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Poop is the word. The oft used -in spite of Mom’s discouragements – word. Aren’t there other, more interesting, topics of conversation? Sure, Mom. We’ll try.
Driving home from summer camp, Medium and a friend decided to record a spontaneous “commercial.”
I think she’s been secretly spying me watching Mad Men …
Small woke up crying. This is uncommon and in my sleep fog I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed his cries or if he was truly sobbing. I waited. His cries intensified. I staggered out of bed to go to him.
“Did you have a bad dream? Are you sick? Did you pee?”
“No!” He wailed louder.
“Henry, buddy, what’s the matter? Are you sick? Did you pee? It’s okay if you did. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“Why are you sad?”
“Cause I’ll never have a real dragon!”
I stood next to his bed, simultaneously amused and annoyed. “Is that really why you’re crying?”
“Yes, and even if I got one, you’d throw it away!”
I glanced around his recently cleaned and purged room. Ah.
“I’m sorry, buddy. I understand you’re sad. Do you want to come into my room and cuddle?”
The rejection pierced my haze like a knife. “Ok, then. I’m going back to bed.”
A minute later, I heard footsteps in the hall. I pulled back the covers. He tossed Piggy onto the mattress and climbed in beside her. The tear stains on his cheeks were a testament to the depth of his feelings. I hugged him close. “I’m sorry about the dragon,” I whispered. “If I could get you one, I would.” I paused. Unable to stop myself, I tacked on a redemption clause: “And I wouldn’t ever throw it out.”
“Thankth, Mom,” he mumbled around his thumb.
“I love you.”
He sighed. “I love you, too.”
I am what my friend E calls a “cafeteria Catholic.” I pick and choose what bits and pieces of Catholicism I can agree with and toss the rest.
This drives my mother crazy as she is an old-school Catholic. We’re talking novenas and stations of the cross and ashes on certain Wednesdays.
Growing up, we went to church every Sunday. My father, having been raised Jewish but who has not, to my knowledge, seen the inside of a synagogue in over 30 years, got to stay home. My sister and I were not so lucky. We had to attend even if I feel asleep (which I did often), raised a ruckus beforehand (ditto), or spent the mass doing math (counting how many people I could see, subtracting how many of those people wore hats and so on).
When I was three or four years old, I once crawled forward under the pews while my mother was praying on her knees with her eyes closed, a rosary clasped in her hands. She was not at all pleased when I popped up six rows in front of her and waved. There’s a look that I give the kids when they are misbehaving and I am too far from them to grab hold. It could peel paint from walls – it’s that intense. I learned it from her.
In my mother’s opinion, I have not given my children enough of a religious foundation. And maybe I haven’t. To wit:
An After Dinner Conversation with My Daughter
Nora: Does God have a father?
Me: No. He IS the father. He doesn’t have a father. He has a son, though.
Nora: Only a son? How come not a daughter?
Nora: I bet He wanted a daughter, too. Is He married? Who’s His wife?
I start thinking about how to explain virgins, immaculate conception and the progenitor to shot-gun weddings – a visit by an avenging angel on the bridegroom.
Nora: You know how Henry and me and Liam were in your body? And then we came out?
Me (cautiously): Yeah?
Nora: Well, I thought you and Daddy made us.
Me: We did. Technically though, God made everyone. He is everywhere.
Nora: If God is everywhere, is he in outer space too?
Nora: The earth is in outer space. Does that mean that God is in outer space?
Nora: How did the earth get into space? Was God there before space?
Brendan (calling from upstairs): Nora, it’s your turn in the shower!
Me: Go ahead honey. It’s time for bed.
Nora (amiably): Ok.
She hopped off the kitchen stool and presented the top of her head to me. I kissed it, as I have done a thousand times over. Raising her eyes to mine she grinned. “I’ll have lots more questions for you in the morning, Mom.”
You keep asking those tough questions, Nora. Even if Mommy doesn’t have all the answers!
“How was your day, Liam?”
“And there was a lot of dead skin where the cast used to be.”
“Yeah, that happens.”
“He brought in a ball of it.”
“A ball of dead skin. It was, like, this big.” Horrified, I view Liam making a quarter sized circle with his thumb and forefinger via the rear-view mirror.
“Gross! Does his mother know he did this?”
“Probably not. But our teacher saw it.”
“And what did she have to say about it?”
“She started talking about how skin is the largest organ and how it regenerates…”
I am sick to my stomach and speechless.
“…and the best part was that he gave some of it to some of the kids.”
“What?!? No! That’s so gross! You weren’t one of those kids, were you?”
“As soon as we get home, you have to take it out of your backpack and throw it away! What on earth were you going to do with that?”
“I was going to put it under your pillow.”
“I totally got you, Mom.” His impish grin stretched from ear to ear. “Jack did bring in his x-rays though and we all got to see the broken bone in his hand.”
There is a reason that nine year old girls think nine year old boys are disgusting.
It’s because they are.
The worst part is, now I’m wondering if he was actually telling the truth.
*Not his real name.
I was more than irritated when I discovered another scribbled-upon wall. Liam was ensconced safely at camp; Nora has never drawn on anything but paper. That left but one suspect.
“Henry! Please come in here!”
“What’s going on?” asked my husband, wandering in from the kitchen. I said nothing. He followed my gaze to the wall and then snorted in disbelief.
“I’m gonna kill him,” I whispered.
Henry bounced into the room. He looked from me to the wall to Brendan. “Nah-uh, Mommy.” He smiled, confident in his knowledge that I would never, could never, hurt him. “’Cuz of God,” he said solemnly.
I turned away to smother a disrespectful smirk. Fixing my frown, I leaned over him. “Do you know why Mommy is not happy?”
“’Cuz you uthin’ dat voice.”
Sighing, I pointed to the wall.
“Oh!” He jumped in front of his latest masterpiece with his arms extended—trying to block my view. “Oh, dat! Thorry, Mommy.”
I explained to Henry why it was not okay to write on walls. I reminded him that we had had this conversation before and firmly informed him that I did not want to have it again.
He looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet. He was obviously feeling guilty. Just as my attitude started to soften, a paradigm shift. His eyes blazed with the Greatness of his idea. “It not me! Piggy did it!” He thrust the purported offender forward.
I was at a loss. This was a new one.
“Well…,” I stalled, casting around for the right response. Was I going to have to lecture him about lying? Was this the time to analyze the differences between what is real vs. pretending something is real? “Well…,” and then it came to me. “YOU [and I prodded his chest for emphasis] are responsible for Piggy. You know that you are not allowed to write on the wall. And SO, you should not let Piggy write on the wall either.” I paused, pleased with myself for having out-argued a three-year-old. “Now, you and Piggy need to clean up your mess.”
He nodded at me. “OK, Mommy.”
Later, I was gulping a glass of wine and reviewing the tapes inside my head. Even though Henry had tried to blame his alter-ego, ultimately, he had admitted his misconduct, expressed remorse, and received an appropriate consequence. He was learning to accept personal responsibility.
Brendan touched my shoulder. “Honey? Did you happen to notice the ‘pictures’ Henry drew on the tan chair?”