In Defense of Potty HumorBrian Gresko
I confess, I’ve played a part in my son’s current obsession with talking about “poo-poo” and “pee-pee.”
Sometimes, on about the fourth or fifth playing of “Free to Be You and Me” of that particular day, I change the lyrics in the chorus to “You and me are free to poo-poo and pee” as I sing along. And when he feeds me Play-Doh hotdogs, I squish them up and make Play-Doh poops — that’s just how digestion works, right? Speaking of, then there was that time I went in the bathroom and pretended to reach Christmas-morning levels of excitement about Felix’s bowel movement, like “You made that? Get out of here — really? You? It’s awesome!” Now the boy runs out of the bathroom every night crowing about how I have to come and see this one, and of course I do, and often put on just as big a show of enthusiasm. “Woww, will you look at that?”
I come from a long line of potty mouthed bathroom jokesters. I’m writing this from my parent’s house, where earlier today my Dad described baby Felix as, “Tiny, brown, stinky. Why, sort of like a poo, actually. A dog poo!”
“No, Pop-pop, really!” Felix said.
“What? I am being real,” my Dad said. “I could tell when you were around by the smell.”
I have a soft, squishy spot for toilet humor and knew that one day it would cause me trouble as a parent. Once, as a middle school teacher, I accompanied a group of seventh and eighth grade boys to a sex education class being sponsored by a local clinic. The boys were stoney faced and serious — I was the one who had trouble keeping a straight face during the talk. I also couldn’t complete an anatomy chart of the male reproductive system to save my life, but that’s another story. What I’m trying to say is: I’m not a great role model when it comes to being straight-laced and buttoned-up, especially when someone farts.
So when Felix, as many 4-year-old boys do, started talking about poo and pee, and then replacing random words in his sentences with poo and pee, well, I did my best. But when he asks if he could have a pee-pee nut butter sandwich for lunch with a poo-poo chip cookie for desert, it’s impossible for me to avoid cracking a smile. Is there anything wrong with that?
The real issue, of course, is knowing when. When is the appropriate time for bathroom humor? And when is enough enough? We can giggle about burps in the lead up to dinner, but when the jokes keep rolling (and the gas keeps passing), they stop seeming so funny. It’s one thing to be clever, surprising, and playful with language, even if that means getting a little dirty; it’s another to wield words like a hammer and whack every sentence into the bathroom.
We all shuttle between some level of restraint and abandon during the day. There is the way that we talk with our kids, and our parents, and our friends, and also on the job, or out at a fancy restaurant, etc. In order to be successful in society, you have to know how to read different codes and scenarios, and know what is the appropriate action and speech for each situation.
These are tough lessons for a little kid to get, but important ones, and because of that I’m not putting a taboo on pee and poo, instead I’m trying to provide guidance about when it is ok to joke and when it isn’t. I don’t want him to feel guilty about wanting to make jokes about what is inherently the most base aspects of our humanity. Good humor begins in the bathroom! And one can argue morality does too. Remembering we are all just stinky animals who emit strange noises from our posteriors fosters a healthy humility, and even forges a common bond between us. Poop is a great equalizer.
(One thing that’s never good? When words are used as weapons. For example, if he calls me, his mom, or anyone a “poo head,” we get angry, just like we do when he uses the word jerk or stupid. That’s a different kind of lesson: one about how words can hurt.)
This will take time, and I’m sure we’ll have a whole other problem with curse words as time goes on, which he occasionally hears spoken around the house in moments of anger, passion, or unguardedness. But even that’s just an element of my love of language and expression! And of being human, perhaps one with a shortage of maturity. I think it’s ok to be silly and ribald whether you’re 4 or 40, as long as you know not to get carried away by it.