Monday, April 18, 2011

Remember when?

I just found a photo of me from my 9th birthday. I had forgotten the bowl haircut my mama used to give me (because I detested brushing my hair), but I remember the party very well.

I have a selective memory, it seems. Don’t ask me to recall what I had for breakfast or where I put my keys or the name of the lady I just met five minutes ago, but I can tell you what I wore on just about any given day, details of conversations from childhood and every bit of juicy gossip I’ve ever heard.

I also have a knack for memorizing things and then immediately forgetting them. In fact, this is what got me through college. Memorize what I need to know, take the test and then hit the delete button. It may have gotten me an A in history, but it hasn’t helped me win many trivia contests.

Then there are things I guess one never forgets. And one is this birthday party. It rained. I know this because my birthday is near the end of February, and it has rained almost every year since the Sunday I was born.

All the neighborhood kids were over. The thing with neighborhood kids is you don’t always like them, but back in my day, we were sent outside and had no choice but to play with somebody. I’m sure my mom was trying desperately to keep us entertained on this rainy day. I distinctly remember her saying, “I know! We’ll have a contest. Whoever draws a picture that most closely resembles Leigh wins!”

The excitement was in the air, “Can I draw, Mama?”

“No, Leigh, it’s a picture of you. You can’t draw.”

I don’t need to check with Mom to know I probably crossed my arms, stuck out my lip and stomped my foot. I don’t need to check with her because, 31 years later, I’ve been known to do the very same thing.

My neighbors took the task seriously and began drawing, bearing down hard with their pencils and crayons.

“Turn sideways, so I can get your profile, Leigh,” said the boy next door.

I hesitated. Well, maybe being a model wasn’t so bad.

“Smile,” said the girl from across the street. I grinned and held it while they furiously scribbled, glancing up now and then at me to make sure they got it just right.

I began to eagerly anticipate the masterpieces they would produce.

One friend held hers at arm’s length comparing it to the real thing.

“Perfect!” she declared. “This looks exactly like you.”

I was about to burst with delight and curiosity.

“Can I see now?” I asked.

“Wait, Leigh, you go in the other room while I judge the winner,” Mom said.

I skipped away and waited and waited and waited.

“Mom! Are you done yet?” I shouted.

Little did I know, my mom was undergoing her own dilemma. Ultimately, she made her decision.

“OK, Leigh, you can come back in now. We have a winner!” she said with a hint of false cheerfulness in her tone.

I ran in and took one look at the pitiful green stick figure with distorted facial features and huge feet and hands and cried, “That’s not what I look like!”

I quickly grabbed the other pictures — Mom really had chosen the best one — making for a very bruised 9-year-old ego. My antics soon offended my poor guest artists, and it wasn’t long before several of them were in tears. About that time, I was taken into the other room and given a stern talking to about manners.

“This is the worst birthday ever!” I thought, knowing better than to say it out loud, and, perhaps it was, but the funny thing is, when I look at the photo I can’t help but remember it and smile.

So, as I sit and fret about my son’s upcoming birthday party, striving, as we mothers do, to make it the best one yet, I realize that sometimes the happiest days don’t lead to the fondest memories. And if it rains and we have to (God forbid) have his party indoors, I know just the contest we can have —it’s called “Draw Leigh.”

And this time I’ll be the judge!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Coach and Biscuit

“Hey, Biscuit!”

My son grins and heads to the door of his elementary school, pretending to ignore the greeting of the man in the funny hat opening the door for him. I’m not sure why he plays it cool because I happen to know he relishes it.

“I’m one of the few at school with a permanent nickname,” my son told me once. One thing I’ve learned about nicknames is you never forget the person who gave it to you; and my son, like so many other students and parents, for that matter, will never forget Coach.

Some folks may see him as simply an elementary school P.E. teacher, but those who know him, know better. Coach is an unsung hero. Each morning, my husband or I drag ourselves out of bed and sleepily drop off our son. No matter how grumpy or tired we feel, once we’ve seen Coach, we drive away smiling. And, trust me, it takes a rare gift to make me smile that early in the morning. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he’s often in full costume — just because it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday — you get the idea.

Coach is usually joined by his partner-in-crime, a fantastic male chorus teacher who somehow manages to be one of the kids yet maintains discipline in the classroom — when he and Coach aren’t riding up and down the halls on big wheels, that is.

Each morning, as Coach opens the car door, he always has something positive to say to everyone inside. And, for the poochies who ride to school, he carries a pocket full of doggie treats.

Inside the school, Coach is a lot like the Fonz. He enters the cafeteria, and the kids all yell “Coach!” and frantically wave, while the lunchroom monitors roll their eyes in mock exasperation because they have just gotten the kids quiet. Coach will then make his rounds, giving high-fives, calling kids by the special names he has given each one, asking them how their school work is going, and making sure they stay out of trouble — something the kids strive to do because, believe me, no one wants to disappoint him.

On special occasions, he’ll play music in the lunchroom and has been known to pull kids up to dance, including — to their embarrassment — certain visiting moms. Coach coaxes even the shyest kids to participate in karaoke, leading by example (he does a great Johnny Cash). The amazing thing to me is that he’s not like this just now and then. His enthusiasm remains the same day in, day out, and I’ve known him for almost 10 years.

There are several Coach-related events that the kids look forward to each year, and a big one is track.

Each day, my son ran a little farther and a little harder in hopes of getting picked for the team. We found out last Friday that he did. At least, he thinks he did. He said Coach also takes a big group of kids who don’t make it, just to watch. Either way, my son is happy to be a part of it because as he said, “Coach is not about the winning; he’s about the trying.”

I think that says it all.