The plight of a whistleblower

“My teacher says we need to protect the whistleblowers,” my 7-year-old said.

These kids, I thought. They know everything.

My son talks about Donald Trump and politics casually with his friends the way I do with mine. It unnerves me. I grew up right outside of Washington, D.C., and I don’t recall being this informed at his age.

“How do you feel about that?” I asked him.

“Makes sense. When you spit on a kid, he may want to kick you or something.”

“Um, what?” I asked. I was looking for the metaphor. Kids are amazing at metaphors. But I wasn’t seeing it.

“You need protection,” he said, “from being kicked when you’re a whistleblower and you spit on kids.” He pursed his lips and tried to whistle. I was immediately showered with spittle.

“Oh!” I said, wiping my face with the bottom of my shirt. “Yes, yes, God save all the whistleblowers.”

My son has been obsessed with learning to whistle for some time. For now, I’m just happy that his strife is kid-related, not political — the angst of keeping up with his friends as he comes of age, when the importance of learning to whistle cannot be understated.

They’re not pretty, my son’s whistling attempts. I often think of the Kate McKinnon skit on “Saturday Night Live” in which she harnessed her inner Lauren Bacall and said, “You do know how to whistle, don’t ya? … You just put your lips together and blow.” When she pursed her lips and blew, out came a sound that was something between an elephant trumpeting and earthshaking flatulence. My son’s whistle attempts are made with much gusto but very little volume. The lack of sound irritates my child to no end. It’s more of a deep and flummoxed exhale than a zip-a-dee-doo-dah.

I know his pain. I have never learned to whistle properly. My family is full of canary singers. My dad, brother and many cousins all puff out a single cheek and slowly — melodically — breathe out, whistling a tune, exhaling the song, the beauty, the warning.

I have only ever been able to make a short, high-pitched whistling sound as I breathe in. And one can only take in so much before she has to release, exhale, breathe out. And here, despite all my best efforts, I am always silent. Take in the sharpness, the noise; release a whisper, a hum.

“Gum,” I said to my son. “Perhaps gum will help.”

My son looked at me suspiciously.

“I can’t blow a bubble, either,” he said.

“I know, but it’s gotta be the same process, right? Put your lips together and blow. Maybe having the gum in your mouth will give you something practical to practice with. And you’ll learn to blow bubbles and whistle at the same time!”

I had no idea whether there was any truth to what I was suggesting, but I figured it was worth a shot. We went to the local pharmacy and scoured the gum section. There were many options, but I didn’t see the cotton candy-flavored Hubba Bubba of my youth that earned me so many detentions in middle school. We settled on some original-flavored Bubble Yum and headed home for practice.

It didn’t take long before my first grader was wailing through his frustrations. It’s so hard! He can’t do it! What will his friends say? Now he was upset not only because he couldn’t whistle but also because he couldn’t blow bubbles. In my efforts to fix the problem, I compounded it.

“These things take practice,” I said. “I still can’t whistle.”

My son informed me that the only thing harder than whistling is not being able to whistle.

“Try again,” I said. I bent down, eye level with my kid, ready to offer advice in real time. He blew. A wad of chewed-up Bubble Yum went flying out from his lips and slapped against my eyebrow before falling to the floor.

My son cracked up laughing and apologized as I wiped my face once again. I picked up the gum from the floor and threw it into the trash. “That’s enough whistle practice for today,” I said.

My son agreed, but he’s not giving up.

“Think the guy who tattled on Donald Trump knows how to blow a bubble and that’s how he got so good at whistleblowing?” my son asked.

These kids, I thought. They know everything.


Katiedid Langrock is a

nationally syndicated columnist.


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