Photo of Longfellow Snowman, courtesy of Maria Maramag.
All I wanted to do on Saturday night was to make out with a snowman. The snowman in the forefront of my mind was standing on the porch of the Longfellow Health Club. He was well over seven feet tall with coal eyes, a carrot nose, and a red scarf. He had the cutest little hat. The weather had been unseasonably warm. He was pretty much the only snow around.
We were at Longfellow for a swim meet. New England indoor pools are balmy in the winter. Normally I enjoy the humid air, but this pool was hot, too hot. It has a reputation for being warm, but it was worse than usual given the 50-degree weather. I knew this would be the case and I came prepared for my on-deck stroke and turn judging duties. I donned a gauzy linen dress and flip flops. I sort of looked ridiculous, surrounded by all the boots, turtlenecks, fleece and piles of down jackets.
I volunteer as the stroke and turn Judge at my children’s swim meets. It is one of the more arduous jobs, because it requires training and because it demands 100% attention. Only a few people do it. A friend of mine once noted that it is a perfect assignment for my personality as no one is permitted to speak to me while I trek up and down the pool deck. This way I can be alone while standing in a noisy, screaming crowd. I like to be alone.
At Longfellow, the stroke and turn Judges rotate around the pool every fifteen minutes. After manning all the stations, you get a fifteen-minute break. This system is much better than the other pools where you are on deck for the entire meet. I am usually fried at the end of those swim meets – too much noise and too long focusing on the fly, back and breaststroke. In this case, with the heat, a 30-minute break would have been better. By the time I made it around the pool I was dying. When I walked into the gym, people commented on my bright red face and sweaty armpits. The only relief I could imagine was snow and the only snow around was that snowman on the front porch. Smashing my face in his face seemed like sensible solution. When I voiced my intentions, other parents looked at me oddly. “Why not?” I replied, “Cold snow against my sweaty skin. Instant cool down.”
Some people have very little imagination.
The next morning on the way to pilates class I explained all of this to my friend Denise. As soon as she picked me up I showed her the photo of my new boyfriend. Another swim mom had snapped it for me as we were leaving. I thought it was such a good idea to have a snowman for a boyfriend. I planned to keep him. I explained how my new snowman boyfriend was going to save me from not only my stroke and turn duties but also from those future pesky hot flashes; and if I could figure out how to stop him from melting he would provide cooling comfort in the summer heat.
Denise had a few red flags with my logic. Like, why would you want a boyfriend when you already have three “boys” to take care of? (This was before she realized that my new boyfriend was a snowman.) And of course, she did not think he would be any help in the summer since he would be a puddle of water. She quickly dismissed the whole idea. What she really wanted to talk about was my stroke and turn judging duties. She was horrified that I have that much power over young swimmers. “Really, you do that? You disqualify children?” she wanted to know.
“I only DQ them if they do something wrong. They have to learn, right? To get ready for championships – THOSE stroke and turn Judges are so much tougher than I am. There are so many of them. They see everything.”
“Have you ever had to DQ your own children?”
“Yes, Emlen. Once. He started swimming freestyle on his breaststroke leg of an IM Medley relay. He had been out of the water for two months for a CF cleanout and was a little rough on technique. Basically, he had forgotten everything. I thought it was going to be total drama.”
“Has he forgiven you?”
“I think so. He said he was OK with it, but who really knows what is going to pop up in therapy sessions years from now.”
“Do you have guilt?”
“A little. But I also have karmic balance. While I DQ kids I also co-chair the ribbon committee.”
“Wait, you are on a committee? How did that happen?”
“It is only a two-person committee – on purpose. I am not a fan of committees. This one is a good one though – pretty straight forward. We each have our job and we get it done. Anyway, back to karmic balance, while I crush hopes and dreams, I also reward. The poor little swimmers really never know how to react around me; either fear from the piles of DQ slips falling from my clipboard or excitement when they see me carrying the newly loaded ribbon box.” I went on to explain that, with this karmic balance, I was positive I was in good standing with the Universe. I even proclaimed that I was so well balanced that I would probably not get sick. At the meet, so many swimmers were coughing, sniffling and looking just plain green. There were even rumors that swimmers were in the bathrooms vomiting from the flu, refusing to go home just so they could make their splashes*. I was sure I had been exposed to something horrendous.
Denise started laughing. She said she also wanted a karma mallet. “My husband could have really used one of those last night.
I was a little confused about her “Karma Mallet” remark, but I continued to listen. Denise is very smart and funny. She tells the best stories and I always learn something when I am with her. I thought that maybe the din of the fifteen some odd fans cooling the pilates studio combined with the conversations of the other women who had gotten up at the crack of dawn, drank lots of coffee and arrived at the club completely wired might have made it hard to hear. I was having trouble … maybe Denise was as well.
She continued. The night before, she and her husband Dan and son Henry were at Harvard’s Sander’s theater for a lecture. They often go to these things. I am impressed. We usually stay home and watch “Everybody Hates Chris” reruns on Hulu. The first speaker was Sarah Vowel discussing her book Assassination Vacations in which she chronicles her explorations of people’s murders, like Lincoln’s and some others whose names escape me. Then she went on to mention that Tony Kushner was there too and that he wrote the screen play for Spielberg’s film Lincoln. (See, I learn stuff from Denise.)
She listed a few other authors. I was half paying attention. I was still trying to figure out the whole karma mallet thing. Suddenly, something clicked. “Ah”, I interrupted. “The evening was centered around recent literature about Lincoln. And you actually brought Henry to this? Wasn’t it pretty weighty for a 13-year-old?”
“Henry? Oh, he is fine at these things. He had a little trouble seeing because of the way the seats are arranged. It was Danny who was having issues. He needed the karma mallet.”
At this point I just asked. “A karma mallet?”
“To hit all the grumpy old intellectual men over the head who were coughing, snorting and clearing their throats. Isn’t that what you said? Why do people leave the house when they are sick? Everyone in front of us and behind us were making disgusting guttural noises. In the middle of the lecture Danny loudly announced that he would need to Purell his whole head. Then he moved to sit in the aisle where no one would sputter on him.”
I started laughing. I was in downward dog pose and I almost fell over. “I was talking about karmic balance, but a karma mallet is even better. You could use it to all the time to whack any one making a health faux pas and exposing the general public to germs.”
At this point our pilates instructor, Susan, waltzed in. She does that, entering rooms with a great flourish. As class began and Susan had us swaying our arms back and forth for warm ups, I started mentally listing all the people deserving of a karma mallet.
Here it goes:
Karma Mallet: for those of you who do not wash your hands after using the bathroom. I do not know how many times I have been sitting in a stall finishing up my business when the person next to me exits their stall and leaves the bathroom without running the water, gathering paper towels or using the hand blow dryer. I can hear you. Really. The stall’s walls are pretty thin. Wash your hands or at least fake it!
An architecture professor of mine designed a retail/restaurant space where the public sinks were outside of the bathrooms. They were in the hallway and completely visible from the food court area. If you neglected to wash your hands everyone saw. What a way to use architecture to manipulate peoples’ behavior. It was brilliant.
Karma Mallet: for the anti-vaccine contingent. Get your flu shot! And all other vaccines for that matter. That guy who wrote the white paper document linking autism and vaccines together was wrong. He was even stripped of all his credentials.
Karma Mallet: for parents who do not adhere to the rules set up by the schools and day care centers for returning to class after being sick. It is basically 24 hours: 24 hours after the start of antibiotics, 24 hours of being fever free** and 24 hours after the last “incident” if your child had a stomach bug.
When Emlen was little I took him to day care at the health club. Exercising makes me a more patient mother. One morning I ran into an acquaintance who was with her daughter. I thought that the daughter had school that day. The woman explained that yes, her daughter should have been in school, but she had thrown up that morning. She went on to say that she felt that her daughter was fine for day care. Emlen and I did an about face and went home. He never went again. We walked a lot instead. Seriously – 24 hours!
Karma Mallet: for all of you who DO NOT finish your prescribed course of antibiotics. Have you heard of super bugs? Enough said.
Karma Mallet: for people with really bad colds who wander about in public coughing sputum all over everyone. Wear a mask or stay home.
Last winter a friend of mine was really sick – mono, double pneumonia. You name it, she had it. Once she was well enough to venture out in public, she wore masks all day every day. Brava! I really think the USA should embrace this as a fashion trend. From what I understand, rappers already do. It needs to be mainstreamed. Let’s coordinate the masks with our outfits. Do Gucci and Valentino make them? I think one in camo with some blue butterflies and orangey flowers embroidered on it would be just the ticket. You could match the mask with the guitar strap of your cross-body handbag.
Karma Mallet: for those people who have run out of their mask supply and are forced to go out while they are sick but have not yet made the change from covering their coughs and sneezes with their hands to using their elbows. Let’s do this, people! It is so simple.
And maybe stop the whole shaking hands thing as a greeting. How about a simple nod of the head, some eye contact and a verbal “Very nice to meet you”?
Karma Mallet: for the woman at the buffet at Club Med Cancun who tasted each of the ten creamy salad dressings with the same finger before deciding which one she like the best. In case you were wondering, it was Ranch.
Karma Mallet: for not wiping down your exercise equipment after sweating all over it. This is just a common courtesy and it also helps prevent the spread of germs.
Karma Mallet: for sending your child to a swim meet ill – or any crowded event for that matter. I do not care if you need to make your splashes to qualify for championships. That bullpen is crowded with swimmer after swimmer waiting for their events. It reminds me of a story from the 1918 flu epidemic when the government suggested that everyone go to the movies for a morale booster. People died. They did not know enough then, but we do now. Stay home.
I do admit to needing to be whacked with the karma mallet myself upon occasion. Mostly this was before the whole cystic fibrosis diagnosis.
Several years ago, when the kids were little, I neglected to get a flu shot. I was busy, and we had just moved from California where the flu seems less rampant … more distant. Winter hit, and I came down with it. It was awful. I had a temp of 102. Bed would have been a good place to be, but as the determined mother that I am, and not realizing I had the flu, I sent Henry to Kindergarten and drove Emlen to preschool. I am pretty sure I infected everyone at the bus stop and at the preschool drop off. We should have stayed home watching Dora the Explorer. Hopefully all the people I encountered had their flu shots and were safe. Herd immunity, right? I have not missed a flu vaccine since.
And once I put Henry on the bus when he was complaining of an upset stomach. I should have known something was up. It is a little odd for Henry to decline food. Before the bus got out of the neighborhood he threw up all over his friend Sam. I do hope that Sam’s mother, Melissa, has finally forgiven me as their whole family came down with the stomach flu over the next week.
I know no one is perfect, but we should try. Our society should embrace that being sick means staying at home – resting, recovering and certainly not infecting anyone else. What is that phrase coined by Harry Truman, “The buck stops here.”? Let’s use that for germs. My new snowy boyfriend can be the protector of the healthy. He can wield the karma mallet every winter. Kind of like Thor – but in a cold and icy sort of way.
Or maybe he hands out a yearly "Karma Mallet Award", for being the biggest germ spreader.
For 2017, I would give it to the woman at the Club Med Cancun buffet.
Drawing of Snowman with Karma Mallet, by Emlen Lease
*Splashes: to qualify for Metro West Swim League Championships a swimmer has to swim in six events at various meets throughout the season. Each event is called a splash. It is harder for the more scheduled high school swimmers to get their events in. Sometimes they just show up for their splashes and then leave to go to another meet. Sometimes they show up sick.
**Fever Free: any temperature over 100.5 degrees is considered a fever and you need to stay home. I used to adhere to this standard and sent the kids to school when their temperature was between normal and 100.5 degrees. I was just following the rules with the help of some ibuprofen. But over the years I have figured out that they do much better if they stay home when they have any sort of fever. They seem to recover faster and have a better chance of avoiding a pesky secondary bacterial infection.