Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Say Ack!

On a good day, my morning drive is timed perfectly to coincide with Dr. T. Glenn Pait's Here's To Your Health radio spot. His smooth velvet voice and genial authority are soothing as I hurtle my tiny car through the crush of SUVs zooming along Cantrell Road. There's just something reassuring about having a kindly old doc along when a fiery crash is imminent.

Except for today. Today, Dr. Pait, I'm afraid I had to pull over, grab you by the stethoscope and show you to the curb. Come on, Dr. Pait, seriously; what were you thinking? Have you run out of body parts to dispense advice about? Isn't Swine Flu sexy enough for you? Has it really come to this:

Black Hairy Tongue

Oh how I wish Ashton Kutcher were behind this nightmare. But it's for real. Black. Hairy. Tongue.

According to Dr. Pait, Black Hairy Tongue is a temporary, harmless condition resulting from an accumulation of debris, bacteria or other organisms on the tongue. Would vomit count as debris, Dr. Pait, because I just threw up a little. But I should be okay, because the second I got to work, I French kissed a bottle of Purell for twenty minutes and then gargled with boiling bleach.

This, Dr. Pait, is how people end up listening to Rush Limbaugh. At least they're prepared to end up wanting to puke.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kindergarten: The Sequel

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Leo couldn't do anything right. He couldn't read. He couldn't write. He couldn't draw. He was a sloppy eater. And, he never said a word.

Leo is a late bloomer. As luck would have it, he's also fictional. He lives in the pages of Robert Kraus's classic children's book. But we live his story for real at our house. Our six-year-old is a late bloomer, too. He crawled late; he walked late; now he'll be going to first grade late. So I take offense at the New York Times' description of Leo as "underachieving." According to Merriam Webster, underachieving means that one fails to attain a predicted level of achievement or does not do as well as expected. Late blooming, on the other hand, is all a matter of timing—they get to the party with bells on; they're just fashionably late.

This is also why I took such offense at the interrogation I suffered at the hands of miniature Barbara Walters on the playground yesterday. Oh, she had all the hard-hitting questions: Why is he in kindergarten again? Well if he's six, shouldn't he be in first grade? I'm six and I'm in first grade. Will he EVER be in first grade?

I had a few questions of my own: Is your mother deaf? Does she not realize this may well be hurting my child's feelings? Are you always such a precocious little piss ant?

The instinct to swaddle my child in bubble wrap is unrealistic, maybe even unhealthy. But it's there nonetheless. It's filed right next to the instinct to inflict minor yet memorable pain on any child thoughtless or cruel enough to hurt him. Nothing serious, nothing that would leave a mark. (Especially on anyone under the age of eight. I'm going for vengeance, not a felony.) We're expected to shield our children from adult language; isn't it just as valid to shield them from the hurtful words of kids? This, after all, was the very kid I'd been worrying about all summer. Except I imagined her ugly, and a boy.

I admit it, my brain had some work to do when his teacher first brought up the subject. A parent doesn't just say, "Oh, awesome! My kid is failing kindergarten! Vo-Tech, here we come!" For starters, I had to politely ask the word fail to leave the room. Who needs the word fail any way? Then I packed embarrassment's bags and showed him the door, too. There's no room here for your kind, mister. Suddenly, things were getting roomy. There was space for words like opportunity and maturity.

Which brings us back to timing. Our son's birthday is August 13th, so he turned five about twenty minutes before kindergarten started. Other kids in his class turned five in, say, February, giving them eons of extra time to develop and mature. And everybody knows six months equals about ten years in little kid time. Malcolm Gladwell knows it. In Outliers, he says, "Most parents, one suspects, think that whatever disadvantage a younger child faces in kindergarten eventually goes away. But it doesn’t. . . . It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years." If a kindergartner is struggling to keep up with classmates who had the developmental windfall of earlier birthdays, it can be a big mistake to assume he'll naturally catch up later. The struggle can cost the child his education, his self-esteem, even his life. Gladwell suggests that suicide is sometimes the ultimate price of this mistake. After reading that, I could clearly see another year of kindergarten for what it is—an opportunity, not a failure. And I thank both his kindergarten teachers for giving it to him.

About five minutes before our impromptu playground interview, our son's new teacher pulled me aside to tell me that everybody's noticing how much better he's doing this go 'round—his reading, his writing, his drawing. We see it, too. He's blooming.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009



Growing up, a major theme in our household was, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." My mother was all about tone. And the only tone she really wanted to hear from her children was a pleasant one. Sarcasm, whining, bitchiness and sass were all best muttered into a pillow in the privacy of our bedrooms. Even then, the woman could hear an eyeball roll and smack it back into place without leaving her seat.

All these memories flooded back to me in room 404 of Stabler Hall the other night as my professor discussed the importance of delivery in effective rhetoric. Rather than lecture, he let the music do the talking. We each got a copy of a mysterious song's lyrics and were instructed to guess the style of delivery. Was it man or woman? Fast tempo or slow? Country, rap, rock? Absent the artist's delivery, it was all up to our imaginations.

What would you have guessed:

I want to know how it'll end
I want to be sure of what it'll cost
I want to strangle the stars for all they promised me
I want you to call me on your drug phone
I want to keep you alive so there is always the possibility of murder later
I want to be there when you learn the cost of desire
I want you to understand that my malevolence is just a way to win
I want the name of the ruiner
I want matches in case I have to suddenly burn
I want you to know that being kind is overrated
I want to write my secret across your sky
I want to watch you lose control
I want to watch you lose
I want to know exactly what it's going to take
I want to see you insert yourself into glory
I want your touches to scar me so I'll know where you've been
I want you to watch when I go down in flames
I want a list of atrocities done in your name
I want to reach my hand into the dark and feel what reaches back
I want to remember when my nightmares were clearer
I want to be there when your hot black rage rips wide open
I want to taste my own kind
I want to be wrapped in cold wet sheets to see if it's different on this side
I want you to come on strong
I want to leave you out in the cold
I want the exact same thing... but different
I want some soft drugs.. some soft, soft drugs
I want to throw you
I want you to know I know
I want to know if you read me
I want to swing with my eyes shut and see what I hit
I want to know just how much you hate me so I can predict what you'll do
I want you to know the wounds are self-inflicted
I want a controlling interest
I want to be somewhere beautiful when I die
I want to be your secret hater
I want to stop destroying you but I can't
And I want and I want and I want
And I will always be hungry
And I want and I want and I want...

So, what did you hear? Who did you see?

For me, it was her:

But I was wrong. Give a listen and see how close your perception was to reality.