(originally published June 18, 2008)
It's called The Hook.
The first sentence of a story that reaches out and grabs its audience by the throat and never lets go.
It starts in childhood.
"Once upon a time."
Continues on to our high school English class.
"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."
And finally into adulthood.
"A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar."
It doesn't matter who's telling the story, who they're telling it to or even what the story is about. As long as you grab them with those first precious words you'll have their attention until the very end.
At least that's the idea. There is a multitude of other do’s and don’ts, rules of the game we're expected to adhere to. Grammar. Spelling. Dangling participles and how to avoid them. Frankly, I wouldn't recognize a dangling participle if it walked into a bar alongside the priest, the rabbi and the minister.
So I leave rules to high school English teachers, IRS auditors and Major League Baseball. Everything else is fair game.
Sometimes writing a weekly column can be tough. I imagine it's even harder for someone who makes his or her living from it. Me? I'm just a hack who pens a few words amidst a job, being a wife and mother, volunteer work, grocery shopping, shaving my legs and walking the dog. Not necessarily in that order.
It's hard to find inspiration when there are days in which my main concern is finding where my three-year-old hid the remote control. Later discovering it in the toilet. Along with a very soggy, raspberry Pop Tart and the phone bill.
But there are days, those special days, in which divine inspiration reaches down from above and just nails me on the head with it.
So here is where this week's column officially begins. Enjoy.
"Mommy, you have nice boobies."
(See? That first sentence? The Hook? Honestly. I can’t make this stuff up.)
I looked over with surprise to see my just-turned-three-year-old son standing in the bedroom door watching me where I stood in my underwear surveying the contents of my closet.
"Uh...I…mmm...OK," was my immediate and not-quite-so articulate reply to his unexpected observation.
So my response wasn't Shakespeare. His words took me a little off-guard.
This mother thing is still kinda new to me, and like most parents I’m a little on edge every time he opens his mouth. In public. Especially in public.
This is the same kid who yelled, “Mine’s empty!” in church on Easter Sunday when he opened his egg during the children’s sermon to discover (unlike those left by the Easter Bunny) this one was void of any chocolate goodness inside.
Yep, the role of the egg as reflective of Christ’s empty tomb was lost on him. Before we could talk him down and properly explain the symbolism, he waved the empty egg in the air and announced to the congregation, “I think Jesus ate my candy!”
Nothing like accusing God’s only son of stealing your chocolate in church.
But I digress. Back to boobies.
“See, kiddo, it’s not really nice to talk about a girl’s…uh…her…well…you know…her…(and I dropped my voice to a whisper)…boobies,” I gently said.
His face fell and he stuck out his lower lip and I quickly realized he was thisclose to waterworks.
“But, Mommy,” he said softly, “I was trying to be nice.” And a single tear slid down his cheek.
Oh. Dear God.
Kill me. Kill me now.
I am – without a doubt – the world’s worst mother.
“Oh, no, honey!” I cried and ran over to hug him. “That was very sweet of you. It just took me by surprise.”
I wiped the tear from his cheek and added, “But in the future, how about you just talk about Mommy’s boobies, OK? No one else’s.”
He thought for a minute, smiled and answered, “Okey doke.”
As I watched him run off to commit mayhem and destruction elsewhere, I basked in my quick thinking-ness, ready to collect my Mother of the Year award for saving a young boy’s bruised feelings.
Then I heard my husband chuckle. “You just told him to admire his mother’s boobies,” he said. “Isn’t that how Norman Bates started?”
Oh. Dear God.
Kill me. Kill me now.
You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.