Monday, April 14, 2014


It's almost April 15th, which can only mean one thing: our taxes are due.

Contrary to the procrastination that affects everything else in my life, I've had my taxes done since January.  I haven't yet hit that bracket where I owe the government money, and I'd like to keep it that way. Can't have the ole government running out of money before they've refunded my hard-earned dollars.

I've been earning dollars since I was eight.  I opened a bank account at the First National Bank of Orwell in 1994 with the $40 that I received in gifts for my First Communion.  The interest accrued rapidly, and by 1997, I had $40.72 to my name.  Of course, I was making some spending money on the side: $2 a month for allowance; $12 every year for my birthday from my grandmother.

But by 1998, I was having some money problems. And by that I mean I wasn't making any.  Allowance had stopped after 5th grade, and I'd spent my birthday money within a week of receiving it.. I still had that First Communion money in the bank, which was now at $41.96, and since God had seen to it that my Holy Money grew, I figured if I pleaded with him just a little bit, I could get some more:

God, could you give me a babysitting job? Please? I know I would be good at it. I don't want to be greedy but I'd also like some spending money, or to give to the poor. -January 7, 1998
And BAM! Just like that, a year and a half later, I got my first babysitting gig.

I babysat for my gym teacher's two kids when she went to [a] wedding... All in all, it was good. I got $10, and they took me out to dinner!* -July 12, 1999
*Confession: I didn't claim that dinner on my taxes.

It didn't take long for me to spend my money though:

Today I went shopping. I bought a bear for Ellina for $8.40 including tax, and $4.08 on candy for myself. -July 12, 1999
I wouldn't exactly call Ellina "the poor," but I kept my promise not to be greedy.

If only the rich would take a page from Little Bessie's book:
If I grow up and become very rich, I will do this:  keep about $10,000 to $20,000 in the bank, and give the rest to charity, maybe build a home for the homeless or something.
Sure you would.

It is not really my place to say, but I wonder why Bill Gates, or any rich entertainers don't do that? -December 30, 1998
Probably because they knew better than to bribe God for money.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Be Awesome

Today was the most amazing day of my life.

It was January 2002, and I had just watched Regina Jacobs break a world record at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center. Not only that, but I had met her too. “Be Awesome,” she had signed on a 5x7 postcard. The picture on the card showed her breaking through a finish line tape, her arms held high in the air. I was a high school track athlete, and seeing performances like the one I saw that day was inspiring to say the least. “I’m going to go to the Olympics” I told people. “Beijing, 2008.” Be awesome, I’d whisper to myself at night. 

She tested positive for THG two years later and the world record that I witnessed came under fire; if not by the IAAF, then by me. What had I seen? Was the most amazing day of my life just a joke? Were my dreams a joke, too? I never would go to the Olympics. I wouldn’t even come close to an Olympic trials qualifying time. That’s not Regina’s fault. And she wouldn’t be the only athlete I admired who would let me down, either. 

But there’s another side to this story; a less disappointing one. Let’s go back to the most amazing day of my life: I’m sitting next to my dad, about halfway up the stands, watching as my idol sails effortlessly around the tight turns of the blue track and betting at every 200m whether or not she’ll break the record. To the left of us there is a tape that runs up the bleachers dividing the two sections. If you know someone or can pay a lot of money, you get to sit on the other side of the tape directly in front of the finish line in the Golden Ticket section. Here you have the best view and can stand in line to meet the athletes. We don’t know anybody and we can’t pay a lot of money, but we got there early and sat in the best of the regular seats, just to the right of the finish line. 

This day is especially exciting because in about a month, I will run on that very same track. It will be the high school New England Championships, and my dad, the track coach at my high school, will take a bus full of kids down from Vermont to see how we stack up against the other five states. Generally speaking, we will not stack up well. We come from a small state and an even smaller school without a track on which to train, and this will be the best competition we will see all season. But it won’t matter that our Fair Haven Union High School singlets will fill up the slowest heats. This will be the biggest meet of the season. Our Olympics. And as far as we are concerned, we’ll have already made it to the top.

Regina passes the 3000m mark and the bell goes off for her final lap. We know she’s going to break the record; we can just tell by the power in her stride and the steadily increasing gap between her and the woman in second. Now, we are betting on whether or not she is going to break 9:25. She crosses the finish line and throws her arms up victoriously into the air, just like in the picture she will hand to me an hour later. The crowd erupts, and it is at that moment that my future becomes clear.  Later that night I will write in my journal: 
I want to do that.  I want to be a world class runner, everyone chanting my name as I race.

We watch as she takes a victory lap, jogs to cool down, and sits at a table with her coach. “You want to get her autograph?” my dad asks. 

“We can’t, Dad,” I say, “We don’t have the right tickets.”

“Follow me,” he replies. I do so reluctantly, because I am still a high school girl and my dad can be embarrassing. Especially when he is pushing the boundaries, which he often does. As our coach, he leads us into field houses like we own the place; gets us into events that are already full; tells us to warm-up in restricted areas so we have more space. “Just act like you’re supposed to be there,” he says “and no one will question you.” And no one ever does.

 “Dad, it’s fine,” I say, pulling on his sleeve. “Let’s just go sit back down.” But he forges ahead; around to the back of the track where the security guards are few and falling asleep. His stride is confident as he lifts up the yellow tape and pushes me underneath it. I glance nervously around, expecting someone to stop us and ask to see our tickets. I imagine the scene that will follow when they call for security over the loud speakers and kick us out, banning us from ever entering the Reggie Lewis Center again. My father pulls me to the back of the line that leads to the autograph signing and stands there unapologetically, as though we have a pair of golden tickets tucked into our pockets. 

A year after I watch Regina’s world record-breaking race, and a year before I will doubt that it was deserved, I’ll win my own title on that track. I’ll come from the third fastest heat and gut it out alone. I’ll wait anxiously with my dad as two more heats of girls follow mine and try to beat my time. We’ll both throw our arms into the air when they don’t. I’ll look right at my father and smile as a track official puts the medal around my neck. 

I had no business being on the top podium; a girl from a small school in Vermont seeded 18th going into the race. But I was coached by a man who didn’t care about on which side of the stands we belonged. He turned basketball castoffs into track athletes; track athletes into state champions; state champions into New England champions. We were a team of kids without a track that walked around like we owned the place. He pushed us into times and achievements restricted to kids from bigger teams and more competitive states; he lifted the tape that separated us from the best high school kids and taught us to walk through confidently like we had business being there. He was the one who inspired me, who inspired all of us, to Be Awesome.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

No Baby Ittin' Tittin'

My mother is a bit of a wordsmith.  She’ll often pause mid-conversation to contemplate the meaning of a word.  “Wordsmith.  Hm.  Word. Smith.  Now where do you suppose that comes from?”  She also likes to repeat the sing-songy words that are pleasant to the ear.  “Meadow. Chrysanthemum. Jocelyn.”

Oh, wait.  You thought jocelyn was a girl’s name?  Well you are wrong. Here’s the definition of jocelyn, as understood by the Heitkamp women:

Kimmy Gibbler rocking a jocelyn
jocelyn: /-slin/ (n) a hair style in which the top half of the hair is pulled back and secured at the back of the head with an elastic or a scrunchie. Origin: a girl named Jocelyn used to wear her hair like that a lot. Ex. She wore a jocelyn in her hair for the school concert.

There’s no name for that hairstyle.  It’s been called a half-ponytail, pulling your bangs back, a half-up-half-down; but no one has actually agreed upon a word.  Which is why my mother made one up for it.  Of course, if you ask anyone to “do a jocelyn” in your hair, she will look back at you like you are speaking in tongues (especially if her name is Jocelyn), but it will catch on.  Eventually.

This isn’t the only word or phrase that my mother had to invent when the Oxford Dictionary fell short.  There’s also "girlie cute," "lunchtime crackers," and "peep in the deep."  I'll leave those definitions up to the imagination.

Most of her words and phrases, however, are substitutions for the inadequate meaning of the phrase “don’t be a wimp.”   “Don’t be a wimp” doesn't quite encompass all that my mother means when she says the following:

buck it up: /bək-it-əp/ (adv.)  there is nothing so painful that you can’t tough it out.  (This one, I know, is actually googleable, but I’m pretty sure my mother invented it. Or in the very least, popularized it.)

we don’t do the cry thing: /-dōnt-do͞o-T͟Hə-krī-THiNG/ (v) Crying isn't allowed in our family.

you was in your bedroom, and then what happened: /yo͞o-wəz-in-yôr-bedˌro͞om-and-T͟Hen-(h)wət-ˈhapənd/ (?) stop crying and let's be rational about your situation; it is not as bad as you are making it seem; most often used on a baby who has just woken up from a nap

we’re smiling, we’re smiling, we’re smiling /wi(ə)r-smīl-iNG-wi(ə)r-smīl-iNG-wi(ə)r-smīl-iNG-/ (!) Same as above, but spoken through gritted teeth when your pre-adolescent is acting up in public. Generally accompanied by a firm grip on the upper arm.

no baby ittin’ tittin’: /no-ˈbā-bē-it-tin-tit-tin/  see: "we don’t do the cry thing"  origin: from the noise that a whimpering baby makes when there’s really nothing wrong. Ex. No baby ittin' tittin'.

Now, you might ask, “What kind of mother doesn't let her children cry?”  Let me tell you:  the kind of mother who gives birth to a preemie asthmatic daughter who grows up to be a track star.  The kind of mother with a son who has open heart surgery at 6 months old, is told he’ll never be able to play sports, and ends up winning multiple state championships and collegiate titles in the javelin and high jump.  The kind of mother whose daughter doesn't cry, even when her arm is broken clean in half.

This last one was me, of course.

It happened one January day in 1999.  I was skiing with my brother Tommy when I fell and broke my arm. When my parents found me in the medical shed at the bottom of the mountain, they were concerned, but not alarmed.

Another girl about my age had been brought in, and was blubbering over what she claimed was a twisted ankle.  My mother rolled her eyes at me in a “What a wuss, right?” kind of way.  So when the doctor examined my heavily bruised, misshapen arm, I kept my chin firm and didn't flinch when he poked at it.

“Looks like a bad bone bruise,” he said.  “You might want to take her to the hospital, but I’m sure she’ll be fine.

I wanted to contest his verdict; to tell him that when I walked, I felt as if another joint had sprung between my shoulder in elbow as the bone in my arm swayed back and forth.  But Wussy-pants McGee on the next bed was making enough racket for the both of us, so I remained quiet.

It was only when I slipped getting into our mini van and fell on the arm again, letting out an uncontrollable shriek of pain, that my mother’s concern went from slight to moderate.

“Do you think we need to go to the hospital?” she asked, not quite buying my ‘ittin tittin’.  I nodded, and we went.  It was, in fact, broken clean in half, and as I sat there listening to doctors talk about casts and surgery, I began to cry just a little.  But remembering what my mother taught me,

I asked Mom to wipe my tears away because I didn't want the doctors to think I was a baby wimp. - February 2, 1999

baby wimp: /ˈbā-bē-wimp/  (n) no child of Linda Heitkamp.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Fool's Day

Well, I survived April Fool’s Day. Not one trick was really played on me. -April 2, 2000 

When was the possibility of not surviving April Fool's Day ever an issue for me?  As if I walked around middle school all day through a labyrinth of Groucho Marx-style pranks: silly phone calls and buckets of water and invisible strings and such. 

The thing about April Fool's Day is, it's really only funny to the people doing the tricking.  Everyone else is just annoyed.  Take this prank, for example:

April 1, 1698: several Londoner's are told that they are going to see the King's pet lions get washed at the Tower of London.  King James II is all, "Hey guys, come check out my white lions taking a bath!" and then everyone shows up and he's like "Haha!  Now you're stuck in my Tower!" and he high-fives Queen Mary.


Or this one:

Robert Siegel and Linda Wertheimer
April 1, 1994:  NPR's All Things Considered tells its listeners that corporate companies will offer a discount for life to anyone who gets a tattoo of their logos.  Robert Siegel is all, "Hey kids, go get a Pepsi tattoo and you'll save 10% every time you buy Pepsi!" and then all these kids are like "Give me back my 10 cents on this can of soda!" and Robert Siegel is like "Haha, now you have a tattoo on your forehead!" and he high-fives co-host Linda Wertheimer.

Good one.

Finally this one:
I got Ellina and Mom though! I put a rubber band around the handle of the sprayer in the kitchen sink. When they turned on the faucet, it sprayed them.  

I'm all, "Hey Mom, why don't you use the faucet?"  and she's like, "But I don't need to use the faucet," and I'm like "I think there's a dirty dish in the sink," and she's like "No there's not," and I'm all "But no, really, just- turn the faucet on!" and she's like "Why are you hiding behind the door?" and I'm all "JUST TURN ON THE FAUCET!!" and she turns on the faucet and I jump out from behind the door and I'm like, "Gotcha!"

Nice.  I'm giving myself a high-five for that.

Monday, March 31, 2014

March Madness

March Madness is coming to an end soon, and if you're a betting man, I'd put my money on Florida.  I just have this feeling.

Alright I'll admit it: I haven’t watched a second of the tournament, and I just googled the remaining teams.  I've never been much of a sports-better, but that’s not because I’m against gambling on principle; I just don’t like my odds.

Recently, my family members and I placed bets on the gender of my brother’s unborn baby.  Winners get a candy bar and bragging rights, and first correct response gets to name it. (Okay, probably not.)

The way I saw it, I had two options:  Option A – Girl; and Option B – Boy.  I put my these into a bracket labeled "Final Two" and calculated the probabilities.  My sister’s first child had been a boy, so what were the chances that my brother’s first child would be a boy too?  Then again, my sister just recently had a girl, so what were the chances that there would be two girls born back to back?  The ratio of girls to boys in my family is 2:1, but then my brother’s wife has no brothers…

Okay, when it came right down to it I had 50/50 chance of guessing correctly.  So I decided to go on pure instinct, and was overcome with the feeling of certainty that it would definitely most certainly absolutely-no-doubt-about-it be a boy.

He’s having a girl.

I have a history of making incorrect predictions.  And yet, like the ever-optimistic better at a Vegas Roulette table, no matter how many times I’m wrong, I feel that this time, I’m right.  I just know it.

Here are just a few of the predictions I've made over the years, and their actual outcomes:

I think Natalie and Ross will get married.  They have been good* friends for I believe over a year now.  He is a year younger, so probably by the year 2000 they will be married. -January 12, 1998
 They didn’t make it to 1999.

*Note: the underlined and italicized "good friend" was a euphemism for "boyfriend."  I didn't dare write such profanity in my journal.

In school we are doing an essay about a woman scientist…  I have this feeling inside of me that I am going to win…. I have another feeling that someday I am going to win the book contest I do.  If I don’t, I have another feeling that I am going to be an author early, if I send my work to a publisher. -January 13, 1998

I didn’t win the writing contest about women engineers.  I was very upset. I am doing another contest. The deadline is in six days. -March 21, 1998

This second contest was the aforementioned “book contest I do.”  That one didn't work out either.

Tomorrow I am going to win MVL [cross country] Championships.  In the middle, my legs will hurt, my lungs will ache, I will want to stop. But I will push harder.  I will win. -October 21, 2002
I didn't win. I was 2nd. -November 24, 2002

And then there was this one:

Wow! This is the sixth day in a row that I’ve written in this journal!... I look forward every day to writing in here.  I won’t read what I write until I’m married and have kids, when I’m an author. - January 4, 1999 
Oops. Sorry Little Bessie.  But in my defense, I was sure that I would definitely most certainly absolutely-no-doubt-about-it be a married author by the time I was 25.

On second thought, maybe don't bet on Florida.

Friday, February 14, 2014

First Kiss

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: in matters of love, I was a late bloomer.  In case you missed it, after a Kindergarten love and a summertime romance, I found myself, a senior in high school, still waiting for that first kiss.

I had several opportunities- in an abandoned hallway after school, under the deck at our summer home, on a chairlift heading up a mountain.  But every time I felt the moment start to swell; hear our voices go soft and see his head tilt toward mine; I'd spot something interesting to point out behind him or find myself suddenly overcome with the need to tell him a story about the time the boat sank, and the moment would be lost.

The truth was, I was scared.  I'd waited just long enough where everyone around me had mastered the art of kissing, or at least did it once, and I feared that my inexperience would be met with endless ridicule.

Luckily, my best friend was a boy named Eli.  I know what you are thinking:  he did the noble thing and gave you your first kiss, just so you'd know how to do it upon entering your Freshman year of college!  But we had come to that fork years before and decided that we just weren't right for eachother and a kiss, even a pity kiss, would hurt our friendship.

What he did instead was to describe, in 5 simple steps,  how one kisses another:

1. Relax  2. Keep your eyes shut  3. No in and out  4. Do the alphabet  5. Two key areas- roof of mouth and bottom teeth. - May 1, 2004

Of course, I wrote these steps down after he'd gone, because I had some pride.  Besides:

He jokingly said I'd probably write them all down. Which I did.  But more because it was just funny.
Sure.  That's why.
Although knowing me I'll drag this out in 5 years when I get my first kiss and review the steps.  Or I'll compare my performance and track my progress.
There's the truth.
I wish my life was more romantic.
Don't we all.

Well, I would get that first kiss, and I wouldn't have to wait 5 years to get it.  And for all of my late blooming and romance desiring, I'm proud to say that I didn't just let that first kiss be an ordinary one, and I daresay Fate had her hand in the matter.

It happened the fall of my sophomore year of college.  I'd been crushing on this boy Tim since we met at the beginning of the semester through a group of girls that lived a floor below me.  Coming back from a party, we all piled into the same elevator, the mutual friends giggling at seeing us together.  He had been crushing on me, too, it seemed.  The girls and a few strangers got off the elevator on the 4th floor, leaving Tim and me to ascend, alone, to the 5th.

And then it happened.

Between the 4th and 5th, an alarm went off in the building and the elevator stopped, and sunk to the ground floor.  We stared at each other for a moment, not sure what to do.  We had not yet expressed our feelings for one another, and here we were, sitting in a broken elevator, alarms going off around us, and it very well could be the last moments of our life.  "Typical," I thought.  "I would die before having my first kiss."

We sat on the floor waiting for a rescue, leaning against opposite walls of course, our legs dangerously close to each other.  We talked little and tried to breath lightly so as  to conserve what oxygen we had left, but our hearts raced at the closeness of our quarters, and we sucked the air in quickly.

Finally, the air thinning, Tim came clean.  "I have a confession," he said.  My heart beat faster.  "I have a crush on you."  My mind pulled at the phrases I had only heard but never spoken to anyone, searching for the right thing to say in return.  You had me at hello. I'm also just a girl in front of a boy, asking him to love her. We'll always have Paris. I'll never let go!  Instead I just said breathlessly, "Oh?"

Then he shuffled over to my wall of the elevator, put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Can I kiss you?"  Seeing as there was nothing of interest to point out behind him, and given that I'd already told him the story of the time the boat sank, I just said, "Okay."  And right inside a broken down elevator, it happened.  I relaxed, closed my eyes, and did the alphabet; careful not to go in and out, and making sure that the top and bottom of my letters hit the roof of his mouth and the bottom of his teeth.

We were interrupted by a fireman yelling "You guys okay in there?"  and responded simultaneously with a nothin-going-on-in-here, "Yeah!"

"We'll getcha right out!" he replied.

After he pried the door open, we walked outside into the cool midnight air, and were met with a crowd of cheering students who had been evacuated from the building for what turned out to be dust in the fire alarm.  Upon seeing our bashful smiles and the incriminating redness of our lips, the cheers turned to hoots and high-fives, and the crowd parted to let through a couple of glowing lovebirds who "totally just made out in the elevator."

And we totally had.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

They Called Me "Flamingo"

Every great athlete has a nickname.  Babe "The Bambino" Ruth, Jr; Ted "Splendid Splinter" Williams; LeBron "King James" James.   And it's for the headlines, really.

"Bambino to Clout Ball to Pacific" - The Washington Post, January 25, 1921.

"Splendid Splinter's final at-bat was poetic end" -, September 26, 2010

"The Courting of King James: The Hunt for LeBron James" - July 9, 2010.

In sixth grade basketball, they called me "Flamingo."  I'd like to say that it was because I flew to the basket, or because my ponytail swooped gracefully from my head in a way that resembled the neck of the pink bird, or even because I would have made a nice lawn ornament when I wasn't shootin' hoops.  But you know how flamingos famously stand on one spindly leg with the other one tucked up into their bodies?  Well that's how I shot a basketball.  One spindly leg on the ground, while the other kicked under and back.  To give me more lift, most likely.

I imagine it had something to do with how I ran down the court as well.  Neck out, arms flailing as I dribbled full speed to the basket, only to pass it off blindly when I felt myself losing control.  Like this, but with a basketball:

For all of my lack of skill in the sport, I wrote about it more than any other sport I ever played growing up.

We had a basketball game against Castleton today.  We lost, but I don't feel bad because we played very well.  The score was 17-18.  In the last 17 seconds we made our last basket.  It was a close game the whole way through. January 13, 1998
With a score like 17-18, that had to be exciting for the parents.  Then there was this one:

We won our basketball game against the fifth grade Poultney team.  We won 20-16.  Mrs. Amsden put me in a lot, but that isn't good.  She played me a lot because I am not very good (she thinks so) and she wanted the not-so-good players to play.  If she gave me a chance, I could be good.  She won't let me be a guard. I want to be! February 22, 1998
To be a guard was a coveted position on the Orwell Village School Wildcats; saved for only the LeBrons and the KGs and the Michael Jordans of our team.  I was a forward, which was one step below a center, which was one step below a guard.  And I was only put there because I was tall and when I hopped up on that spindly left leg, I was decent at getting rebounds.

Sure, maybe if Mrs. Amsden had given me a chance, I could have learned to dribble with control and to pass it off to my own teammate.  But let's remember what I looked like on the court, in slow-mo this time:

Of course, I did get better.  By seventh grade those rogue passes would occasionally pass through the net.  Luckily, I recapped one game in its entirety, so as not to forget what would be called, and I quote, "one of the most exciting games ever."

Flamingo leads flock to 42-41 victory over Otter Valley

ORWELL - They started off on the right foot.  Or the left, if we're talking about Orwell Village School's star forward, Flamingo.  Just ten minutes into the first half, Orwell was up 4-0, with Flamingo gracefully popping in the second of those two baskets.

Then, things headed south like birds for the winter.  Otter Valley bypassed Orwell, taking a 22-7 lead at halftime; a gap that could only be overcome by an epic locker room speech.

And epic it was.

They walked back onto the court in V-formation, ready to take on the headwind of a game.  In the first 4 and a half minutes, Orwell scored 18 points, with Flamingo laying claim to 1/9th of those points.  For the next 14 minutes, spectators sat on the edge of their seats as they watched what could have been a David Attenborough "Predator vs Prey" special on Animal Planet.  Otter Valley attacked, Orwell defended. Back and forth, back and forth, but Orwell always staying within 6 points.  With just 50 seconds to go, Orwell trailed, 40-41.

Many times, they tried to score, but never succeeded.

Finally, with 16 seconds left in the game, Courtney "The Court" Parent made a fast-break down the court, like a gazelle outrunning a cheetah.  The air was still around her as the spectators and players alike held their breaths.  It was unmistakable: she wanted it, but at the same time, she knew she had to be calm in order to get it.  She slowed down, focused on the basket, and made the shot.

The crowd went nuts.  Everyone was screaming so loudly, you couldn't even hear the whistle blow.  It truly was one of the most exciting games ever.   

*And now for a more accurate recapping of the game: