When I noticed the incoming call from our elementary school, I knew I had to take it.
But I never have the guts to answer on the first ring when school calls. I immediately have to take several deep breaths and then mentally run through worst case scenarios.
"Your son has #4 pencils. We require they each have at least one #2." That wouldn't be bad. I could have some fun with that.
"Your child shouted, 'Beast-mode' at the top of his lungs, ran to the boys' bathroom and announced 'Evacuation imminent' while a family touring the school was in the hall. For safety reasons, ma'am, kids must walk in our hallways." I could handle that, too. It probably happens in everyone's house. Well, almost everyone's.
"Your child thought his math compass measured circumference and therefore shoved it-- Well, Ms. Testwuide, maybe you should come to the office so we can discuss this." Probably happens all the time. Or, at least a couple times. For sure once.
In the movie, We Bought a Zoo, based on the true story of Benjamin Mee, the main character tells his son, "You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it."
I remember getting a little teary at that point in the movie. I was moved by the father/son inspirational discussion. However, in real life, it's total bullshit. Mr. Mee may have bought a zoo, but he never met our principal. 20 seconds of courage would never be enough.
I ducked out of the New Parents' Tea at my oldest son's boarding school to take the call.
When my ringer sounded, "Oh, it's nothing," I mouthed to the three women having a conversation next to me, but not with me, about monogram fonts. I continued, basically telling no one, "I'm sure it's nothing...probably just my decorator," and I chuckled at my own snarky joke as I stepped away from the ladies on the terrace for some privacy.
"Hello, this is Liesl."
"Yes, hello. I hope I'm not catching you at an awkward time, Liesl. I know you're out of town, but we're having a problem here at school. It's kind of embarrassing, but your son is terribly stinky."
"Excuse me? I've got a bad connection. I'm in the Berkshires. Kinky? As in...well, as in kinky?" The other mothers suddenly noticed me and strained their necks my direction. "Did you say my son is terribly kinky?" I repeated.
I hadn't been prepared for that one. My future worse case scenario repertoire was just about to super-size.
"No, not kinky, Liesl. He's not kinky," she emphasized like I was some freak. "Well, not that I'm aware of anyway. But he's stinky. Really stinky."
"Ohhhh, he's stinky!" I laughed nervously. "WelI, I suppose at this age stinky beats kinky, right?" The principal didn't laugh. I turned toward the eavesdropping, perfectly-coiffed New England mothers, and did one of those nod-smile-I'll-be-just-another-minute moves with my pointer finger.
"I know you're traveling in Connecticut, Liesl, but you must get your son deoderant before school Monday. He needs it. He needs it baaaaad."
When I came home, I explained that at this age, bodies go through changes. Boys need to use products. I bought the deoderant, the shower gel, the hair gel, the mouthwash, the you-name-it-I-bought-it-hygiene-product, but honestly, they don't get much use. My boys think maple syrup is a perfecty good substitute for hair gel, so God only knows what they're putting on their arm pits.
Truth be told, being smelly is kind of a badge of honor around my house.
"Dude, smell my pits."
"You gotta come in here and smell this."
"No, no, Mom. Keep the windows up, it's totally nasty. Awesome."
"I played soccer in the rain, so I don't need a shower. Water's water."
About a week later my son came home and said,
"Mom, do you know that a lizard can grow another tail if its breaks off?"
"Nope, didn't know that."
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. We learned it in science. It's called asexual regurgitation."
I said, "Honey, I think you mean reproduction. Asexual re-pro-duc-tion."
"Reproduction. Regurgitation. Pretty much the same thing. Whatever."
"Well," I said, "while we're on the subject, do you know what sexual reproduction is?"
He thought for a second and then said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with poverty."
"Poverty? Really? Where'd you hear that?"
"You know, Mom, poverty: when you get all hairy, smelly, sleep really late, eat junk food, and then wanna do stuff to have lots of babies."
"Um, I think you mean puberty. Pu-ber-ty. Not poverty."
He quickly changed the subject. Thank God.
"Mom, can I have $15 to go to the movies with some friends? I'm broke."
"Fine," I said, "if you pull out those weeds, I'll give you money for the movies. After that, you need to shower because you're really stinky."
As he walked away, over his shoulder he said, "See, Mom? Pov-er-ty. Pu-ber-ty. Same thing."