Teachers started cursing me from a young age. Not cursing at me, that happened later, but an old-fashioned curse, setting your destiny in stone, fait accompli. Most adults believe in magic and curses and luck. If you don't believe me, go watch people play that computerized horse race the lottery runs in convenience stores. If adults are susceptible, then kids are doomed. I fell for it every time.
Mrs. Scott was the first teacher who cursed me. I was six. She was reading us a book one day. It featured a drawing of a boy on the back. Someone had drawn on the boy's face in pencil. "Why", one of my curious classmates asked, "why is that boy covered in pencil?" Before Mrs. Scott could I reply, I yelled, "Because he is a f s." Why I had access to such high powered swears at such a young age is a different story. When my parents were called in for a then record tenth parent conference of the year, Mrs. Scott let loose. "He doesn't have much of a future", she said. She was right and she wasn't.
Mrs. Musa was my third grade teacher. I had what would be considered today to fine motor control issues. I couldn't write cursive. She kept me in from recess for a whole year, and I would sew. She was a kind woman, and wanted to help, but it was a lost cause. My fingers, even today, are implements of brute force, not surgical precision. Irish hammers. One day, after stabbing myself with the needle for the tenth time, I protested, saying that I didn't need to work on my cursive. "If you don't practice", she said, "your cursive will never get any better." I didn't and it didn't.
Mrs. Bogardus was my seventh grade teacher. Once, in a discussion of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challeneger and the death of teacher turned astronaut Christa McCaullife, I opined that perhaps the aforementioned Mrs. Scott would have been better choice for space travel than the doomed Ms. McCauillife. "Get out!" Mrs. Bogardus shrieked. Twenty minutes later, she came out into the hall, raised one eyebrow and said, "Someday, you are going to be a teacher. And you will have an entire room of students just like you." I am and I do.
In middle school, I discovered distance running, and it saved my life. A quick examination of homelife and extended family would lead the middle school me to picture the adult me as either, a. dead, b. in jail, or c. in the army. Running changed all that. It started to teach me that I had control over my life, that I was a person who did things, not an object that things happened to. It's a lesson I started learning then and am still learning today. It applies to my running and to my life, not that there is a whole lot of distinction between the two. I started to say to myself, "If you just keep pushing, you can survive." I do, and I have, so far.
My favorite coach in high school was Coach Richardson. He was the shop teacher, but one of those guys whose teaching was an excuse to coach. A former high jumper, he had been okay in college. Lacking any kind of post collegiate competition, he had gotten soft in middle age, had setlled with a wife and a few kids. But you could tell that he missed it. He spent almost every weekend with us, rather than his family, and it was pretty clear where his allegiances lie. He would develop these insane workouts, designed more for shock value than for actual athletic development. He would put his car in neutral and we would push it around the parking lot with him inside. "How is this making us faster milers?" we yelled. "Just keep pushing and you'll see", he'd yell from the cab. We did and it didn't.
We would have state meets at Princeton, and the bus ride was almost two hours. The rides there were tense, everyone nervous, wanting to run, but having to sit. The rides back were the opposite, people spent, listening to music, and if you were lucky, listening to Coach Richardson tell his stories. On those nights, on those bus rides, you could tell that he was in the only place he ever wanted to be. It is a feeling that I have grown to understand. "Boys", he said one night, "running gets into your blood. You will run forever." It did and I will.
We went to the midwife for our usual appointment. Rhonda was due in eight days, and our midwife, Laura, was insistent that all new mothers would be a week late. So while we were ready, we weren't really READY. We had a list of what to pack, but had actually packed anything. Like that. Yet somehow, omens surrounded us. I had said months ago that July 9th would be the day. Walter, the security guard at Rhonda's school, had predicted July 10th at 3:33 p.m. On Thursday morning, I awoke to find that the NUMBER had blown off the refrigerator onto the kitchen table. A less mysterious omen was when Rhonda lost her mucus plug on July 4th. So we thought something might be up. But we didn't really believe it. Our appointment with Laura was at 2 p.m. It was the standard sort of exam, until the end. We asked in Rhonda could have an exam. Laura had told us that no matter what she saw, it didn't really mean anything. Rhonda was 70% effaced and two, almost three centimeters. For those of you who have never gone through this, 0 cm is normal. 10 cm is a baby. We left the appointment at 3 p.m. As we walked back, Rhonda would have a contraction about every one hundred feet. "Fools!", you say! How could you not see this coming? But the thing is, Rhonda had been having contractions for weeks, months really. We had even had a couple of scares. So, while odd, this series of contractions did not seem portentous. We got home at started to time them. They were five minutes apart. Then ten. Then one. Then five. Each one lasted around two minutes. They tell you to call when they are five minutes apart, lasting for one minute a piece, for two hours. We didn't call. By 4 p.m., the contractions dropped into a steady pattern of two minutes apart. The lasted for two minutes. Then a minute. Then forty five seconds. Then thirty seconds. We decided to call. We called Elaine. "Will you be around?", I asked. "Something might be happening. Keep your phone on." I'd been saying this for weeks. I don't think anyone listened anymore. Elaine, because she is the best, showed up at our door. We would have been doomed if she hadn't. At 5:30 p.m., we decided to call. We got voicemail. We waited. And waited. I put stuff in the car. We thought, "My god. We might be going to the birth center in three or four hours. Best to be prepared." At 6 p.m., Rhonda screamed. Her water broke. It was clear (a good thing). "We should call again!", I said. She screamed, "We have to go right now!" We ran out the door, Elaine following on her bike, and hurdled to the birth center. "My god!", we thought. "We're the people who have the baby in the taxi!" We weren't. But it was close.