Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"You There, With The Mohawk!" (on forgetting my kids' names)


 Erma Bombeck was the nation’s most beloved suburban humorist when I was growing up.  Today I still love her work, and channel Erma in the same way that author Julie Powell channeled Julia Child, (just without the Ephron screenplay).
   One of my favorite Erma-isms comes up frequently at our house: someone scavenges the fridge for a snack and comes across a leftover that seems to be going bad.  JUST as they try to toss it in the garbage, I throw my body between the trash and the leftover shouting, “It’s not READY to be thrown away!” Erma and I are all about the leftover... with hope.
  My actual life is full of not-ready-to-be-thrown-aways.  And, yes, I do aspire to become a feature on an episode of Hoarders, but that’s not what I mean. 
   I am talking about my brain.  
   It seems to be going bad, but it’s not ready to be thrown away.
   
  Fortunately, I’ve reached the age where I can blame estrogen loss for losing track of keys, names, entire days, my train-of-thought, an actual train-ticket. Because back in the day, when my word-retrieval issues first started, people suspected crack-abuse.
  
  In winter of ’94, I was enrolled in several secondary ed courses at a nearby college. One early morning, I drew upon my novice skills as a future English teacher, and impressed my son and his friends with my linguistic prowess.

   “Nick,” I said cleverly, as that is his name. “Aren’t you guys cold at the bus stop without one of those … um--”
  “What, Mom?  We gotta go.”
   “You know. The warm wraps that--”
   “You mean a scarf?”
   “Not that. One of those … you know!”
   “Gloves, Mother?”
   “No. Those…coats for your head.”
   “You mean, a ‘hat’?”
   “YES! That’s it! A HAT!”

   As their little naked heads bobbed toward the bus, one of the tots doused his cigarette sniffing, “How come we never hear about the parties your Mom goes to?”

   I couldn’t understand it.  English was not my second language.  It was something for which I’d acquire a license to teach in another year. Yet language at the most crucial times escaped me.  Never anything tricky like anthropomorphic.  Or cellulite.  I forgot words like plow.
   “Look out for that – wide thing – pushes…white, cold … stuff.”
   “Are you referring to the plow we passed a mile ago with a football field between us?” queried the Master’s Degree-d Science Wiz actually driving the car.
     “Oh.  Plow. Missed it.  Good.”
     It’s fortunate I was training to be an English teacher and not a transplant specialist:
  
“. . . with seconds to go before shutting down the respirator, the fate of vital organs hanging in the balance, Dr. Given is passed the Tolstoy Articulating Retractor with which she … retracts articles.  She tracts.  She retracts, until the respirator sputters to a halt.  The only audible sound is that of… retracted things: a viscous surgical symphony playing to the petulant tick of time.
   “Okay, we’re ready,” says. Dr. Given.  “Hand me that … oh you know, that breathing thing. No, fool! Not beating.  That thing only pumps. What?? Ah yes, the LUNG, thank you, nurse.  Now did everybody get that? Alrighty, then, let’s –oops!  
    “Well, I hope you’re all happy.  Now the patient is …like, uh -- he’s—“

    And it’s a darned good thing my husband and I pored, for months, during each of four pregnancies, over Baby Name Encyclopedias so I could knowledgeably call each offspring ‘Yo’ at dinnertime.
   
   “Yo! Dudes. Come eat.  You, there, with the faux-hawk – grab your brother.”
   “Which one?”
   “Six-one, dark hair.”
   “Nick?”
   “That’s him. And call Zach.”
   I’m Zach. You want Jake.”
   “Him, too.”
   “Should I get Abigail?”
   “Huh?”
   “You gave birth to her in 1990.”
   “I was there so don’t be fresh.  And feed Frank.”
    “Mom, you had her put to sleep.  The NEW cat answers to ‘Selina’.”
    “And YOU can answer to Wise Guy so just march to your room   --young man.”
    “Forgot my name, huh?”
     “—Maybe.”
     “It’s Zach, but I’ll go anyway.  Can I have pizza in my room?”
    “Pizza?”
     “Round cheesy food that your kids – and I’m one – eat for dinner.”
    “Dinner?  Right. Hey, call the rest of the kids, would you? It’s time to eat.”
  
   While they ate, the kids (Nicholas, Jacob, Zachary and Abigail) voted to forbid me to seek further advanced degrees. They said any new knowledge would “p-l-o-w” away even more reference data about them, and I’d be reduced to calling their names in simple code by tapping a rubber spoon against a drool-cup.
   “You know, Mom,” the one with the braces pouted.  “We never forget your name.”
   “Duh!” I said. “You all call me, ‘Mom’. And I’ve seen your Emergency Contact cards at school.  You list my first name as ‘Mrs.’, my middle as ‘J’ – and, sweetie, I haven’t been 27 since the year you were born, but thanks --
   “Okay, listen up! ‘Mom’ is not my given name, although Given is my surname, not my maiden, which was Smith.”
   “What?”
   I didn’t graduate summa cum brilliant from my English Teacher program for nothing! I graduated for – umm …gads.  Let’s see … Perhaps the income for a copy of Luminosity and some Hormone Replacement Therapy.
  Or simply the right to have finally ‘caught up’ to my “early neural maturity.” Ol' what's-her-name Bombeck would have totally agreed.