It makes me a little sad to watch you swim. Three short months ago you were floundering around in the pool: human in water, kindred spirit to fish out of water. Your long arms would reach out to form odd angles before falling as heavy thuds into the water. You would forget to breathe. It didn’t dawn on you to use your feet to stay afloat. Swimming was a strange series of stroke, sink, gasp, and stroke again. It was easy to pick you out in a crowded pool–you were the kid who looked like he was going to drown.
Amazingly, you have managed to put together all the steps of this complicated dance in water. Now, instead of skittering to the play area like a crane newly hatched, you stride confidently to the lap pool. You, in your blue swim cap that covers your beloved but chlorine damaged hair. You, with your 60’s inspired tie-dyed goggles strapped snuggly into place. You, in your faded swim trunks that bear the proof of your devotion to your new craft. You have adopted all these swimmerly ways. All those mannerisms of your kind. You adjust your cap and goggles between laps. You blow water from your nose and clear your ears by tilting you head. More steps in the now familiar dance, you seem to know just what to do, just how to enact these rituals of swimming.
In this crowded pool of children splashing and laughing–you alone are intent on swimming UPSTREAM in the lazy river. Perfecting your strokes. Challenging your legs to kick harder. Challenging yourself to be the swimmer you believe yourself to be. And because of this, I can always find you in the crowded pool. You are that solitary blue cap bobbing in and out of the water on a mission to swim against the current. You no longer stand out as a fish out of water but shine in your graceful way of belonging to this water. You are part of it, but distinct even in your belonging.
And me? You can find me where I’ve always been. Watching you learn to swim from behind the thick pane of glass of the viewing room. Smiling and waving when you happen to glance my way. Watching you grow up. Thankful that I can still see the you, you believe yourself to be.
I’m dipping into the Archives to reprint this piece I wrote a few years back on Â the art of handling Trick-or-Treaters. It’s my take on passing out the goods to all the ghouls and goblins. Enjoy!
Some of you seem to suffer under the delusion that you have NO control when it comes to handing out candy. That the masses of small children and obvious adults with glandular problems pounding down your door are entitled to harass you. They are not, entitled. They may disagree, but don’t be cowed by tricksters in cheap costumes. “But, but, if I make them angry, they will egg me!” Then, don’t make them angry. Instead, take command of the situation.
I would love it if every child who came to my door was polite and civil. Truth is, only half of them fit that description. The other half are grabby and rude and ridiculously over-aged for the event. So, through the years I’ve honed the whole, “Oh, aren’t you cute!” routine that comes with handing out candy.
First. Never, never let them choose. It’s not their candy. They don’t get to say which one they get or how many. Seriously. These are not YOUR children you don’t have to be democratic in this moment. No, they are guests at your door begging for sugar. And they are darn lucky to get it. So, clutch the bowl against your chest with one hand and with the other hand out the sugar. Do not deviate, not even for cute little princesses in pink.
And here’s the thing with not letting them choose–in most cases, this relieves a great deal of anxiety. My kid has a hard time choosing. And being faced with three options but only being allowed to pick one puts him in a panic. When he was younger he would try to negotiate. Not just because he wanted more candy–because if he’d been offered a piece from just one kind he would have taken it and moved on–but because indecision coupled with greed is almost impossible for small children to navigate. At 10, he won’t negotiate for more, he knows better. But he can stand there, holding up the line while weighing his options. When you consider that half the kids coming to your door are in this indecisive group, you’re doing everybody a favor by taking away the choice and simply choosing for them.
Second. Reward good behavior and creativity. That kid who gets in character, gets more candy. The kid who clearly has a mastery of the word “please” also gets more candy. Why? Because you aren’t the only house on the block that must face these children, and the more reinforcement they get for being polite or using their imaginations the more likely they will continue to do so. But candy is not enough; make sure you reward them with words. Not only will you be reinforcing great behavior, you’ll be providing their parents with future object lesson fodder. Every time a stranger comments on my child’s good behavior, I’m quick make note of it. I tell him how cool it is that he’s using his manners and how proud of him I am. He beams! It means so much to him for people to notice he’s trying. Giving out candy is terrific, but your words will last so much longer.
I can hear the “yes, but” from here. What about the kids who aren’t polite. They’re the ones we have issues with in the first place. Again, handing out the candy and not letting them choose stifles most of the kid aggression. If I find myself surrounded by lots of grabby kids, I just hold the bowl of candy above my head and wait. It’s amazing how still kids will get when the object of their affection is within site, but just out of bounds. Mentally, I’m willing them to “sit!”
And as for those over-aged trick-or-treaters, I deal with it the same way every year. Small children get hand-outs. Older kids have to work for it: I call it, “Let’s sing for your candy.” It works like this.
Ding dong. (that’s my doorbell)
“Trick-or-Treat!” a bevy of obviously 15 year old girls chime.
“Happy Halloween! Wow… you all MUST be over 11!” I say with the sweetest smile. OR I ask, “You’re not 11, are you??”
At this point they know the gig is up and are on the spot. When they confess to their ages and get sheepish I say, “Well, see, here’s the deal. If you’re over the age of 11, you have to sing for your candy. However, if you do, I promise to reward you!” Your tone and presence here is everything. If you issue this as a demand and are creep about it, be prepared to be egged. But, if you can keep your tone light and funny and sorta apologetic, it’s surprising how willing most kids are to accept the premise.
“But, what should we sing??” At this point I will say, I’ve never had a group of kids NOT ask this question. But their tone is usually “oh, dear” not “OH BROTHER.” And watching them set to work figuring out what to sing is half the fun. One year, I got three boys doing The Backstreet Boys… another year a group of girls dressed as the Spice Girls didn’t skip a beat and belted out the first verse and chorus of “Wannabe”.
Once they decide on what to sing… and do, this is the important part: LOAD THEM UP WITH SUGAR. This little gambit will backfire if you don’t reward them. However, if you do, the glee is unmistakable. Not only have they just scored the motherload of sugar, they have had a good time doing it! Typically, I can hear them all the way down the street laughing and carrying on about how much fun that was. And usually, I have at least one group promise to come back the next year prepared to wow me!
As for the adults who are brazen enough to trick-or-treat: they get stickers.
You’ll have to bear with me today. I have been laid up with a bum ankle and a pulled back. However, it doesn’t escape me that it is Tuesday, so I’ve fished an appropriate post out from the archive. It’s old enough I suspect most of you didn’t see it the first time it ran. Enjoy. Hopefully, I’ll be on the mend by Thursday.Â
Out of the Archives: Be Mine
You walked in. Late, dressed in a two-piece suit. Brown tweed. Tall. So tall and lean and blond. Every strand in place.
A sharp elbow nudges me. I smile, nod, acknowledge that: yes, I saw you walking in the door. The elbow nudger muses, â€œHeâ€™s cute!
â€œMama! I have a boyfriend,â€ I whisper back, trying not to draw the attention of my father sitting two seats down from me. Itâ€™s my aim in life these days to avoid that beady-eye stare he is so famous for. Not here and not now; this is the Sunday service, after-all.
I watch your family find their seats. You and your father stand like perfect bookends to your immaculately dressed mother. Iâ€™m trying to remember the last time someone wore a hat to service and Iâ€™m fairly certain Iâ€™ve never seen anyone your age wearing a suit. Iâ€™m not the only one watching your family.
â€œWhat!â€ rolling my eyes.
â€œHeâ€™s really cute!â€ she says again.
â€œHeâ€™s BLOND. I donâ€™t date blonds, mother!â€ I say a little too loudly. People shuffle in their seats in front of me, giggling.
â€œNever-the-less,â€ she continues, â€œYou will go and greet him after the service has concluded.â€ My father leans over and gives us both the look. Good, she can bear his disapproval for once.
What has occurred to my mother is now beginning to be born in the imaginations of the rest of the congregation. The Sound of Music is swelling in their collective consciencesâ€”â€œyou are sixteen, going on seventeenâ€¦â€ You are to play Rolf to my Liesl.
Under the piercing glare of my mother and amused glances of the old ladies in the congregation, I make my way to extend a peace offering. Not so much for you as to pacify them. There is no reason to add â€œinhospitableâ€ to the ever-expanding list of my character defects.
â€œHi, my name is Wendeâ€¦â€ I begin my welcome announcement, sticking out my hand to shake yours. You take my hand and strangely, you donâ€™t let go. Is that my sweaty palm or yours? Even stranger still, you say nothing while I invite you to youth group this evening. No words, no sounds, just you looking too deeply into my eyes.
â€œHeâ€™d be happy to attend,â€ your mother finally answers for you.
â€œOk, thenâ€¦â€ I blush as I leave, â€œNice meeting you.â€
I can see them watching me, all these old ladies who have known me since I was a second grader. I can hear their minds turning. â€œOh the possibilities,â€ they are thinking. From the looks on their faces they are as equally impressed by your visage as my mother. I can hear the whispers before they begin and there will be no fighting the rumor mill once it starts. Itâ€™s as if they have had a simultaneous vision of the future. The clouds parted, sunlight spilled out, and shimmering before them was a vision of our joined destiny. Lord knows they are hard at work already petitioning the gates of Heaven to make it so.
â€œAre you happy now?â€ I ask my mother on our way out of the building.
â€œYes,â€ she says with a smile creeping into her voice.
â€œI do have a boyfriend, you know.â€ Iâ€™m not giving up so easily.
â€œYes,â€ she answers with certainty, â€œI know.â€
This was originally posted 2/14/2007 with an explanation that this was how I first met IZ. 23 years later, he’s still looking too deeply into my eyes and making me blush.Â