When my children burp and fart, I try to roll with it. “Say excuse me,” I tell them, and they do. Then they giggle. But when they do it at the dinner table – with gusto and glee – I come unhinged. I become The Humorless Manners Dictator, and I scowl at them. Then because I don’t want them to completely hate me, I realize my Scowl Face has one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down (skilled eyebrow manipulation runs in my family), and I make fun of myself – trying to teach the kids how to use their eyebrows to make funny faces.
And I wonder why I have a problem.
I realize it’s the natural province of second-grade boys to love burping and farting. But not at the table! A couple years ago, I quashed it with The Burp Challenge, where I took a piece of candy from Eddie’s Halloween stash every time he would burp at the table. The first night, I got seven pieces. The second night, two, the third night, one, and then no more. He no longer burped with his mouth wide open. He maybe even pressed his lips together when he felt it coming.
But it keeps getting worse.
My Lovely Bride reminds me that this is just what boys do. I just don’t remember doing this myself as a child. Have I imaginatively remembered how it really was? I just can’t think my mother would ever have put up with anything like this. Not obeying was not an option. And now it’s The Grandmother Test that really worries me: would he behave like this around my mom? But after I think for about a second and a half, I know: of course not. Kids are always golden for the grandparents and rotten for Mom and Dad. I try explaining that fart jokes might be okay around his buddies, not so much around his parents and absolutely verboten around the grandparents. But logic is not a 7-year-old’s strong suit.
I’m a blamer, and I blame the upsurge in burp-fart obsession in the current literary offerings for kids his age.
I have met the enemy, and his name is …
wait for it…
At the library today, Eddie checked out “Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredible Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space,” “Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy” and “Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People.” Now I love alliteration as much as the next guy, but do we have to have books that glorify toilet humor?
Or those inane “Ook and Gluk” books about cavemen from the future, by the same author.
I tell Eddie I don’t like Ook and Gluk or the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books because they’re crude, and they’re loaded with intentional misspellings and grammatical errors. And as a guy who had a job for four years fixing other people’s writing and separating their compound sentences with a comma and a conjunction, this stuff just makes me heave.
“Daaaaaaddddd, they misspell things just to make it funny,” Eddie says with a giggle. Well, I guess he gets it. Somewhat.
I told him he could check out the Captain Underpants books if he wrote me a list of all the characters and a fact about them. He needs the handwriting practice, because his school doesn’t really teach it. Man, I’m such a buzzkill.
“Okay!” he grins, and skips off with his buddies in search of mock-worthy Elmo books about potty training.
I feel like I’m a weakening jetty trying to hold up an eroding beach. Because it’s not just the burp-fart conundrum, it’s the bigger problem of kids listening to their parents and doing what they’re told. I can’t control other people’s kids (I want to, but it would be exhausting), but I can react to their parenting styles. I don’t want to be the spineless friend-dad whose kids get toothless warnings, and then the parent shrugs as the kids wantonly disobey. And it doesn’t seem to work to be the hey-let’s-talk-it-through-and-you’ll-see-the-error-of-your-ways dad. I feel like when I say, “Eddie, stay out of that snow bank – you’re not wearing your boots,” that Eddie ought to get out of the snow bank. Or heaven forbid his little brain actually tells him, “Eddie, you’re not wearing boots. Stay out of the snow bank. Dad has told you this at least 400,000 times.”
I want either logic or obedience. Really, I want both. Is that so much to ask?
Part of why I’m stewing about this is because I feel out of control on other fronts. I just finished a freelance magazine article last week, and it just about broke me to juggle home stuff – feeding the family, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and forcing the kids outside in winter – with work stuff: interviewing a city councilman by phone from my car outside my daughter’s friend’s birthday party because that’s the only time this blowhard (who was later cut from the story) was available – or begging my daughter’s preschool to keep her a few extra hours because I’m such a slow writer and the article was due that day.
Then there’s the crown molding project I’ve been wanting to do in my living room. I put it up in the dining room five years ago, and it looks great. I waited until Lovely Bride was out of town on a business trip this week, because it makes her crazy to have the house torn up. But it’s not going so well this time. The molding goes on top of wood strips attached to masonry walls, except the walls are fantastically out of square, and I’m having fits merely attaching the wood strips. I’m starting to think my success in installing crown molding in the dining room was just pure dumb luck. Time to call a pro.
It doesn’t help that I just read Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The book is somewhat tongue in cheek about the author’s attempt to raise her American daughters in the Chinese Way. Chua comes off as a demanding lunatic – and I tell myself what I seek is reasonable by comparison.
But then I read in one of my favorite blogs, “Rants From Mommyland” about a game the author’s kids made up called Toilet Tag. It’s like freeze tag, except you freeze like in the chair position in yoga – i.e., in the shape of a toilet. To unfreeze, someone either sits on you or “flushes” you. It’s creative, energetic and outdoors. Perfect!
But it gets back to that old toilet-glory problem.