Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Lynn

I was teaching second grade when I thought about volunteering at the Child Crisis Center.  Some say that I was led to The Center, or that it was my calling, but all I knew back then was that I had a very strong urge to go volunteer. 
“Why do you want to go volunteer with kids at night and on the weekends when you teach kids all day long?”  That was the question, but I didn’t have an answer.  There was just this strong feeling, like a magnet pulling me toward The Center.  I went through the volunteer classes and then signed up for my first shift.  I had asked to volunteer on the ‘baby side’, which was kids ages birth to four years old.  When I walked into that part of the building, I found that it looked just like a regular house.  There was a family room with couches and shelves of toys, a TV, and some books.  The bedrooms were adjoining the family room, and down the hall were the bathrooms and kitchen.  There was a sliding glass door that led outside to a playground, surrounded by a tall, cinder block wall.  There was a play structure and some bikes and push toys lined up against the side of the building.  Across the courtyard, and hidden by another tall  wall, was the ‘big kids’ side, for children ages five to twelve.  Everything was the same as a family home except for the smell.  The air was thick with disinfectant.  It smelled like an institution.  When I walked into the family room that first day, all of the little kids crawled or stood and toddled over to me with their hands up in the air, reaching to be held.  It was disconcerting to see so many little people coming right up to me, seemingly starved for affection.  There was no stranger danger, just a rush of arms and hands and reaching.  “Hold me!”  They cried, or “Up, up!”.  Some just raised their arms and made a noise, “Uh, uh!” But it all meant the same thing; human contact.  Most days or nights, my duties were pretty basic.  I was to play with the kids,  lead them into the kitchen and strap them into their high chairs or booster seats for meals, feed them the meals that were prepared by the staff, and help clean them up.  I occasionally cleaned or mopped or folded laundry.  The more difficult tasks, such as bathing, counseling, dispensing medicine, putting to bed and disciplining were reserved for the employees.  Volunteering was pretty much the same as being a babysitter.  Honestly, I found it kind of boring. After I had been there a few months, I arrived for my shift and saw a new little girl on the baby side.  She looked to be about two years old, and was wearing denim overalls and a pink shirt with a ruffly collar.  Her jet black hair was cut very, very  short on the top and sides, but she had little black curls in the back.  It looked like maybe she had cut her own hair, and only the back had been spared.  When she came closer, I noticed she had four deep scratch marks across her left cheek; evidence that four fingernails had been raked across her cafe latte colored skin.  She ran right over to me, with a perfectly pursed rosebud mouth and asked, “What your name is? Who you?”  I told her my name was Lynn and asked hers.  She said, “My Cyn-tia” , gesturing to herself.  Then she pointed to me.  “You My Lynn.”  Aaaaaaand that was it.  That pull to volunteer I spoke of?  Yep, pulled me right into the palm of her hand.  She never left my side that day, and when I left I couldn’t get her out of my head.  From then on, when I went to volunteer, my eyes would scan the room for Cynthia.  “Please, please, Lord, let her still be here.”  I would silently pray.  Most kids stayed for a week or two, before being placed in foster care or going back home to their birth parents or other family members.  Would she still be there?  Yes!  There she was, putting together a block puzzle.  Why was I so drawn to her?  I didn’t know.  I began signing up for more shifts just so I could spend time with her.  She and I laughed and played and I always finagled it so I was her helper or in charge of her group.  When they had a special donut treat and Cynthia wanted more than her share, I took a few extra into my sweatshirt pocket and gave them to her on the sly.  (Sorry staff!)  I wanted everything to be perfect for her.  “My Lynn!”  She would call when I appeared to volunteer.  Oh, my heart!  It turned out that she was three and a half years old, not two as I had thought.  She was just the tiniest little thing.  She couldn’t have weighed more than 20 pounds.  I also learned that the adorable, always happy, and rare baby (the kids were mostly two years old or older), who I thought was adorable, was her brother Adam.  He was six months old and could already stand up while holding on to the couch or table, and laughed heartily whenever anyone tickled him.  His personality, at six months, was already very apparent.  Cynthia was very attentive to Adam.  She would run over to him in his bouncy seat every few minutes to show him something or pat his head.  She spoke to him like he was her age.  “Adam, I’m doing the firetruck puzzle!”  Or, “Adam, we are having poss-icles later on!”   I had said to her once, “You love Adam, don’t you?”  and she replied, “I yuv Adam.  Him’s my bwudder.”  Then she bent down eye to eye with him and said.  “You my bwudder, right Adam?"  Then turning to me, “Him said yes he is.” 

That summer, I found out that I couldn't conceive a child. I might be able to carry a child, but would have to have an egg donor, at $10,000 per egg.   It was tricky and I had a high chance of miscarrying.  It was a no-brainer for me.  I had always been interested in adoption anyway.  We started the classes to get certified to adopt.  We spoke with Catholic Charities, Holt International, private attorneys and several birth mothers.  We consulted people who had adopted children.  We asked for prayers.  I just dived right in to the task of having a child, whatever it was we had to do.  Around that time,  I noticed that Cyndee and Adam had been there for several months, unlike the others who came and went rather quickly.  I had made friends with many of the staff, and one day I casually asked why they had been there so long.  Of course, that information was highly confidential, but….but for some reason (fate?) she told me that their birth parents were off and on with visits and requirements, and that it was harder to place two siblings in a foster home together.  I dared to ask what the plan was for the two. Again, she shouldn’t have answered me, but….. mercy or miracle:  She told me that the plan was for their parental rights to be severed and that they would be going up for adoption.  Ding!  A bell went off in my head.  THAT was the pull I had been feeling for so long!  These were MY kids!  I went further and asked her for their case worker’s name and…..2nd Miracle:  She told me!  That was all the sign I needed.  There was no stopping me from that point forward.  I headed home that day when my shift ended, and ran straight for the phone book.  (It was 1997)  After some searching, I found the social worker.  I called and told her that I had met the kids and that we were super interested in adopting them, and were in fact, already in adoption classes.  The ball started rolling pretty quickly at first.  She gave me the name of an association that certified people as foster parents, and we quickly enrolled.  They put us on a fast tract to get a provisional foster care license so we could start the process to bring them home as foster children.  Then, once their parental rights were severed, we could start the process of adopting them.  We were reassured that their birth parents were not involved, and wouldn’t be contesting the severance.  This was IT!  It looked like our adoption would be easy as pie.  No.  It wasn’t easy in the least, and there were many roadblocks in the way.  But that’s a story for another day.  Fast-forward two years or so and they did finally become ours, but not without a huge fight, lots of prayers, and a couple of full-blown miracles.  There have been many miracles, in fact.  And they all started with that tiny girl with the jet black curls and perfectly pursed lips who called me, “My Lynn”. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Which Way Do I Go?

I’ve never been great at directions.  I can read a map in theory, but putting it to use on the road is another story.  I was excited when MapQuest and Google Maps came out.  I plugged my destination into my phone and prepared for smooth sailing.  Trouble was, Siri, or whoever was directing me, was often late with her voice.  At least, too late for me to change lanes.  She would say, “Turn right” when I was still in the left lane, or “Keep left” when I had just veered to the right.  I needed someone more specific.  I needed a voice who would say, “Not yet!”, “No, no, not that way!” and, “A little farther, a little farther…..ok now!”   Adam never had that trouble.  He had a keen sense of direction from the get-go.  Maybe it went along with his love of transportation.  When my parents started taking care of him in the mornings while I was teaching, my dad would drive him to a preschool class three days a week for a few hours.  (Just long enough to not wear out his welcome!) After my dad died, my mom took over the task of getting Adam to preschool.  The first time they set out, my mom buckled him into his carseat in the backseat and got behind the wheel.  Things went fine until they got to Gilbert and came to a corn field.  My mom didn’t see a street sign, but was sure the school was to the right.  She turned and Adam yelled from the backseat, “No Grandma!  You turned the wrong way!”  My mom shook her head, “No, I remember your mom said to go this way.”  But Adam was adamant.  “NO!  Grandma, you turned right and you should have turned left!  You need to turn around!”  My mom was a bit annoyed.  Afterall, Adam had just turned five and couldn’t yet read.  He was still in a carseat for goodness sake.  How could he know the directions to his school?  She kept driving, sure the school would appear any moment.  But Adam kept it up his commentary from his carseat. “Grandma, I’m going to be late to school!”  and “Oh brother, we are really lost now!”  My mom was becoming more and more flustered, as it did appear that they were lost.  She tried to call me, but I was in class and couldn’t take her call.  Adam finally saw that she was upset and said, “It’s okay, Grandma.  Don’t worry.  I know the way.  Just do what I say.”  He then proceeded to give her step by step directions to undo her last few turns and get back to the corn field.  Then he told her the way to get to the school from there.  She never doubted him again.
     I used Adam’s sense of direction to my advantage as well, often asking him, “Which way do I turn again?  or, “What house was it?  The third on the right or the fourth?”  He was always right with his directions.  I was proud of him and his special skill, and prayed that he would learn to follow an inner road map when making decisions about his life.   

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Adam was frustrating, for sure, but he had some very strong redeeming qualities that made it nearly impossible to stay mad at him.  First, he was adorable.  He had perfect skin, soft little curls, and a smile that could knock you out.  Next he was ridiculously charming, even as a baby.  He knew how to win people over with an expression or glance, and could talk his way out of any situation.  And then there was his heart.  Opposite of the grinch, his heart seemed to be three sizes bigger than average.  He loved all people and was genuinely interested in them.  He asked people questions, and listened to their answers.  He wanted to know more about their hobbies and interests.  He seemed to have a special interest in the elderly, those with special needs, and the less advantaged.  His big heart led him to donate all of his money to the red salvation army bucket on more than one occasion, give his toys away to others, and share anything he had.  He loved his family and would have done anything for his big sister, Cyndee, even though he pestered her nonstop.  He was very close to my mom, especially when my parents started watching him after his banishment from preschool, and she loved that little guy fiercely.  But there was one person in Adam’s life that his heart beat for more than any other, and that was Bampa.  My dad, named ‘Bampa’ by Adam when he was first learning to talk, was Adam’s hero, his main man, his idol, his person.  My dad was a gentle, kind, extraordinary man.  He was a retired school counselor and therapist, and was one of the most accepting people I’ve ever met.  Once, after church, where he was the choir director, a homeless person came up to him and started telling my dad about her problems, just kind of rambling and crying.  When she was finished, instead of telling her where she could go for help, or offering her money or advice, my dad just opened his arms and embraced her.  I felt like I was witnessing Christ in that moment.  There were so many more moments just like that.  My dad was just that way with everyone.  Including Adam.  After I would drop him off in the mornings, by dad and Adam would start their day by going to McDonalds for a ‘senior decaf’.  The McDonalds staff would get a kick out of hearing a three year old ordering the senior decaf on his own, and then actually drinking it with my dad.  Of course, he added lots of cream and sugar, but still.  Once, when they were in line at a book store that served coffee, Adam was looking at the display of bags of coffee, and when one of the employees saw Adam eying the bags of coffee she asked him, “Do you like coffee?” And when Adam replied, “yes”, she asked, skeptically,  “Oh really, what kind?” And he said, “Decaf.”  Then they would stop in at the grocery store, where my dad would let Adam check out a scooter/cart and drive it on my dad’s lap.  More than once they knocked over a display, but no matter, they just helped pick it back up and were off again.  Adam loved anything to do with transportation (He was born in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and was on the go from that day on!)  and was especially intrigued with buses.  So, my dad bought two daily passes and they spent a whole day riding the bus from one end of the city to the other and back again.  My dad gave Adam the gift of his time.  There was never any rush.  He let him explore and experience the world, and that was exactly what his little ADHD brain needed.  Some days they would clean the pool, which included dumping out the skimmer and examining it’s contents.  Other days they painted in the garage, took walks around the block that lasted hours because of all of the stopping they did to take everything in, or worked on the car or played the organ or piano.  Other days they took off in the car with no specific destination in mind.  One of these adventures took them to the high school where my dad had worked for so long.  They visited many different classrooms and programs that the high school offered, like wood shop, mechanics, culinary, and band.  As my dad was talking to the band teacher on the field one day, Adam climbed up into the golf cart that the teacher used for marching band practice.  The band teacher just smiled, thinking a three year old couldn’t do any harm, but the next thing they knew, Adam had started the ignition and was driving across the field.  There was Adam, driving around the track (and doing a pretty impressive job for a toddler), and my dad and the band teacher were running behind him in a panic.   They caught up with him eventually, and managed to pull the cart over, and instead of a scolding, they all had a good laugh.  Everything my dad did with Adam was done with patience and acceptance.  It was the best thing he could have done for Adam.  So when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack three days after Christmas when Adam was five years old, it absolutely crushed him.  We were all in a state of shock to lose such a magnificent man, and without any warning at all, but it nearly did Adam in.  That day, the never-stop-until-he-dropped-Adam slept for six hours.  We sat there in our grief and passed him from person to person, but he never woke.  It was as if his grief and despair had engulfed him and left him able to do nothing but shut down.  Adam was a great comfort to my mother, who had lost her soulmate and perfect match.  When Christmas break ended and I had to go back to teaching, my mom continued watching Adam on her own and it gave her a reason to keep going.  Their already strong bond deepened.  They held each other in their sorrow.  They understood what each other was going through.  A week or so after my dad’s death, my mom was driving to the store with Adam in his car seat in the back, and they were both quiet, thinking of my dad and his great loss.  Then, out of the back seat, Adam started singing, “Amazing Grace”.  He sang it perfectly, every word memorized (from church, we guessed), and in his sweet, clear little voice.  Two verses, he sang, as tears ran down my mom’s face.  When he finally finished, he looked up at the sky and said, “That was for you, Bampa.”  Adam was frustrating, for sure, but that heart got me every time. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sock Feet and A Marble Jar

We took Adam to the doctor, of course.  We were referred to a developmental specialist.  She performed an hour-long assessment and proclaimed Adam ‘spirited’, and ‘extremely intelligent’.  We had figured that out long before.  But what about the escaping?  What about the lack of a sense of danger?  The biting, the disregard for rules and authority?  And was there anything we could do about his destruction of property?  We were referred to a counselor.  We took him to play therapy, behavior modification, and started him on a low dose of ADHD meds.  There was no marked improvement.  The medication made him calm, but sad.  The first time I gave it to him, he sat through a movie.  A whole movie!  But he looked depressed and when I questioned him, he just looked at me with a blank stare and said, “I don't feel good, Mommy.”  It was chilling to see him so serious and withdrawn.  I decided I’d rather have him hyper but happy.  We tried another therapist.  And then another.  We tried a different medication.  And then another.  And another.  And another.  The side-effects always outweighed the benefits.  After years of trial and error with meds and professionals, we finally tried someone highly recommended, but not on our insurance.  The $150 per 30-minute sessions would be tough to handle, but what if this one had the answer?  It was worth a try.  I made the appointment.  Adam was ten years old at this point, and happy to get the morning off from school.  We pulled up to a fancy office building and took the elevator upstairs.  This was probably our ninth or tenth therapist, but the nicest office by far.  I was hopeful.  We waited in the posh waiting room.  I started filling out paperwork while Adam fiddled with the water cooler.  He had used four paper cups by the time I was done with the first page, and was peeling a fifth apart, like unwinding a ribbon.  “Mommy, look, it’s all one piece.”  He held up the unrolled cup.  I nodded.  “Nice work.”  I thought about telling him he didn’t need a different cup for each drink of water he took, but figured we were paying enough to use as many cups as we wanted.  He was already on to the fish tank anyway.  He had figured out how to open up the (supposed to be) hidden storage under the tank and was looking at the tubing and bubbler to see how they worked.  They called us back.  I think the receptionist  may have buzzed the doctor to take us early just to keep Adam from touching everything.  The doctor was wearing a tie, but everything else about him was overly casual. He was sitting tilted back in his office chair and his sock feet were up on his desk.  Eww.  We made our introductions and I handed him a typed letter.  I had written out Adam’s history and his most concerning behaviors.  I hadn’t wanted to list all of these things out loud in front of Adam, afraid that Adam would think I was complaining about him and would feel sad, or betrayed.  I had explained this to the doctor in the first paragraph.  I waited while he read, looking for a reaction.  There wasn’t one.  He just read, rocking slightly in his chair.  I had written several pages, so it took a while.  At last, he put down the paper,  looked up, and asked if I had tried a marble jar.  A marble jar?  A marble jar?  I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so insulted.  We had tried a marble jar seven years, two burned shower curtains, one stained couch, one ripped chair, a pool hose, six lost forks and two spoons, one broken serving dish, one pet rat, a gas pump, countless punches, curses, and tantrums ago.  (The marble jar technic, for those who haven’t heard of it,  is a simple form of positive reinforcement where the child earns a marble every time they do something positive.  When the jar is full, the child gets a predetermined and desirable reward.)  A marble jar was introduced when he was three.  It worked for two marbles.  Then he climbed up onto the counter, took one marble out and threw it at the ceiling fan to see if he could hit a moving target, and tried to stuff the other up his nose.  Yes, yes we had tried a marble jar.  We had also tried tokens, tickets, popsicle sticks, sticker charts, and M&Ms.  We went the other direction and tried other disciplinary technics;  time outs, loss of privileges, and grounding.  We weren’t greenies.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.  I was a teacher with a master’s degree for heaven’s sake.  Much of my course work was in child psychology and behavior management.  And Adam was ten.  We had been doing this for years.  We were way, WAY beyond marble jars.  I realized then that I was going to mainly be on my own in helping Adam to heal.  I knew what we had tried and what had and hadn’t worked. I actually took Adam back to the shoe-less doctor a few more times, hoping it had just been a bad start, but nothing new was ever presented.  It looked like it was back to research and journals and parent forums and blogs for me. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Breakfast and a Movie

We were pretty easy-going parents, but we still had a few rules and routines that we expected the kids to follow.  One such rule was that they should get dressed and brush their teeth before coming downstairs on school days.  Once Adam was downstairs, it was nearly impossible to get him back up to finish getting ready, so it was just easier to make a rule that he wasn't allowed to go down until he was clean and fully clothed.  Another rule was that there was no eating in the movie room.  We had converted the downstairs bedroom just off the family room into a 'theater', with different levels of seating and comfy couches, along with an oversized TV and surround sound speakers.  Adam loved movies and video games and spent a good amount of time inside the room.  We were exhausted from picking up after him, cleaning up his spills, and finding food stuck inside the couches, so had put the 'no eating' rule into place.  This was only to be broken when we were watching a family movie together and had provided popcorn or other snacks.  The rest of the time, no eating in the movie room!  Cyndee would get up in the morning, get dressed, brush her teeth, and head down to eat breakfast.  Adam, not so much.  Day after day after day I would go downstairs and find him in the movie room, watching TV in his underwear, with a full buffet of foods surrounding him, breaking all of the rules combined.  I reminded him of the rules and routines at night before he went to bed. I set out his clothes.  I made charts that had the steps he needed to follow to get dressed and brush his teeth.  I made picture cards to cue him to what was expected.  I made signs that I hung in the hallway that said, "Get dressed before going downstairs".  I drew arrows on stickie notes and stuck them on the wall from his room to the bathroom.  Hint hint.  I put a red stop sign at the top of the stairs with a sign that said, "Are you dressed?  Did you brush your teeth?"  No matter, I would find him in the movie room the next morning in his skivvies, remote in one hand, Poptart in the other.  And it wasn't just a Poptart.  There would be a half-eaten bowl of cereal and milk on the floor, a bag of chips next to him, salsa, yogurt, an empty bag of cookies, soda, and last night's leftovers.  Furthermore, he wouldn't just take some of the leftovers out, he would heat the entire container in the microwave, pour Tabasco sauce on top of it all, and then eat two bites and leave it to cool.  By the time I found it, it would be cold and soaked with Tabasco; thus unable to be eaten by anyone else who didn't love hot sauce on their lasagne.  We took away his TV and video game privileges.  He turned them on anyway while we were making dinner or helping Cyndee with her homework.  We locked the door.  He picked the lock.  We bought a security lock at Home Depot that had a keypad code.  He took the screen off the window and climbed in through the backyard.  We grounded him.  He went out anyway.  We tried rewards.  A trip to the movies?  Not worth it to him.  No consequence was severe enough nor reward great enough to motivate him to follow the rules.  He also took food up to his room during the night, which was another no-no.  No food upstairs.  Food stays in the kitchen.  Yet countless mornings I went in to wake him (he wasn't there of course, he was watching a movie in his undies over brunch in the locked movie room) and found packages of cookies, the brownies from last weekend, a tub of sour cream (why?), more leftovers, chips, ramen noodles, and a carton of ice cream melting onto the carpet.  I found plates and bowls crusted with food under his bed, silverware in his Lego bin, and Tupperware in his dresser.   I prided myself on my patience, but seriously, this was infuriating.  I kept questioning myself.  I had great classroom management skills.  I could keep 28 kindergartners in line all day, every day.  Why the heck couldn't I figure this out?  One night I took a deep breath and headed up to his room.  I talked to him about crumbs and old food attracting bugs.  I told him how proud of him we would be in the morning when he came down dressed and ready before turning on the TV.  I enticed him with a stop at the donut shop on the way to school if he stayed in bed and didn't bring any food upstairs.  We reviewed his signs and checklist.  We prayed.  He assured me he knew the rules and would follow them to a T.  I looked forward to a successful morning.  Later that night I went up to check on him before I turned in and found an empty package of cookies on the floor by his bed and a string cheese on his pillow.  Are you kidding me? Is this a joke? 
     One Saturday morning, after finding Adam nearly naked in the movie room, playing video games and eating his weight in groceries, I sent him up to clean his room.  Two hours later he still wasn't dressed and had managed to make even more messes in his room.  I went up to 'assist' him, which consisted of me telling him step-by-painstaking step what to do next, while he stood on his head, turned cartwheels, and told me how much he loved me.  As he was trying to bench press his mattress with his tiny little legs I saw something sticking out from under his bed. I went over and pulled out the remnants of the lemon meringue pie my mom had made especially for me the night before.  It was completely gone, except for some sticky lemon gel at the bottom of the pie plate.  That was it, I had had it!  It takes a lot to get me mad, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I wanted to  scream or slam the pie plate into smithereens.  Instead, I stormed out of his room, grabbed my keys, and called out that I was going to go work in my classroom to get away for a few hours.  I let the dog out and then got in my car and pulled out of the garage.  I dialed my mom on my cell phone as I headed to school.  My heart was beating fast and I was sweating.  He made me so mad!  My mom answered her phone.  I flew into a tirade about how he broke every rule and wouldn't listen and didn't mind and disregarded everything I said.  I was talking a mile a minute, filling her in on every little thing he had done in the past few hours.  My mom listened patiently to my laundry list of frustrations.  When I finally stopped to take a breath, I thought I heard something in the backseat.  I looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see Adam's had pop up.
"Hi Mommy!" He chirped, a big smile on his face. 
AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!  I nearly ran the car off the road.  How?  What?  When?  But instead of asking him how in the world he had gotten into the backseat of my car and hidden there while I spewed all of his faults to my mother, I simply turned the car around without a word and drove home.  My anger drained away.  I ended up pulling into our driveway and pulling Adam onto my lap and explaining to him that while I was angry with him for breaking (so many) rules, I still loved him so very much and had just needed to vent to Grandma so I could let it go and we could move forward.  I don't know if he understood all that I was saying, trying to apologize, wanting him to know that I loved him fiercely and would always forgive him his impulsivity, but he sat and let me hold him and smell his little warm neck.  Later that night, still feeling guilty about my tirade that he unwillingly heard, I went in to his room and ran my hand over his soft curls.  I silently apologized to him again and felt tears start as I looked at his sweet, peaceful, sleeping face.  Then he turned over in his sleep and I saw a fudge stripe cookie stuck to his back. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The F-Word

Adam went to kindergarten in the classroom next to mine.  His kindergarten teacher was a master teacher with a magic touch.  I knew if anyone could handle Adam’s antics, it was Mrs. M.  She was knowledgable, kind, fun, and above all, patient.  Adam flourished under her guidance, but probably gave her a wrinkle or two.  Of all of his kindergarten shenanigans, the one that stands out in my mind happened when I was standing right there.  Adam loved bad words, and by bad words, I mean garbage-type words; words that weren’t exactly explicatives, but just not nice.  Most of these words dealt with the bathroom, body parts, and bodily functions.  Others were words like ‘stupid’ or ‘crap’.  He was told not to say these garbage words, of course, but that didn’t stop him.  He especially liked the body part words,  and had somehow invented a new word that was a mash-up of ‘heinie’ (as in tush) and ‘penis’.  Heinis.  He said ‘heinis’ (pronounced ‘high-ness’) quite often.  Sometimes he’d say his new word to get a laugh, other times he’d yell it when he was mad, or he’d throw it out when he was trying to insult someone.  Cyndee got called, “Heinis” quite often.  Since ‘heinis’ wasn’t a bad word at all, no one batted an eye when he said it in public.  Adam, though, believed he was cursing.   Now, about this time, Adam began calling all garbage words, ‘the F-word’.  If one of us slipped up and said, “butt” or ‘stupid’, or “fart”, Adam was right there to remind us that we had just said, “The F-word”.  Of course we weren’t actually dropping any F-bombs, we had just said an innocent garbage word.  We shook our heads.  What would he come up with next?  One day, when he was watching Cinderella, the princess said, “Yes, Your Highness.”  Adam heard ‘heinis’, and whipped around and declared, “Oooooh!  Cinderella said the F-word!”  We had a good laugh.  We should have known better.  A few days later, Adam’s teacher and I were walking the morning kindergartners out to the gate where the parents gathered to claim their children.  As we walked, we discussed the upcoming standardized tests the district was requiring us to administer to the five-year-olds.  Just as we neared the gate, my colleague said, “I can’t believe we have to give kindergartners standardized tests.  That’s so stupid.”   Adam, who was walking between us,  and just in earshot of the waiting parents, gasped at the word ‘stupid’ and yelled, “Mrs. M, you just said the F-word!!!”  The parent’s mouths dropped open.  “No! No I didn’t!”  She sputtered, all flustered and dismayed.   I tried to quickly explain to the horrified parents that Adam called all garbage words ‘the F-word’, but I’m sure they were confused and skeptical of this explanation.  Adam’s poor teacher just kept repeating, “I promise I didn’t say the F-word, I promise I just said the word ‘stupid’.”  Sorry Mrs. M.  What a heinis of a day.

The Wine and the Water

When Cyndee and Adam were six and three years old, I took them to religious education classes at a Catholic Montessori program.  The three-year-old room had little stations that the children could choose to explore, such as a little wardrobe with miniature priest’s vestments that the kids could try on, a nativity play set, trays of sand with biblical figurines, little toy sheep and their shepherd, and paper and crayons with which the tots could ‘write’ prayers.  Adam’s favorite station was a mini altar with a little altar cloth and a tiny chalice and paton, plus two teeny-tiny candlesticks with real candles.  If a child chose to explore this set, the teacher or teacher’s aid would come light the candles with real matches and supervise the child while they dressed the altar and said ‘Mass’.  I was the teacher’s aid in Adam’s class (full disclosure—I volunteered to be the teacher’s aid to make sure Adam didn’t get kicked out or burn down the classroom while playing with the candles.)  I spent the 1.5 hour-long classes lighting the candles and watching Adam’s eyes glaze over, staring at the flames (remember, he was a fire-starter), and then having him blow the candles out.  Then lighting the candles again and encouraging him to blow the candles out and go try the coloring station, or how about the manger?  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  The teacher was a woman from New York, and she spoke with a Brooklyn accent.  She started each class with a story from the bible before dismissing the toddlers to explore the stations.  She would call the group together once more right before the end of class, and would review the bible story before saying goodbye until next week.  One night, she began class with the story of the wedding at Canaan.  The children gathered on the rug around ‘Ms. Donna’ and I sat right behind Adam to make sure he stayed put.  Ms. Donna started talking about how Jesus turned the water to wine, but in her accent, it sounded like ‘wutter to wine’.  Upon hearing Ms. Donna say, “Wutter”, Adam’s head whipped around to face me.  I shot him a “Don’t you dare say a word about her accent!” look.  Each time Ms. Donna would say, “wutter”, Adam’s little head would turn to look at me, a giggle forming, and each time I would give him ‘the look’.  He managed to make it through her story of Jesus’s first miracle without commenting on her pronunciation.  (Which was a miracle in it’s own right.)  We were finally dismissed to go light candles for the next hour.  Whew, we made it without a scene.  At the end of class, when all of the miniature church pieces had been put away, we gathered once more in front of Ms. Donna to say goodnight, but before we were excused, our teacher from back east asked, “So who can tell me what we learned tonight?”  Adam’s hand immediately shot up.  “Yes Adam?”  She said, and he answered in a perfect Brooklyn accent,  “We learned about the wine and the wutter.”  Class dismissed.