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Taking stock of my metabolism

Molly StevensOver the summer, the American stock market surrendered $2.1 trillion in value over a six-day losing streak. If you are like me, understanding the complexities of a market correction is as baffling as reading a prospectus. People are concerned, fearing a future of rummaging through bins of dented cans to meet their recommended daily allowances.

I sympathize with investors’ shrinking portfolios, but I am confronting a serious personal disaster that has more to do with inflation: I have an underperforming metabolism.

It turns out while others mourned losses from risky hedge funds, I was realizing capital “gains” in my “piggy” bank. And my assets were growing out of control!

When I was a baby, Carnation Evaporated Milk and Karo Syrup had deep enough pockets to convince my mother’s generation that this concoction was superior to breast milk.  It wasn’t my fault (or my mother’s) that suckling on this sugary formula altered my brain chemistry, setting me up for carb cravings as powerful as a bull market.

During a period of aggressive growth, I bought into commodities like devil’s food cake, Mom’s apple pie and Twinkies. I never gave much thought to balancing caloric debits and credits. When I wanted to drop a few pounds I simply skipped dessert for a few days. My mitochondria were slaving away 24/7, working harder than migrant workers in a blueberry baron.

But suddenly I was shocked into facing this reality: I was the victim of a metabolic correction. I continued to eat, drink and frolic in rich dividends, while my energy requirements bottomed out. And the waste applied itself to my waist.

Even Social Security doesn’t declare someone in my generation fully vested until age 66. Who presented my metabolism with the option for early retirement?

I was on the verge of a full-blown depression when a co-worker updated me on the latest research about ideal body mass index (BMI) for “mature” adults. It seems that a BMI of 18.5-24.5 does not provide security for those over 65. Instead the key to a longer life is BMI diversification in the range of 23-33.

My metabolic correction was actually protection — against premature death and a long-term relationship with Jennie Craig.

Now that I’m not doomed to a lifetime of Special K, I’ve turned my thoughts toward plumping up my 401K. And like an answer to a prayer, I just got an email from a nice person from Nigeria offering me some fabulous returns for a one-time investment.

While I wait for the money to roll in, I’m washing down some blue chips with a Sam Adams, knowing these empty calories are contributing to my longevity.

— Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk, but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She blogs at www.shallowreflections.com, where she skims over important topics, like her love affair with white potatoes and why she saves user manuals.

Never too late

Foyne MahaffeyI’ve always loved cellos.

They look beautiful and so do the people who play them no matter what their appearance while on break. Player and instrument, the two become one. The way a player has to drape around his or her cello makes it clear that they are a couple.

I have always been especially drawn to slow, deep pieces full of break-ups and job loss. Cello and angst to me equal one perfect evening. It’s the vibrato, the shaking left hand heartbeat, that gives it soul and sex appeal,capable of taking us on winding mental journeys.

It looked so easy and natural. Well It’s not and it’s not and I have a whole new respect for the art of vibrato. This time based on experience.

I played winds my whole life and it’s really tough to wrap your legs around a flute or hug a clarinet from the back while you’re playing it. Cello lines are curved to match the human body, and they are Renoirs as they lean back on you probably thinking about how lucky they are. A cello smells like wood, or at least varnish, and has a softer feel than the hard linear metal of a flute, but even clarinets that are made of wood are constructed with rings or metal keys between your skin and the instrument at every point of contact. Clearly, you’re not welcome except to provide air. Kandinskys.

The size of a cello is perfect, too. It’s not so small that you feel like you have to baby it, but not so big it intimidates a student the way stand up basses do. A short person has never even considered a bass. To me, basses are the coolest by far, but big and scary and look like something that should be leashed. Cellos welcome your caress.

Upon my retirement, I decided to keep my mind active. Tutoring involved people, as did volunteer work, tour groups or taking classes. After 34 years of being with 25-40 kids all day every day, solitary activity was more up my alley, so I decided to do something I had always wanted to do and that was to learn to play a cello.

I got pigeon-holed into woodwinds at an early age when all I could take at school was a little plastic recorder like instrument that was called a saxette. It was a gateway instrument ultimately leading to hard-core clarinet use in the high school marching band. They needed players for football games, and tight ends had nothing to do with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my woodwinds, and play them still. They’ve been great to me through the years, automatically providing passionate peer groups and talented friends and I do have an emotional attachment to my Armstrong open hole flute which was lugged gig to gig when I was trying to be Jethro Tull. Playing while balancing on one leg is not easy. Woodwinds certainly can provide the same sort of emotional expression that cellos do, but you can’t cry and play at the same time.

So here I am, retired and the proud owner of a cello. I’ve been taking lessons at a local LA music store with an absolutely gifted young guy half my age who is not only a fantastic player but an unusually good teacher.

I am excited about going to lessons every Saturday. It’s therapy, only with a cello between your knees. There you face your insecurities, fears of embarrassment and failure. You are attempting things that are hard and confusing and sometimes you want to run out of the room.

For people who have already lived a successful professional life, feeling like an idiot may be new. Hopefully you’ll have a teacher who remembers what it was like at the beginning. I’m lucky. This kid I’m learning from is an absolute master teacher. I would have quit many times over had he not had understood what a teacher is supposed to do.

Sure, I’ve left a lesson or two on the verge of tears, feeling so frustrated at the slow pace of my improvement. After all, my biological clock is ticking and the reality is I’ll probably not live long enough to ever get as good as I want to be or even play a recognizable song.

Luckily there are those other times. Days when I feel like I am doing pretty well, and still quite capable of learning, which at my age can be very reassuring.

Weekly lessons have given me something to work toward, something to do with my time that doesn’t leave me feeling guilty the way binge watching “Project Runway” would. I have always taken lessons to simply learn how to play the instrument in my hand at the time — guitar, flute, clarinet and piano. That’s why I started cello, but that is not entirely why I continue.

I know I’ll never be great, maybe not even good, but I am doing something I have wanted to do since I was young, trying something new and difficult and humbling. I will continue to go to my lessons and practice hard until I can play rings around the hundreds of 7-year-old Japanese kids working out of the same books I am. Like I said, humbling, but totally worth it.

Find a good teacher and learn to do that thing you say after the phrase, “I’ve always wanted to…

— Foyne Mahaffey

Foyne Mahaffey, co-author of In Motherwords, Unconventional Wisdom For Mothers Raising Daughters, has been a teacher, singer, comedienne, lyricist and writer for stories in Utne Reader, ReThinking Schools, Educational Leadership and the blog, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in Northshore Lifestyle. On her blog, she posts humorous pieces about contemporary life and other craziness. The blog has been hit on more than 5,000 times, substantially passing the number of times Ms. Mahaffey has been hit on herself. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is hoarding water and waiting for earthquakes.

I’m afraid of the toilet!

Laura Fahrenthold

It’s true! I’m afraid to step foot in my bathroom, much less use the toilet for fear it may drown me.

Can you say hello bushes?

Hello bushes.

And can you say “hi!” to the nice man at the 24-hour gas station down the street?

Hello nice gas station man at the 24-hour gas station down the street.

Everything was peachy until the downstairs toilet took on a life of its own, complete with gurgling sound effects. It’s as if a monster moved into the sewer pipe.

Now what? How could I possibly get a plumber to fix it if not kill it on such short notice? The answer is, you don’t. Next coupla days, maybe even tomorrow, sure, but not today, lady.

Great. Now what? Time to channel my inner Girl Scout, that’s what.

La, la, la.

Don’t look now while I pee on the daisies.

At least the kids are gone, otherwise I never would’ve gotten away with it.

“That’s disgusting, Mom,” they’d say.

“What do you expect me to do? Drive all the way to the gas station every time I have to pee? I have work to do. I’M ON DEADLINE! I don’t have time for this except when it’s important, if you know what I mean!”

But they wouldn’t be home for another day, meaning I could get away with it until the plumber came.

Back in the house, I smelled something like rotten eggs but didn’t think a lot of it. I looked at the dogs accusingly. They looked back at me wide-eyed.

“Ok, which one of you did it?” I asked, surveying the floor for a little surprise package. Only there was none.

Humph…

I opened cabinets.

Nothing gross in there.

I looked through the fridge for dead food.

Nope.

Garbage?

Empty.

A few hours later, the smell had become unbearable. Only now I knew exactly where it was coming from — the basement.

That’s when I opened the door and was greeted by a basement full of pooh.

You name it, whatever my neighbors flushed down their toilets ended up on my basement floor, including…are you ready for this? T-shirts, diapers, a paint brush, two metal hangars, tin foil, tampons, even a fishing bobber. Wait, is that a baby stroller? (Just kidding!)

It took the plumber less than 10 minutes to reach my door this time. I guess having four inches of raw sewage on the floor constitutes a true emergency, grumbling toilet aside. Soon, two village officials and the police were there, too. The police? Really? The plumber called the police?

Yes, really. He called the police. You see, when they lifted the manhole cover on the street in front of my house, it was backed up almost to the rim. We’re talking eight feet of raw sewage water! If it blew, there would be no stopping it. I could be looking at a tsunami of human hazard going you know where — directly into my basement.

The plumber looked scared. The officials looked scared. Even the police officer looked scared.

I actually hugged the guy from the pipe and drain cleaning company. It only took about 10 minutes for him to do his thing — pump the excess water into the tank on the truck and clear the pipe.

It was now only a small emergency, not a giant one.

First things, first. The insurance company hired a professional cleaning crew to attack the basement. A lot of stuff got damaged and thrown away but these are only things, I decided. Next was figuring out what to do with the culprit — this giant tree in the side yard.

Its roots had grown into the sewage pipe, which was apparently my responsibility to fix. Ah, the joys of homeownership.

The Charmin definitely got squeezed out of me: $2,700 for the tree removal plus $2,500 for the insurance deductible, but we were back in business.

— Laura Fahrenthold

Laura Fahrenthold is a New York City crime reporter turned upcoming author. She writes about widowhood and parenting her eyeball rolling teenagers on her hit blog, www.LauraFahrenthold.com.

Turf wars

Ronda ParsonsThere exists today in America an ongoing war that our history books have overlooked.

For never before in the history of the world have so many good men fought so hard and spent so much money in the pursuit of so little ground — that half-acre suburban dream known as the green lawn.

I know that you have seen them at every hardware store in town, war-weary lawn veterans loading up flat-bed carts with grass seed, fertilizer and weed-control products. They stand at the checkout, grave-faced, inadvertently spying what other weekend soldiers are purchasing in the hope of deciphering their battle plans. As they leave the store, they linger over rows of the latest tillers, cultivators and blowers. “Next year I’ll have to look into getting one of those if this new clay buster doesn’t work.”

My husband is a 30-year veteran of the Turf War, a decorated General who earned his rank through his determination to weed out scourges known as thatch, fungus, crabgrass and moles. He will stop at nothing to fight these usurpers. Armed to the teeth each fall with power tools and rakes he implements his plan with the gung-ho spirit that would make any Marine sergeant proud. I, on the other hand, am just a mere draftee in this yearly skirmish. I hold up the ranks, rake in hand, pledging each year to begin taking a two-week trip to Canada each autumn.

I knew last week he was getting ready for this year’s battle when he looked over his newspaper at breakfast and said in a dreamy voice, “I wonder if I should get the lawn plugged this year.” Later in the day I caught him reviewing the grass with the precision of a pre-battle scout and making endless lists while sitting at the garage workbench, his seasonal war room. As he handed me a list of battle rations to pick up if I happened to be at the hardware store, not realizing that no woman happens into a hardware store, he turned to me and said, “You know honey, I really think this year I’ve got it figured out. My lawn will be great.”

Bless him. His optimism is inspiring. Churchill would be proud. For even though his procurement list included special sprinkler heads and thatching spring blades, I knew that his perfect lawn was nothing but an elusive dream. Yes, his lawn would grow green and lush, at first. Then the mole bivouac would encamp under his velvety lawn and the gentle spring breezes would scatter crabgrass and dandelion seeds like fairy dust, while humid nights turned his lawn into a giant green fungal petri dish. But I kept quiet. Even generals need a dream.

About a week ago we ran into a friend of ours who had sold the family’s home and downsized into a condominium. He had a glow about him. He eyes were shining. Was that a spring in his step? “Wow, you look great,” my husband said. “How’s the new place coming?” And as the sun glinted off his relaxed, tanned and smiling face (I swear even his teeth seemed whiter), he replied, “Super. I no longer have to worry about the lawn.”

Well, I had best run. My general is away on business for three days and will want a full lawn update when he phones home tonight. I wonder how long it takes to have sod laid.

— Ronda Parsons

Ronda Parsons is the author of Creating Joy & Meaning for the Dementia Patientwhich was published by Rowman & Littlefield in May 2015. Many of her essays have been published in newspapers and magazines. With a background in sales management in two Fortune 100 companies, she now devotes her time to the pleasure of writing.

I feel bad about your neck

Con ChapmanOne of my first literary crushes was the late Nora Ephron. She was funny, wrote like a dream and was cute. To me, at least.

And so it was with some dismay that I read her collection of essays,  “I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”

If only, I thought, she had known me back when I was putting together my Fifty-Year Plan for Long-Term Neck Maintenance, she wouldn’t feel bad about her neck.

That’s right. I was thinking about how my neck would look in the 21st century back when you were watching The Brady Bunch.  If you were even alive.

My long-term perspective on neck upkeep was prompted by Jabba the Hutt, the Star Wars character who bore more than a passing resemblance to Richard J. Daley, the long-time Mayor of Chicago whose neck melded into his pot belly shortly after the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Jabba was my nightmare–what I would look like if I didn’t take care of my neck; a triple-chinned blob of a man, cast aside while hard-charging up-and-comers half my age blew by me on the expressway of life.  I wasn’t going to end up a flabby mound of blubber, dammit!  Like William Faulkner, I would not only endure, I would prevail!

And so it is that I end up, midway through the sixth decade of my life, without a double chin (or “chin scrotum,” as fitness freaks like to call them).  From some angles.  If the light is right.  With the wind at my back.  Unlike the guys I read about in The Wall Street Journal who pay $6,231 for face lifts (proper name, rhytidectomies), money they could be spending on booze if only they’d taken care of themselves.

How can you achieve the same semi-tough neck–with the approximate firmness of a trout’s belly–at my advanced age?  Simple–follow this E-Z Home Neck of Steel program, and you’ll never feel bad about your neck.

Play High School Football.  High school football is a great way to build neck muscles so that you end up at +60 years with very little flab on your neck.  Or sometimes no neck at all.  Consider Tommy Nobis, my role model when I was a budding linebacker.  Tommy built his neck up to a robust 19.5″ circumference by daily neck exercises of the sort our coaches made us do; we would drop down on the ground in push-up position, but support the upper half of our bodies with our heads instead of our arms.

With this type of conditioning, we could use our heads as human battering rams, which led to some neck injuries but was a small price to pay for a neck that looked like an Ionic column.  Hint:  start forty-five years before you wish to avoid a flabby neck.

Whiplash:  Whiplash is a great conditioning tool for the neck.  The best way to acquire it is to be hit from behind by a car full of girls, which will cause their car to slam into your rear-end (I mean your car’s rear-end). Your head will snap back, then bounce off the head rest.

When your car comes to a stop, the girls will surround you and apologize profusely, enveloping you in the scent of perfume while their long hair gently brushes your face and–I had a point back there, before the crash.

Oh yeah. Whiplash causes pain that can be alleviated by yoga, especially the cobra position, which also tones your neck muscles.  Again, remember to start early–give yourself plenty of time, around five decades.

Buy Executive Health Briefs.  In the late 70s ads began to appear in leading business publications for an expensive newsletter called “Executive Health Briefs.”  For an exorbitant annual subscription price, you would receive a weekly collection of health tips that would keep you trim so that when you discarded your first wife in an expensive divorce you could acquire an aerobics instructor who shortened her name to a diminutive containing the letter “i” just so she could dot it with a smiley face.

As a come-on, the publisher offered a free copy of “How to Avoid a Double-Chin” to new subscribers.  In a risky arbitrage move, I signed up for Executive Health Briefs, then as soon as I’d received the Double-Chin teaser, I canceled my subscription.  After all, I couldn’t afford to spend what little beer money I had on a magazine whose price point was set for six-figure CEOs!

But many years later I refer to that collection of exercises, which cost me $3 (adjusted for inflation, $1.2 billion).  I am now happy to share key double-chin fighting exercises with you–free–because that’s the Way of the Internet.

1. Interlace fingers across forehead.  Bow your head forward until your chin touches your navel.  Dig down, remove belly button lint, resurface.  Repeat six times.

2. Turn your head towards and then over your left shoulder.  Place chin on left shoulder blade, scratch patch of dry skin that you can’t reach using your right arm.  Return to original position, and repeat over right shoulder.  If neck becomes stuck behind shoulder, call Fire Department.

3. Place palms against side of head.  Press until lymph nodes in head pop, sending colorless liquid streaming out ears.  Repeat until neck is drained of fluid.  Adjourn to singles bar to receive admiring compliments from people two decades younger than you who would like to inherit your estate.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

A ceremonious retirement

 

Astra GroskaufmanisIt was bound to happen at some point in their lives, but it still came as a shock when, after 11 seasons of minor hockey, my boys decided to quit and hang up their skates and live off nonexistent product endorsements and Mom’s cooking. Gone for them were tryouts, hockey camps, spring hockey leagues and winter hockey leagues.

With just my daughter left playing, the question I got asked an awful lot was, “What are you doing with all your free time?” You would think that with all this free time on my hands, I would have mastered a new language or learned to play the oboe or something. Or, at the very least, I would no longer have any expired dairy products in my refrigerator. But the answer is no — my free time was consumed otherwise. I perfected the art of social media — induced procrastination. I discovered the art of a second cup of coffee. Life was beautiful.

Soon after the boys announced their retirement, we had some neighbors over for dinner, and they remarked on my new dining room accessories: two hockey jerseys hanging from the chandeliers.

“Nice touch, Astra,” said one.

“Are we seriously eating dinner in here?” said another.

“What gives?” they all asked in unison.

You see, I was struggling with how to appropriately honor the momentous occasion of my boys’ retirement (beyond the impressive little happy dance I did in the privacy of our garage, and the long-anticipated clink! of wine glasses I shared with my husband). It was both a proud moment and a little depressing, too. It was a day to both rejoice and grieve, laugh and cry.

In keeping with a tradition well known in many sport circles, I decided to retire the boys’ jersey numbers. Their hockey careers were done (until their initiation to the beer leagues), and it just wouldn’t have felt right to see other kids sporting their famous jersey numbers.

So I arranged a very special ceremony. I respectfully invited members of my sons’ hockey association; they were not able to attend, but their touching response (“You are hereby requested to return the two jerseys to our association or face a replacement fee of $80, plus tax, each”) brought tears to my eyes.

Members of the community also received gracious invitations to the event and, though not in attendance, were delighted to pass on their congratulations and acknowledgment of my sons’ many accomplishments (“The outstanding credit on your skate-sharpening card will be voided at the end of the month unless it is used in full”). And though we expected a full contingent of friends and family members, many of them were otherwise occupied (“Sorry we can’t make it — unlike you, the rest of us are still busy with hockey!”).

I shed a tear or two as I proudly hoisted those two jerseys to the rafters (noting that those rafters — our dining room chandelier — had to be dusted, since I now no longer had any excuse to avoid house cleaning). I thought of something a most revered doctor friend (that would be Dr. Seuss) once said: “Don’t cry because it’s over; cry because it happened.” Hockey certainly did happen in this house! It was the perfect denouement to complete my sons’ calling to minor hockey, and my life as a humble hockey mom — that is, until my daughter retires.

As you might imagine, my husband thought I’d totally lost it this time.

He thought the jerseys should be hung from the ceiling in our bedroom.

— Astra Groskaufmanis

Astra is mother of three who lives in Ottawa, Canada, and pokes fun at motherhood, middle age and minor hockey. She wrote Offside by a Mile: Confessions of a Hockey Mom (FriesenPress, 2015) and contributes to HockeyNow.ca. Visit her at www.astragroskaufmanis.com and follow her on Twitter @mydustbunnies.

Deli Hell

DrozdowskiI hate the supermarket deli.

Well, maybe hate isn’t the right word. It’s more like fear.

You fear the unknown and that which you cannot control, such as ghosts and tornadoes. I fear delis for these same reasons.

My encounters with supermarket delis, which I tend to severely limit because of this fear, follow a similar pattern. I arrive with a shopping list my wife provides. The list will include, for example, “ham (deli),” meaning I shouldn’t get the pre-packaged stuff that, while perhaps somewhat vile by comparison, would be immeasurably less complicated to purchase.

So I make my way to the deli, which is usually overcrowded and populated with people who actually know what they’re doing there. I take a number from the dispenser and compare it to the number on the digital display. Typically I get something like 68, and the display says they’re currently serving number 50. That’s okay. I can wait.

When I hear my number called, I drop my ticket in the used-ticket basket and wonder if they recycle these numbered tickets. If so, how do they get them back in the dispenser? If not, why do they get their own special basket?

“Sixty-eight!” I hear, my pulse now racing. I revisit my list. Ham (deli).

“I’ll take a pound of ham,” I announce.

“What kind?” the deli clerk replies, appearing somewhat impatient.

“The usual, I guess,” I respond.

“The usual?”

“Yeah, you know…regular ham.”

“Domestic or imported?”

“What’s the difference?”

“One kind comes from this country, and the other doesn’t.”

“Yes, I know that,” I say confidently. “I meant difference in quality.”

“Well, this kind here comes from Spain. It’s made from pigs that feed only on the finest grains from the Andalusia region.”

“How much?”

“Nineteen a pound.”

“Hmm,” I respond, trying not to seem the least bit fazed. “Any specials?”

“Our Krakus ham is only seven fifty.”

“What about this?” I ask, pointing at a slab of meat the size of a Volkswagen Golf.

“That’s our pork shoulder,” he says. “One step above spam.”

“How much?”

“Three ninety-nine.”

“I’ll take a pound.”

“Right,” he says, probably thinking my choice was somehow inevitable. “How do you want that sliced?”

“Medium is good,” I say.

“Medium what?”

“What?”

“Sliced thin?”

“Yeah, sure.”

A few seconds later he holds up a piece, waving it like a Rottweiler flogging a stuffed chipmunk. “How’s this?” he asks.

“Perfect,” I assure him, not exactly knowing how I’m supposed to determine if this slice of flesh dangling 30 feet away is within a millimeter of my specifications.

He plunks down a pile of it on the scale. “I’m a tenth over,” he says. “That okay?”

No, I think. Can you remove two slices so we’re right at a pound? “Fine,” I say instead.

“Anything else?” he asks, handing me my cheap meat.

I look back at my list. Cheese (deli).

“Um…a pound of cheese.”

His exasperated eye roll betrays his inner feelings for me.

“Kind?”

I scan the row of options, three yards long. Six customers have come and gone since my turn began. I’m now getting the foot tapping and icy glares from those witnessing this public humiliation, which has become my own version of a Monty Python skit.

“What do you recommend?” I ask, as if I’m dining in a fancy French bistro.

“Our muenster’s on sale for six bucks a pound,” he suggests.

“Is that domestic or imported?” I ask, pretending to be somewhat discriminating.

“It’s a domestic cheese.”

“How about American?” I reply. “Is that imported?”

He fails to appreciate my humor. “Want the muenster?”

“I like Swiss,” I say. “How much is that?”

“Four ninety-nine.”

“That’s good. One pound.”

The deli clerk and I repeat the process of slicing, waving, approving and weighing. “Will there be anything else?” he asks, cringing.

“Nope,” I reply, relieved that this most recent torment has ended. “That’s quite enough for today.”

— Mark J. Drozdowski

Mark J. Drozdowski is a writer, humorist and aspiring pundit. He was a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education for nine years and currently writes a humor column, “Special Edification,” for Inside Higher Ed. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and Salon, among other publications and websites. He blogs at drdroz.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @drdroz.

Hi, Doll!

Frances Peacock(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Kappa Delta Pi Record.)

The best things I know about teaching, I learned from my dentist.

Dr. Brennan took care of my teeth from the time I was five years old, and that man had a way about him. He must have known that some children, while they waited in the chair, found all kinds of ways to scare themselves silly. I was one of those children. I’d sit there and imagine the long, moveable lamp above my head was really a pterodactyl in disguise. I’d tell myself that the crazy, swirling spit sink would suck me up whole if I leaned in too close.

And then Dr. Brennan walked in — no, it was more of a bounce — and the whole place changed. One flash of his big smile removed all my fears.

“Hi, Doll!” he’d say. It’s the way he addressed me at every visit, and it’s the first thing he taught me about teaching. He said I was a beautiful doll. He told me my choppers were the prettiest set of pearls he ever inspected. His words were so convincing, his manner so genuine, that all of a sudden, I was delighted to be at the dentist. He made me feel great, and so I stretched my magnificent mouth wide open for him, and I never once considered biting that man’s hand.

Looking back, I know it didn’t have to go this way. I’ve seen my old school pictures, and frankly, I wasn’t really a doll. I was far from it. I was an uncombed, freckled girl with six colors of Crayola wax under my fingernails. I had choppy, uneven bangs that I trimmed myself once a month. I smelled like peanut butter. I rarely brushed, and I never flossed.

I should have been just another youngster in Dr. Brennan’s chair, for whom his task was to check the molars, fill the cavities and send home with shiny, newly polished teeth. He didn’t have to make me feel special, but he did.

Now I am a teacher, and my students are the dolls. When I use Dr. Brennan’s words in my classroom, I see the same thing he saw: a child who looks up at you and smiles and soaks in what you’ve said.  A child who feels so charmed, so happy inside, that he’d let you take a pointy metal drill and run it right down through the middle of his tooth. Or let you teach him to read.

After the drilling, Dr. Brennan took out the treasure box, and I learned something else about teaching. He plopped that box of wonderful toys onto my lap, told me to pick something out, and gave me all the time in the world. The mayor himself could have been in the next room, waiting for a painkiller and a double extraction, but Dr. Brennan didn’t care. There was a child here, and a present to be chosen, and the decision could not be rushed.

The  treasure box that I have is just like Dr. Brennan’s. It’s a crate of whistles, yo-yo’s and plastic rings for my students to churn their hands through. On Fridays I call the children to my desk, one by one, to pick out a prize. I give them all the time they need, in just the way Dr. Brennan showed me it’s done.

To look at it, that treasure box of mine is nothing fancy. It’s just a bunch of toys in an old wooden container, an assortment of simple objects that cost a few pennies each. It’s no big deal at all, really. There’s nothing important about any of this, I suppose.

Unless you happen to like whistles and yo-yo’s. Unless you’ve ever waited in a cold room, by yourself, feeling nervous and scared. Unless you’ve ever been showered with words of flattery while you swished cherry-flavored flouride around in your mouth.

Unless you were ever a doll, like me.

— Frances Peacock

Frances Peacock is a regular attendee of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where you can always find her sitting next to her sister, Jean Johnson. Frances has been an elementary school teacher for 25 years.  She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Andy. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. Her blog, Essays From A Teacher, can be found at francesmpeacock.wordpress.com.

Reflections of Erma