When my children yawn, they think of my high school French teacher.
They know about Madame from stories I've told of transgressing her classroom rules.
In the 1970s, the latest teaching fad was to make school fun. High school teachers were our buddies, our counselors, and our advocates.
But my French teacher was old school. Literally. A 25-year veteran, she never accepted excuses for missed assignments. And she had ironclad rules for classroom decorum.
"Anyone caught chewing gum or yawning in my class has to pay 5 cents," she said, holding up a glass jar and shaking the few coins inside it.
During class, Madame would half-sit, half-lean on a tall chair near the blackboard. She scanned the class for gum chewers and yawners as she taught the day's lesson.
Some students tried to outsmart Madame. They rested gum on molars, hid it at the back of their tongues, or pushed it to the roof of their mouths. But Madame saw all.
Continuing to read from the book in her hand, Madame would leave her post, pick up a black trash can in her other hand, and walk the aisle, stopping in front of the offender. He or she spat gum into the can.
When Madame returned to the front of the room, she would send the jar on its journey, from student to student, until the gum chewer had deposited a nickel.
The gum-chewing habit was broken by Halloween.
But taming the yawn was harder. When Madame turned to write on the blackboard, someone might sneak a yawn. Sometimes, I was that someone.
Catching a student mid-yawn seemed to delight Madame like the cat that finally catches the mouse. Seeing a yawn begin, she would stop her lecture and flash a smile.
Loosely translated, she would say (in French, of course), "Gotcha! That yawn will cost you 5 cents. Pay up, please."
This game of cat and mouse was amusing until I was the mouse that got caught.
I paid a nickel only once before I began to train myself to yawn inside. In the two years that Madame was my French teacher I perfected this skill.
When a yawn brewed, I would lower my head just slightly and force that yawn to the back of my throat, letting it escape through the water of my eyes and the flare of my nostrils.
Internal yawning has saved me from being rude many times: during a client meeting; in church; at lunch with my mother. This skill was one of the most valuable things I learned in high school.
A few months back, I told our sons this story. They were picking up some unattractive habits from the playground. I started charging 25 cents for offensive words and gratuitous burps.
After collecting a few dollars, I noticed a big improvement.
Then one night during dinner, I heard a low rumble coming from 6-year-old Danny's direction.
I immediately gave him the mother glare.
He smiled and said, "Hey, Mom, I know how to burp inside now."
I laughed as I held my hand out. This cat had caught a mouse.
Gotcha! 25 cents, s'il vous plat.
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