First up is Frances, not because I’m going in inverse age order, but because she truly earned the position.
On our way home from Seattle last summer we stopped at a Subway to have lunch. The kids took their seats and I ordered. After delivering a sandwich to each child, I sat down to eat my own, only to have Ann rush toward me a moment later. “Mom,” she panted, “Make her shut up!” Alarmed, I looked over at Frances who sat bolt upright and was staring down at her opened sandwich. From across the restaurant I could hear her four year old voice asking: “Are there any Filipinos in my sandwich?” “I can’t stand Filipinos!” This followed by: “Annie, come take the Filipinos out of my sandwich.” By the time I got there Fran was pinching a slice of something green between her thumb and index finger and demanding to know if it was a Filipino. "Good God, No!" I told her. "That's a pickle. Your friend Gigi is Filipino and neither one is spicy."
I told you she deserved first place.
Second place goes to me. While talking with a friend, I misunderstood her niece’s “birth defect” to be a “birthday fete.” So impressed was I by my friend’s use of the quaint term and by my own quick intellect, that it was only when my friend started hobbling around my living room, Quasimodo style, that I understood her meaning. By then, it seemed in poor taste to laugh. I couldn’t help it.
Rob earned third place this year with a joke that still has me laughing. Every five years our parish compiles a directory. Families sign up to have their photo taken and are offered the opportunity to purchase additional photos if they desire. We do not, as a whole, photograph well. This year was no exception. Ed looks to be in pain, Henry’s eyes are everywhere, (in some shots they appear to be looking in opposite directions), and my face is doing something that I simply cannot reconcile with reality. That said, we were not even tempted to purchase additional pictures. In fact, getting us to choose our complimentary photo was hard enough. “Good Lord, not that one!” I shrieked when Rob pointed to one of the entire family. And then, “Look at them! Just look at them!” I admonished when Chris offered a pose of only the kids. In the end, we chose a decent shot of just the two of us. This seemed to stun our saleslady who kept repeating “Are you sure you don’t want a nice family photo?” Rob and I laughed out loud as we confirmed that we’d take “just the one of us, thanks.” At home with the photo, we continued to laugh. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” we joked, “If we used this as our Christmas picture?” “My word, what would people think?” we giggled. “I know,” Chris said, “what if we sent this picture with a letter containing absolutely no mention of the kids? Not a word about them! What would people think?”
But that was just the problem. What would people think? In the end, I lacked the courage to find out. What if you didn’t think it was funny? What if you didn’t get it? What if it was the kind of joke that’s only funny in theory? Rob was the braver of us, willing to risk the polite silence. I had to give him third place for that.
Our third grader, Gill, earns fourth place this year. He took an elementary school version of the SAT with his right hand filling in bubbles while his left hand supported a head whose eyes scanned the playground just outside the window. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” His teacher revealed to me. “I told him that the test mattered—that people would make judgments about his intelligence based on this test. He just looked at me and said: ‘yeah, probably.’ and kept right on staring out the window.” In order to confirm what she’d seen, Gill’s teacher had the principal look up his scores from last year. “Either Gill needs to be in special ed. immediately,” Mrs. Connolly reported, “or he took the same approach last year. He’s in the 1st. percentile nationwide.” That’s my boy.
Fifth place involves a real SAT story. Last October Ann walked into an SAT testing center confident that she could achieve the minimum score for which she was aiming. Three weeks later, with the results in her hand, she was wiser and a whole lot angrier. “Why have you been telling me that I’m smart all these years?” she screamed at me from her bedroom, “because I’m obviously not! I’m obviously an idiot, and I don’t appreciate your lying to me!” As tempting as it was to shout back: “I said you have great potential you lazy brat.” I kept my mouth shut, figuring that the SAT board had just said it for me.
Sixth: Ed is a constant reminder that we live in Southern California. He has taken to wearing a sort of slipper to school. It closely resembles something Hugh Heffner wears. In our warm climate he can wear these slippers year round—and he does. Last Saturday, he even mowed the lawn in them. So far I’m ascribing his footwear choice to adolescence and the weather. If he starts wearing a smoking jacket, however, I may need to consider more sinister influences.
Seven year old Henry takes seventh place with his thoughtful comments and easy smile. “Sometimes I’m desperate to know the future, Mom.” He told me, while clinging to my waist. When he asked if I, too, was desperate to know the future, I told him, “No, not really,” and then stroked and kissed his soft head—something the “future,” I’m sure, won’t allow.
Eighth place is a good slot for Victoria as she’s in the eighth grade. As with most people, the older Victoria gets, the more self-aware she becomes. “I don’t really care for X,” she confided in me the other day. “She never laughs at my jokes.” After a thoughtful pause she continued, “I know that not all of my jokes are funny, but I want friends who work with me, you know?” I do know, my dear, I do know.
And with Grace in ninth place, we come full circle. Last week I noticed that Grace’s cheeks were discolored. They weren’t exactly flushed, but darker, somehow, than the rest of her face. “She’s been dancing,” I said to myself and quite deliberately put it out of my mind. Yesterday Rob noticed. “Come here,” he said to Kate, and upon closer look, called to me. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked. Inside the folds of my brain, I screamed: “Nothing! Not a thing! How dare you notice what I’ve been willing out of existence?” To Rob I numbly replied: “Fifth’s disease, I think.” (Symptoms include: low grade fever, rosy cheeks.) Catherine stood before us, mute, and then retired to the bathroom to have a look for herself. “I think,” she yelled over the roar of the faucet, “it’s the stuff Victoria put on my face to make me look tanner.” All I need now is for George to walk through the door with a fake arrow through his head.
And finally. . .we bought a house! It’s a five bedroom with a great kitchen. For what we paid, we could have bought four in Nebraska, but then Ed couldn’t wear slippers year round, and we couldn’t walk to the ocean.