thing would be to provoke a shark.”

Daryl: “No, you know what would be a really bad thing? Attacking the Pentagon and trying to destroy it all by yourself. That would be a bad thing.”

Hal: “You know what would be a really bad thing?”

Daddy: “Coming up with really bad things?”

Hal: “No. Hitting someone’s house and smashing their Christmas tree and then farting around it and hitting your butt. That would be really awesome.”

The conversation degraded from there as only conversations with either children or drunk adults can do.

A Terrible Dichotomy

Today possessed a terrible dichotomy for me. It started off well. Last night, Jane’s small 7-person string ensemble performed at the sixth grade Christmas concert. They were dwarfed by the choir and the large band, but they performed admirably.

When it was over, she announced that she really wanted to play in the band next year. This is enough to warm the heart of any parent who was herself a band nerd. But then she told me that while they were waiting for the concert to start, the cellist had asked her to hold her cello. While holding it, she played Witches Dance, a fun fast song that she plays well on her viola.

A man standing nearby told her that she was very good. “That’s not her instrument,” her instructor said. “She’s never played that before.” That anecdote sent my spirits soaring. I love tales of her musical accomplishments. I went to work this morning feeling as though my daughter was the most wonderful, most talented child on the planet.

Later in the day, I talked to her PE coach about some trouble she was having at intramural practice. I wanted an adult’s perspective on the situation. In the course of the conversation, she told me that she thought Jane was one of the better volleyball players. She was convinced that Jane could make the A team at the middle school next year. I was beginning to feel the effects of oxygen deprivation, I was flying so high.

And then, it all came crashing down. I work in a cave. This is figurative, of course, but sometimes it takes a bit for news from outside to make it to me. But finally it did this afternoon and I learned about the horrible shootings in Newtown, CT.

Like all people, I was stunned and left numb. I was angry and sad and desperate to deny it. And then, like all parents, I couldn’t help but put myself in those parents’ shoes and imagine the horror of it happening here. This process, which I have engaged in many times, was made even worse because I was so full of love and pride for one of my children at the moment I learned the news. I imagined all that potential and promise ripped away.

The world does not deserve to be denied what my daughter has to offer. The world did not deserve to be denied what those children had to offer. I spent the afternoon in a hollow and empty shell.

That shell filled with family life when I got home. We went to a Christmas party. Hal met Santa for the first time. Eventually, however, we found ourselves at a restaurant and the day’s events smacked us back in the face. We don’t have TV at home, but this restaurant did. And Jane’s side of the booth was facing it. My precious, innocent, promising, wonderful daughter came face to face with the reality of a deranged man. When she finally lost control, she sobbed, “How can someone kill their own mother?!” She cried about how the children would never learn to play the flute. When we got home, she cried because they probably had Christmas presents under the tree that they would never open. They’d never learn to drive a car. They’d never have kids.

I did my best to put the pieces back together. I reminded her that everyone has different experiences. Everyone has a different life span. Those children are at rest now and aren’t regretting the things they never got to do. Their families need her prayers though. I took Mr. Roger’s advice and reminded her of all the “helpers” she saw on TV. The police, ambulance workers, doctors, and nurses. The social workers and counselors and teachers. Friends and family and neighbors and strangers all pitching in to help. “It was one bad person, honey, but hundreds of good people there to help the people that need it. Hold onto that baby, and pray for them all.”

Now let me tuck you in so I can take my turn curled up in a ball crying on my bed. About the senselessness of it all. About the anguish of watching your idyllic childhood view of the world crumble a little bit more into every adult’s reality. I love you my sweet angel and I am so thankful you are still here.

A Rose By Any Other Name

In the car today, Jane was talking about some of her classmates. She surprised me when she mentioned some twin boys named Alex and Alfredo. Alfredo had repeated fourth grade while Alex had continued on. That was a year ago and Alex and Alfredo are now at separate campuses.

“Which is really awesome because now when I see one in the hall, I don’t go, ‘Hi! Al…frae… dex…’. I just say, ‘Hi! Alex!'”

“They are twins?”

“Yes.”

“And one is named Alex and the other is Alfredo?”

“Yes.”

“That seems. Kind of. Odd.”

“Why?”

“Well, one of those names is distinctly ethnic and the other isn’t. It just seems strange to name twin boys such different styles of names.”

“Oh, well, Alex has a more traditional name too.”

“Alejandro?”

“Yes. But he’s going to a 2012 school. Who would want to be called that? It’s just like the girl Alex. She doesn’t want to be called Alexandria.”

“Well what about Alfredo? Why doesn’t he have a nickname?”

“Because you can’t shorten it. Alf? He wouldn’t want to be called that!”

“What about Fred?”

FRED?! That’s a white boy with red hair’s name!”

I truly never realized there was so much to tween nicknaming conventions.

Modern Day Research

Jane is working on a research paper on emigrating to Canada.

“Hey! Isn’t this lucky?! I just found this thing that asked ‘what are some bad things about moving to Canada?’ and I’m supposed to list pros and cons on moving to Canada!”

I looked at the computer screen to see that she was looking at Yahoo! Answers.

“Um. I don’t know that I’d trust those as facts. That’s just someone’s opinion.” I scanned down the page. “See, they list tornadoes and stuff but then admit that there’s fewer natural disasters there than here.”

“Well, then where am I supposed to look?!”

“Why don’t you look at the Wikipedia page on Canada?”

“We can’t use Wikipedia.”

“Why not?”

“Because anyone can edit Wikipedia.”

“Not true,” Daddy jumped in. “Articles on Wikipedia are reviewed by the staff.”

“Well, not necessarily the staff. It could be volunteers. But it’s written and maintained by a group of people working to keep it as accurate as possible. At any rate, it certainly beats Yahoo! Answers,” I added, “where any yahoo…”

“…can answer,” he finished. “If you can’t use Wikipedia, what are you supposed to use?”

“The internet.”

I am amused that the teacher felt the need to steer them away from Wikipedia but failed to steer them toward something more reliable. I wonder how many other students are writing their papers based on blogs and question and answer sites. Or maybe they are taking a poll on Facebook. After all, the assignment said to use the internet.

1-10, Honestly

I volunteered to mentor my daughter’s Robotics team this year. This means I spend an hour and a half in a room full of noisy, energetic preteens three nights a week. It has been… an education. To say the least.

One of the interesting aspects of this age group (sixth grade) is that they are on the balance point between childhood and the teenage years. Some of them, mostly girls, look – and act – very much like teenagers. Some of them, mostly boys, look – and act – very much like my third grade son. Most of them are caught in between. They are exploring the brave new world of teendom in a distinctly childlike manner.

One example of this was on display tonight. The other girl on Jane’s team began to ask one of the boys on the team a series of questions. Actually, it was the same question asked repeatedly but with a different girl’s name substituted in each time. Apparently, this is a regular team pastime.

“1-10, honestly. How pretty do you think Rachel is?”

He would turn and look, I presume at Rachel, and respond with a number. She would move on to the next girl. And then the next. He kept most of the numbers low, less than 5. Eventually, she spied Jane. “1-10. Jane.”

She was across the room behind him and as he turned to look, I gave a mock warning, “Now, remember. Her mother is sitting right here.”

He paused for another second and responded, “7.”

She accepted the answer and moved on. Once all the girls in the room had been covered, she changed the question. “1-10. How annoying do you think Rachel is?” Not surprisingly, the numbers were higher for this question.

Eventually, the question was applied to Jane. Without hesitation, he said, “2.”

WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked. “This is ‘annoying’, right? Do you really think Jane is only a 2?”

“Well, her mother is sitting right here,” he responded in a dead serious voice.

I have to say that I’m truly growing to love these kids. He seemed a little bit surprised that I would recognize that my daughter contains great capacity to get on people’s nerves. He and Jane had butted heads the previous week while I was helping another team. I looked at him and asked, “You certainly would have ranked her much higher last week, wouldn’t you?” He agreed.

The game went on among all four team members present. It even included hypotheticals, like this one, addressed to a boy, “If you were a girl, who in this room would you score a ten?”

Jane jumped in before he could answer. “Me, of course!”

“I said if he was a girl!”

“I know. I’m just so awesome that he’d be gay so he could still pick me.”

Everyone laughed, including the one young man who actually happened to be working on the robot at that moment. Tonight I saw clearly what my greatest blessings will be for this year of my daughter’s life. One is to see her “in action” with her peers, to truly see her social circle, not just listen to her talk about it. The other is to find my place as a parent who is comfortable interacting with my daughter’s peers. And to think I almost passed up this opportunity as too much of a time commitment. 1-10, honestly? This experience has been a ten.