Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sins of Emission


For the past two weeks I’ve been super-mommying the twins to their swimming lessons at Bates College.

They each get one-on-ones with impossibly adorable, impossibly polite, and impossibly fit members of the Bates Swim Team. 

Major hero worship.

Here’s why I mention it.

Back in the Mesozoic Era, when I was in second grade, something Momentous happened.

I still remember it exactly:

I am sitting at my little desk. It is soon after lunch. We are supposed to take out our arithmetic books. That’s when I hear it. From the back of the room.

“Mrs. Chasen, I have to----BLLLLAAAAAAAAH!!

And this little black-haired girl throws up.

That’s it. That’s the gantse mayse, the whole story.

Ok, so we all had to get up and go to a different classroom while the custodian disinfected. And we got to waste about 20 glorious minutes.

Trouble is, I still remember this girl as The Girl Who Threw Up In Second Grade.

Never mind that she was incredibly smart, interestingly left-handed like my beloved sister, Dina, AND she won the Oratorical Contest in eighth grade with a Sam Levinson monologue—what is WRONG with my memory!

Beating moi, by the way. Whose monologue I cannot remember at all.

Now she is an accomplished professor with a beautiful daughter who is a rising journalist.

So, my fixation on something that happened when we were both seven is—obviously my problem.

I wonder if anyone else from my class back then even remembers it.

Here’s another reason I mention it.

The first week of school, Charlie’s teacher sends one of her newey-agey notes home.

She finds it very important for children to stay hydrated throughout the day. She cites some sinister statistics. She is therefore requiring everyone in her class to bring a water bottle to keep on his or her desk. Fine.

Hey—another excuse for a trip to Walmart.

I buy Charlie the most purply-glittery bottle she can find.

Two days later, noonish, I get a call from the school nurse.

OMG are the twins ok?

There is a hideously long pause—an ENTIRE millisecond.

Yes—but Charlie had a little accident.


You know, in her—panties.


Maybe certain newey-agey teachers should also study the sinister statistics of seven-year-old bladders forced to overhydrate from purply-glittery bottles.

I’ll be right there.

Damned lucky I heard my phone.

I get to the school with a complete change of clothes, which includes one of Charlie’s Celestia Twilight Princessia Sparkalicious My Little Pony dresses.

She is waiting for me in the nurse’s office.

She turns to me, and I will never forget that look.

It is a gut-wrenching gallimaufry of shame & horror & sadness & pathos & help me because I am very very small.

And her eyes are also wet.

She leaps into my arms and buries her beautiful little face in my neck.

I whisper all kinds of truths and lies. This happens to everyone. It happened to a friend of mine. It’s not your fault. It’s no big deal. And the whopper: nobody will even remember it.

Speed. Speed is of the essence.

I change her up and in five minutes flat we are back in the gym where the whole thing went down.

Her new dress gets a roar of approval from the girls. Check.

I put her back in the middle of the relay race line.

You know, I oh-so-casually mention to a little boy behind her, Charlie was in the Auburn Track and Field Club this summer. 

Ooooo--wow, he says. Check.

I stand there watching her run and pass the baton in that cool under-handed way she learned at Track and Field.

The gym teacher comes over. That was fast, she says.

I felt so bad for Charlie, she says. She had just started to run her relay and, well, Mr. Tim had to come and clean it up. Then she confides: At least it wasn’t-- you know. We’ve had THAT happen after lunch.


I see Charlie chatting happily with another girl on the relay line.

She doesn’t notice when I leave.

I notice a big anti-bullying poster on the way out.

The next morning when I drop her off at school I say, oh-so-casually: Hey Charlie, maybe you don’t have to drink so much water all day long.

Yeah, she grins at me. I’m not gonna keep the water bottle on my desk anymore.

Way to pass that incident like a baton, girl!

So, this evening, right before the twins’ 6 o’clock class, there is a sudden commotion in the pool.

The Swim Coach (a fabulous congregant!) is up and moving one of those long pole thingies back and forth in the shallow end.

I have a feeling, but I wait to be told.

Yep. Poop in the water.


They’re going to clean it and shock the water, but lessons are cancelled for tonight.

I think.

Why does that momentous event from over forty years ago still affect me? Why was it so freakin’ momentous?

Why did it prevent me from ever being proper friends with a perfectly nice girl?

Why was I so determined to erase the event for Charlie? To protect her from forever being That Girl?

To protect myself from thinking that everyone else is thinking she is That Girl?

Why are some things so damned hard to forget?

Am I still poop-prurient?

And then I realize:

I never told a grown-up about that day in second grade. Never told my mother—not ‘til years later.

I don’t remember our teacher, Mrs. Chasen, saying anything soothing to us—truth or lies.

I had to process it all by myself.

And for a seven-year-old, it was momentous. A momentous there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I-AND- in-front-of-the-ENTIRE-CLASS-pre-anti-bullying-posters event.

A nightmare I seem to have never gotten over.

So this week between Charlie and the poopy pool kid, I had a flashback. But this time, I guess, I got to be my own mom.

And, you know, moms can make everything ok.


I hustle Charlie and Johnny out of the pool area.

I let them talk me into getting them snacks from the vending machine.

But I still keep my head down as I pass the ongoing pool commotion on our way out.

I don’t dare look up.

In case it was the kid of someone I know.