Friday, January 1, 2010

Childhood Trauma (or Like Father, Like Son)

Kids normally go through a stage of babbling random consonants as they practice sounds. Over time, these babblings start to sound like words. Then they become words. We've been trying to figure out this one sound Hyrum LOVES making. What could he possibly be saying? We haven't agonized over it, but it has occasionally given his father some consternation.

Joy figured it out last night and as she told me, I leaned my head against our coat racks and relived an event from a couple decades ago..... (wavy flashback effect)

The setting: I'm 8 years old and attending Page School, Beverly Hills. It's a strict school surrounded by enormously high walls covered in ivy with numerous rules, including school uniforms. Students go to classes with 6-7 different teachers (including computer class every day where we learn to program in BASIC). I have 2-3 hours of homework a night, more if my penmanship isn't up to standard.Going to public school in the 6th grade was an enormous let down.

I'm having an argument with Arthur T. during a long lunch break on an in-service day. Our argument is currently in the phase where we just yell names at each other.

"You're a hippo!"
"You're an orangutan!"
"You're an elephant!"
"You dog!"
"You fish!"
"You frog!" I yell.

I can tell this last insult has struck a mortal blow. His eyes get wide and his jaw drops open and he runs away. Ha! Let that be a lesson not to mess with me!

A few minutes later, the Principal, Daryl Menager (I might be spelling that wrong) came striding up to me with purpose. He grabbed my arm and pulled me over to a bench. He slams a piece of paper and a pencil on the bench and storms, "I want you to write five HUNDRED times, 'I will never say ...' that word you said, 'again.' Got it?"

Now it's my turn for wide eyes and a quivering mouth. "Yes." I'm ready to cry, but don't until he leaves again. And so I begin to write:

I will never say frog again.
I will never say frog again.
I will NEVER say frog again.
I will never say f-f-f-frog again....

I weep as I fill out the page in trembling hand - I still had terrible penmanship too then, and this isn't helping my legibility. No one comes up to talk to me, avoiding the taint of my shame. When I've filled out both sides of the page and need more paper, I creep slowly back into the school to the principal's office. His secretary lets me in.

He's still mad at me as he asks to see the page I've written. I hand it to him.

He looks at the page [I wish you could see my re-enactment of this moment] and stares at both sides amazed for a moment. He lays the paper down on his desk very slowly and buries his head in both hands, leaning his elbows on the desk. He's still disappointed in me! How could I have ever said such a despicable word as frog?

An eternal moment later he says from behind his hands "Derrill," and he takes a deep breath "did you say the word, ... 'frog'?"

The tears which had till now remained in check flood out as I blubber, "YesIdidandI'msorryandI'llneversayitagainIpromiseI'msorryI'msosorryand..."

He makes a small motion with one hand and I stop, waiting for more paper and praying I don't get detention. Still without looking at me because his eyes are closed, he says, "It's okay, Derrill. I, uh, I don't think we need to tell your parents about this. You can have a candy and go."

REPREIVED! He had obviously seen my true penitent sorrow. I hadn't even thought about what my parents would say. More grateful for his generosity - I always did like him! Can't go wrong with a fellow Derrill - I take a random sucker from the clear glass bowl on his desk and bolt out the door. He wasn't going to tell my parents! Oh, rapture!

And I would never say ... that word I said ... again. No, never.

I was 15 years old and sitting in biology class of all places (shocked that our teacher didn't call them toads) when it finally dawned on me what Arthur and Mr. M had thought I said. Page School had a very strict policy on not swearing, you see. One kid I knew got suspended for it, but that's another funny story for another day.

I finally told Mom and Dad about that day (the statute of limitations was up anyway) and they had some appropriate things to say on the occasion. I wandered around the whole day just saying "Frog" for no apparent reason. [Joy laughs heartily, "Did you really?" Yes, I did. "And you didn't say 'frog' in all that time?" No, I really didn't. I called them toads.]

So there's little Hyrum running around our house practicing his consonants, causing his parents consternation. What COULD he be trying to say? Because he certainly never learned such a word in this house. It's occasionally one of his favorites, too.

For Christmas, among his toys was a ball ramp that included a little frog you send down a tube that makes a whistle as it falls and then he hits a button that ejects the frog again. He loves that piece most and wanders around saying, Joy finally realized, "FROG." Only, he hasn't figured out the letter R yet, and he doesn't always voice his glottalic consonants, so it's hard to tell the difference between 'dog' and 'duck' and ... I'm just glad to have figured it out.

Frog. ... Frog. ... Frog. I do enjoy saying that word. Did you know that 2008 was the Year of the Frog? Frog. Hyrum laughs.


Jon said...

Absolutely fantastic story Derrill. When I was little I once spent an entire sacrament meeting flipping off the congregation from the choir seats. We were doing the children’s program a friend saw me pointing my middle finger at random. He then told me that it was really bad to show the “birdie” finger. I thought he was jerking my chain. I thought that “birdie” was a funny name for a finger. So I preceded to wage my finger chanting “birdie finger, birdie finger, tweet, tweet, tweet” throughout the meeting. Luckily, I was known to be a bit of a space cadet so no one paid much attention to me. Or, at least they didn’t say anything.

Shari said...

LOVE the story, Derrill! Funny, yet sad all at the same time. I remember Joy mentioning that you guys were wondering what Hyrum was saying, and I'm glad you were finally able to figure it out. Thanks for sharing!