Thursday, May 13, 2010

Advanced for His Age

Recently, I dropped Niko off at his M-W-F preschool and I was handed an incident report to sign. At this school reports are written up if something happens to the child or they've done something to another child. Sometimes they're as simple as Niko fell on the playground, or he pushed one of his classmates. But this one was more serious: he bit a kid.

It's pretty common for really young kids to bite because they lack the skills to communicate their needs. When he was a toddler, Gus was a big biter. His Oma, Liesel Schlosser, taught me how to break him of it: bite him back. It worked. But Niko was well beyond the age of biting being an option.

As I signed the report, I told the teaching assistant that I was perplexed that this type of bad behavior exists only at this school, and is nowhere to be found at his T - Th preschool at the University. I also noted these observations on the "comments" portion of the report.

Later that day I received an email from the school's director. She offered several hypothetical reasons for the different behavior at the two schools: class sizes, dynamics of the children, physical size of the classrooms, boy / girl ratios. All very legitimate.

She went on to describe how she saw Niko: "independent," "strong willed," "imaginative" and "rough and tumble." Maybe it was my reading of the email, but it seemed like she was describing his faults. Funny thing is we see these as some of his best attributes.

But here's the kicker: she said Niko is "very advanced for his age in teasing." Yes, you read that correctly. He's advanced in teasing. When I told this story to some family members, my cousin Apostoli nailed it, "Hey, Niko teases at a third-grade level."

How do I respond to that? "Lucky thing he's a good teaser or in our family he'd be crying instead of laughing all the time!"

I mean just look at the below photo Kelly took the other day at the ice rink: Is that the face of an advanced teaser? Wait, don't answer that...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sophie M. Saltas

Wednesday I had the sad, yet great honor of joining 5 other men carrying our wonderful Theia Sophie to her final resting place. I feel as if a great sequoia has fallen. That's how influential, respected and revered Theia Sophie is in the Greek community.

Our community's loss is also my individual loss. But I am comforted by a plethora of wonderful memories.

- How she would call me late at night - knowing I was the only family member still awake - to share some tidbit of information: who was on Letterman, how the visiting Theia Polyxena had hidden herself in the bathroom at 3:00 a.m. to sneak a smoke, "as if she didn't think I could smell it!" (Confided to me in a hushed voice at midnight...), her anguish as she dealt with my Uncle Paul's ALS.

- The way she gently prodded me to finally find and accept my Orthodox Christian faith. "Gently prodded" are my words. Theia Sophie would say, "Nagged the hell out of me."

- Our wonderful time shared together in a terribly trying period of her life: dealing with Uncle Paul's illness and both her hands in casts after a slip on the ice. (A decision that reflected her deep faith: break your wrists or allow the prosfero, holy bread, to touch the ground.) There were trips to 3 grocery stores in one outing...because Dan's had the best produce, Meyer's the best meat, and some other place the best bread. Vacuuming for her just before the cleaning ladies showed up because we don't want them to think the house was dirty. Paying her bills with her and learning that no, we weren't going to pay the power bill a couple days before it was due because she earned interest on her checking account. (I offered her a nickle so she could make a profit. :0 )

- The years she spent one week every quarter at the U of Utah's English Department as an Add/Drop lady: back in those days to add a class or drop one, you had to get a card from the Add/Drop ladies. Before every quarter started, she'd call me, insisting that I make sure to drop by to see her. Get it? Drop by (that was her joke). And the first Friday of every quarter, she'd treat me to lunch - at the Panorama Room. The swanky restaurant on campus offering (of course) panoramic views, and food far better than that served in the student union.

It was while visiting her at her station I once witnessed her refuse to even consider allowing a young man to add a much needed class because he was smoking. Back then it was OK to smoke in the hallways, but Theia Sophie had declared her little area a non-smoking zone. The indignant student, who clearly had no use for anyone outside of academia, returned with the professor, his cigarette still dangling from his mouth. His self-satisfied "now you're going to get it" look scowling at us. The professor greeted Sophie and asked what the problem had been. Theia simply answered that the young man had a cigarette and her area was no-smoking; he could add the class when the cigarette was gone. Much to the student's amazement the professor turned to him and said, "If Sophie says it's a no-smoking zone, it's a no smoking zone," and walked off. The kid skulked away and Theia Sophia looked at me and uttered her harshest insult saved for the worst of the worst, "What a drip."

There are other stories, of course - how she taught me to make sucking sounds when making lemon soup so the eggs don't curdle (it works), or how she micromanaged my produce picking, but those are for another time.

I'm glad my boys got a chance to know Theia Sophie, even if she wasn't the "old" Sophie. I'll never forget the look of satisfaction on Gus' face, and the look of out-right pleasure on Theia Sophie's, when she asked him something in Greek and he responded correctly. Or the laughter Niko elicited from her when he said, "Tom the dad guinea pig did a poop and three babies were born."

Everyone who loved Sophie has lost something. The Greek community has lost a dedicated leader. My beautiful cousins, Yvonne, Karen, Joanne, and Diane have lost their mom. Their children have lost a yia yia. My dad, aunts and uncle have lost a cousin. And in Greek tradition I've lost a theia, technically, I lost a second cousin, but my cousin-in-law George put into perspective whom I really lost when he said to me, "Well, Chris, you've lost your friend." Because our age difference and familial bond notwithstanding, Theia Sophie was my friend.

You know, maybe she isn't a great sequoia that has fallen. When redwoods fall they become "nurse" trees, providing nutrition and offering access to light for young seedlings. For nearly 88 years, that's exactly what she always did: nurtured "seedlings." Maybe she's not a sequoia that has fallen at all. Maybe she's finally a sequoia that's standing tall.

May her memory be eternal.