My conversations with Henry these days tend to veer off into Crazytown. He’s 5. He’s bright as the sun, whip-sharp, and has enough spirit to stop a train if it ever came to that.
But, well, he’s at that point. He’s in that phase: poop talk. Butthole this. Fartface that.
“Henry, put your shoes on, the school bus is coming,” I tell him from the kitchen.
“Dad, put your butthole on! The poop bus is pooping.”
He doesn’t miss a beat. It’s so automatic that it’s almost impressive. Like he’s a solid member of some improv theater troupe or something. Except it’s all potty humor. And adults panic at every word.
It’s been a month or so now, I’d say. The phase I mean. Maybe longer, I don’t know. The thing is, I was freaking out at first. Who wouldn’t? As a single dad, my days with my three kids are a whirlwind of lame attempts at fun, stabs at half-decent meals, refereeing semi-physical fights, and trying to crowbar real and true human decency into their tiny brains.
My initial reaction to this whole sudden storm of kindergarten humor was probably the same as any parent, really.
“Hey! Henry! You can’t TALK that way, buddy! It’s gross and no one wants to hear you talk like that!”
But he’d just laugh it off like he knew something I didn’t. I’d chastise him over and over again until I hit that point where you feel like your face is going to fall off, you know? Do you know that point I’m talking about?! That moment in a day when you’re so sick and tired of your own voice barking out directions. Or commands. Or pleading with them to stop fighting, or to stop throwing LEGOs, or to stop playing with the handle on the car door.
And yet still, he’d drop the poop talk with a sly grin. With this look of … I don’t know, almost like he was being condescending. And he’s 5! And I’m 44!
Then one day last week it all hit me like a bag of poop (no pun intended). All four of us were cruising in the Honda — Charlie, 2, and Henry both flanking Violet, who’s 7, in the back seat. I don’t know where we were going. To be honest, sometimes I just make them get in the damn car and drive them around listening to whatever music they want to listen to just to get us all out of the house before I go all Shining on them. Anyway, there we were riding the back roads when it all started popping off.
“Did you know that Pókemon cartoons are from Japan?” Violet hollered above the Ramones, to no one in particular.
I glanced in the rearview, sizing up the scene. Right away I saw Henry’s wheels turning in his eyes.
“Did you know that Pókemon poop is bright green and you can eat it?!”
“Henry,” I said flatly, my heart not even in it. “Don’t talk like that.”
But it was too late, my friend. Because the next thing I knew, Violet’s face broke out in grins and they were off. Within seconds, I swear, they were both talking so much poop jive that I couldn’t even believe it was possible to hold such a whack conversation. But that’s not the point of me telling you any of this. The real point is this.
They both began giggling and then laughing harder than I had ever seen either of them laugh before. One ridiculous line after another, first Violet and then her little brother.
“I heard about a Pókemon that poops out of his eyeballs!”
“Did you know that Pókemons can live in their own buttholes?!”
“This kid in my class has a Pókemon picture of every one of his poops when they come out!”
Oh, the weird humanity. It was madness. It was George Carlin at Madison Square Garden in ’92 laughter from the backseat. Even Charlie was a roaring train, steaming snot out of his nose, caught up in the infectious guffaws of his two older siblings.
I was speechless. It went on for a good 25 minutes like that. I turned down the music. I had to soak this in, if nothing else as a minor league sociologist witnessing a rare phenomenon first-hand. This was poop talk magic in all of its glory and for the first time in my adult life, and certainly for the first time as a dad with a kid in a “phase,” I saw the proverbial light, man.
These kids talk poop and buttholes and all that crazy nonsense because it FEELS GOOD! It makes them laugh … quite possibly like nothing else in the world. It connects them to one another with the ultra-critical thread of human connection. It’s THEIR thing, poop talk. Mom and dad aren’t doing it. Their teachers aren’t doing it. The school bus driver rolls her eyes at it and their babysitters try and hush them when they bust it out.
Poop talk, it turns out, is punk rock.
And kids are all little punks, just in case you haven’t noticed by now.
So that was that.
I had to pull back on my diatribes about talking stupid. I eased up. I relaxed a bit. I told them that if they want to talk like that when they’re not at home, be my guest. But that other grownups would surely set out to stop them, and that it would likely end up being an ugly scene if it went down at school.
Here though, with me, at home, in the car. Whatever. I’ve got skyscraper-sized fish to fry over here in my life, people. I’m desperately trying to raise progressive, kind kids who believe in equality down deep in their bones.
They want to make each other laugh with silly words at this point in time, I’m gonna let them have at it. They’ll figure it out themselves. They’ll remember my warnings, about how the world doesn’t talk like that. The time will come when their own tongues will trip them up a time or two. That’s life. All my philosophizing to them won’t ever replace the impact and power of what will happen in the end.
Until then though, I’ll be totally up front with you.
I kind of want them to laugh with each other, or with their friends, the way they did that day in our car.
That was magic. A phase. But magic.
Punk rock magic that came out of nowhere.
And life doesn’t get much better than that.