Okay, so I’ve mentioned how watching little kids is hilarious because all the starter adult elements are already there, along with a belief in magic and an underdeveloped sense of self-consciousness…
(This whole self-consciousness deal was a huge conundrum for me, as a parent, because I find myself eternally balancing the need to NOT teach my kids crippling shame with the practical need to impart rules of social acceptability, which was a real humdinger when Brontë was about two and wanting to be naked all the time, because it felt good. I mean… how do you simultaneously explain that there’s nothing inherently wrong with her body, but it’s not okay to constantly strip off her clothes in public and run around screaming? Especially when getting into why strangers seeing her naked is a bad idea is more than I want to share at this vulnerable age… For some reason, telling her “You can only be naked when most everyone else is naked too” finally did the trick.)
Well, as a parent, you’re always vaguely terrified about doing a good job while being reassured every time your kid passes through a stage of development.
First, it’s amazing to see your kid stay alive, then you’re excited about hearing them say their first word or crawl for the first time.
Each step moves the crying, blurry starter-human closer and closer to what you recognize about normal people… for example, I’ve seen my kid move from wanting to be naked and screaming all the time to showing her first signs of social embarrassment:
For this next part, I’m gonna pretend Brontë lives near another little girl in her Kindergarten class who goes by the name of “Alice.” I’m pretending that because I’m about to share a hilarious potty conversation she had and I don’t know if Alice’s mom is okay with me publicly talking about it, so out of respect, I’m going to give her the name we gave the backyard squirrel before our lunatic dog ran it off in a misguided attempt to protect our property…
Because parents like to project the safest, cutest moments of their kids, their kids, which is probably a good idea, except it paints an insincere portrait of parenting as though it were a giant series of Norman Rockwell scenes punctured by occasional Hallmark greeting cards, when really, it’s more like humanity stripped of any sense of grasping how other people are going to interpret you, which can be both hilarious and awkward… like today, when Bridget laid on her back, spread-eagle, and danced her legs in the air, toes pointed, singling “Faaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaa–aaaaart” in a way that evoked Gregorian chanting before ripping an enormous, comedy fart.
And frankly, I’m the type of mom who gets more worried about discouraging Gregorian chanting than outrageous farting displays. I mean, her announcement had a decidedly medieval flair, which seemed a most impressive build-up for a three-year-old at the time, but I have a feeling that my analysis of the situation won’t be the best one for getting her invited to future dinner parties, if you know what I mean…
At any rate, today I was charged with picking up both Brontë and “Alice” from Kindergarten, while my neighbor watched over farting baby Bridget. Sometimes I’m surprised that a neighbor as popular and level-headed as mine will entrust me with the supervision of her kids, and that she seems to find my quirks endearing, but she’s madly in love with Bridget’s ridiculous antics and we strangely seem to get along just fine.
Well, I ended up bringing Brontë and Alice to the park right next to the school, because I’d rather let the kids play until the insane traffic out of the one-way road from the school dies down and the kids seem to settle down better after playing for a few minutes after all those rules, so its a win-win.
But on the way to the park, Brontë said she REALLY needed to use the bathroom, so we ran to the girls’ bathroom where there ended up being a line, and she ended up peeing her pants before reaching the toilet.
Brontë is 99 percent potty-trained at this point, but little kids don’t have a good sense of how long they have until they need a toilet. Brontë yelled that she’d peed her pants in the bathroom, and Alice sweetly offered to give her some underwear, but I threw away Brontë’s underwear while reminding her that she couldn’t go on the swings or slide in the park because she didn’t have underwear and please try to mention needing to use the bathroom before it got critical… in the meantime, Brontë’s loud announcements about discretion over peeing her pants had the ironic effect of informing all the older girls in the bathroom to her situation, and to their credit, all of them uncomfortably pretended they didn’t hear anything as she exited the stall and I threw her underpants away in the trash. Because we already have a lot of underpants and I didn’t want to deal with it.
Brontë walked up to Alice, looked her in the eye, and said…
“Please don’t ever laugh at me for peeing my pants.”
Alice looked back into Brontë’s eyes and said, very sincerely, “I will NOT,” thus cementing a probable lifetime bond. Especially after they’d recounted how another kid in their class had peed his pants earlier that day, and how the kids had all laughed and pointed at him… Brontë stared into the distance, appearing to reconsider her earlier take.
We then went to the park so the kids could play by the creek, where boys were pulling up red stripey crawdads. Bidgie had been amazed at the sight of crawdads, calling them “red things with two snaps, that snap your finger,” and the girls were simultaneously fascinated by them and worried that the boys would bring them too close.
(As an aside, I first learned that I was of a unique American social class when I was in the Army, discussing the eating of crawdads. Turns out, only people from Louisiana and their ilk would consider such a thing… my cousins and I would wade, unsupervised, into city creeks and catch the things to put into random aquariums by the playhouse. I had NO idea that this was truly bizarre.)
When the girls wanted to walk across the pond, one boy pointed out a thin branch that someone had laid across the water. The girls decided they wanted to try this way across, so I started mentally calculating the hazards risked by trying it:
“Hmm… shallow pond, rickety stick. They could fall. It wouldn’t be far, but they could get muddy and at worst, get pinched by a crawdad… I think Alice’s mom would okay with muddy clothes?”
My sense of consequences warred with my heartfelt belief that trying to cross a shallow creek on a rickety stick was a critical element in understanding one’s boundaries in childhood…
“Okay, let’s take off your shoes and give me your backpacks, then you can try,” I told them.
“Why do we give you our backpacks?” Alice said.
“So if you fall, your homework and backpacks won’t get wet. Don’t go at the same time: one goes first and the next waits, or you’ll pull each other in the water.”
They chucked their backpacks at my feet and stripped off their shoes. Alice took a few steps and started to waver…
Ahhh! She jumped back. “You go first!” she told Brontë.
Brontë took a few hesitant steps before wavering and jumping to the shore. They asked the boy how he got across, so he demonstrated while holding his arms out to the side.
“I’m going to do what he did,” Brontë said, holding her arms out to the side and taking a few steps. She began to lose her balance and jumped back to the bank.
“The easier way,” the boy said, “is to just walk across right here.” He walked across a shallow part to the other side.
“I’m gonna try that,” Brontë said.
“Okay,” I told her. “But here’s the trick: look before you step and only walk where you can see the ground. Don’t walk in the weeds or there could be a crawdad.”
Brontë nodded before taking a couple steps into the pond. She stepped again, then a big red crawdad popped his head up…
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” She screamed and ran to a pile of other kids. “I was walking across the pond,” she told them, breathlessly, “When a giant crawdad jumps out and ran at me, trying to attack me!”
Meanwhile, I took a stick and tried to get the crawdad to pinch it so I could pull him out. But he kept backing off when I tapped him. He was rather docile.
I walked up to the kids as a boy tried to offer Alice a frog to pet. She screamed until I told her that frogs can’t bite or pinch you. She carefully reached out and tapped the frog before shrinking back in horror:
“He’s WET,” she said.
“Yes, he was swimming.”
She considered this before I told the girls to play for just a few more minutes before I took them home. They played until I realized we’d been gone an hour, and Alice’s mom was texting to make sure nothing had gone wrong.
And on the way home, I was awed by overhearing my child’s first successful attempt to completely bullsh*t her friends. Their conversation from the backseat went like this…
Alice: I pooped today.
Alice: In the bathroom.
Brontë: That’s good. What color was it?
Alice: Umm… brown.
Brontë: Brown? Not rainbow colors?
Brontë: I poop rainbow colors… don’t you?
Alice looks out the window, stunned, looking a little intimidated.
Brontë: Rainbow poops are cool, but at least you pooped in the bathroom. That’s good.
Alice nodded, then I walked her back to her house.
As we returned home, Brontë squeezed my hand, saying “Alice did NOT laugh at me when I peed my pants.”
“She did NOT. That’s a good friend.”
Brontë nodded, considering the significance.
And I couldn’t help wondering if feelings of insecurity about peeing her pants had prompted these boasts about pooping in technicolor. I mean… these boasts had obviously been effective among the five-year-old set, where people don’t grasp the limits of biology. Alice was clearly wondering whether or not her poop was performing adequately in a world of multicolored options.
Take the levels up a few notches, though, and you have an adult interaction. One is feeling insecure when the other boasts about mastery of the topic at hand. Then the other recalls a previous time when they had delivery superpowers.
But despite all the boasting about rainbow turd, Brontë noticed that Alice didn’t laugh at her when she had the chance, and she appreciated that.
There’s got to be some adult lesson in all this…