The Next to Disappear

My favorite room in our house was my dad’s wood-paneled study where I talked to my best friend Mary on the rotary dial phone every day. I’d sit with my legs over the arm in a big, soft, fake-velvety chair with a zig-zag pattern in subdued beige, white and black. Some days, the stale cigarette air was clocked with the sweetness of a weekend cigar. Our number, shared by the entire family with no caller ID or call waiting, was 301-656-5635. Hers was 301-654-1776. I twirled the long cord while we talked. My kids don’t have their place or home base like that. They carry their phones with them wherever they go. And none of us know our best friend’s phone number.

They’ve never seen a telephone booth, and I will never forget the night of a swim team pizza party, when Eleni and I got trapped inside the booth as some bad-boy teenagers threw firecrackers at it, then ran directly into the hood of a police car, chased of course by the swim team Dads.

My first 45, Hurt So Good. They were in the process of disappearing. Replaced by all the mix tapes friends and boyfriends exchanged to capture the beach trip or the summer, how we felt about each other or a year in our lives.

When was the last time you saw TAB in the soda machine? Or even a soda machine? It’s all energy drinks now – florescent blue – and water. TAB was my “go to” coming down off the Edgemoor lifeguard stand until I learned about iced tea mixed with lemonade.

I brought my Dad’s 100-pound IBM Selectric typewriter to college, managing perfectly fine with it as news editor the school paper until my senior year Chinese History professor told me he would fail any paper not produced on a computer. Back then, computer paper had the trim on the sides that you had to tear off, so it was obvious. He said my 30-page papers were disorganized and “White Out can’t save you.” What’s White Out?

Last year, my son never used his school locker. He said it was broken. Was too shy to ask for help. So, he carried a 50-pound backpack around all day, every day. His little brother, joining him at high school in recent weeks, stood in front of his, clueless about what to do. Walked away. So, they got on Youtube. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And now they’re in.

Our lockers had combo locks. Our bike chain locks had combo locks. Most houses had an old combo lock or two lying around that no one could remember what it had been for. Little kids thought they were toys. But we all knew the pattern. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And I remember how almost every year of middle and high school, I’d return from Christmas Break having forgotten mine. A few days without a locker trying desperately to remember. Until… click. I still dream about it.

Maybe it’s the next to go.

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Swim Team

I signed my guys up for swim team last year for a few reasons. I wanted them to get some exercise over the summer, to look like they knew what they were doing in the water (as only swim team kids do) and, most important, to make friends and be known by the larger pool community.

Their strokes are looking better. Their stamina has improved. The coaches and lifeguards know them and greet them by name. The younger two boys talk to anyone who shares their lane or swims with them on a relay. They look up to the good swimmers, referring to them with the highest regard, “he’s State,” which really means he is fast enough to swim in the A league championship at the end of the summer.

What I had forgotten from my own childhood was the difference between being “on” the team and “one of them.” This week, in their second year, I witnessed the transition for my oldest and most reserved son, and realized how special that particular series of events is in the life of a child.

First, he made a friend during practice. Together, they helped the coaches unhook the lane ropes. The head coach realized his breaststroke is legal and, making a big deal about it, convinced him to swim it in the next meet.

Simple things, yet out of the blue, he asked for a private lesson to work on his starts and turns. He lingered at the end of the lane ropes after practice all week waiting to take ownership of his new job.

At the meet, he earned a second place in his first breaststroke race. His new friend got the blue ribbon. My son, never the first to reach out, found the winner and gave him a high-five. “We got one-two! Good swim!”

Last year, when he was “on” the team, had I given him the opportunity to skip a meet, he would have seized it in a second. Now that he has felt the magic of becoming “one of them,” he does not want to let that feeling go.

“Guys, we’re flying home at midnight the night before your last meet,” I said, expecting groans and “do we have to swims?”

“Oh, we’re going!”

“But then we’ll have to be late for…”

“Mom, we have to be there. The team needs us.”

My boys may not be “State”, but they got their trophy when they became “one of the team.”