My children, ages 3 and 5, are well-practiced in the fine art of humiliation. They carry black belts in the subject of embarrassment. They are Ninjas of shame. I suspect they even have a creed: “I will humble my parents to the best of my ability.” A recent trip to Costco illustrates their deviousness rather nicely.
I was pushing both boys in a shopping cart down the dry goods aisle behind a Muslim woman in a burqa, head-scarf and veil. Imagine me, oblivious to their upcoming mischief, happily smiling as I ponder the cornucopia of cereal stacked floor to ceiling on my left and right. Both boys, cherubically smiling, feet dangling, playfully pushing at each other. Life in the suburbs was just a dream.
And then one of my boys turns around and looks at the woman in front of us. I get a bad feeling. Imagine, if you will, that the soundtrack to the movie Jaws begins to play in the background. Events now seem to move in slow motion for me, because I sense that things are going to go terribly wrong. I can hear my own heartbeat. The tension in my body builds. My eyes widen as I hear my son say loudly, “Look, dad, a ghost.” Only his voice is stretched and low, due to the reduction of speed, so it’s more like “Loooookkkk, dddaaaaddd, aaaa gghhhoosssstttt.”
He is echoed loudly by the other child. “A ghost, dad, a ghost!” And then both, together, like some satanic barbershop quartet: “A ghost! A ghost!” Now reality is moving at full speed.
This is not good. I shush them quickly and move past the woman, smiling my best how-do-you-do-I’m-in-a-hurry-and-I-really-must-be-going smile. I’m the one now hiding his face. I’m more embarrassed for her, and hope her feelings aren’t hurt. I can’t tell, though, because she’s covered head-to-toe in her clothes – she really does look like a ghost.
As I narrowly escape this ignominious fate, I’m reminded of an episode that didn’t quite go as well. Earlier this year I was standing in the doorway of our home talking to our neighbor about her daughter’s Stage 4 colon cancer. She had given me a plate of cookies, which I held in one hand, and an Easter invite, which I held in the other. This is when my oldest son decided to sneak up behind me and pull my pants down around my ankles. I stood naked from the waist down in front of my neighbor, who was in mid-sentence when my son decided to show her his daddy’s pride and joy. She didn’t skip a beat. She politely turned her head, frowned, and kept right on talking. I quickly pulled up my pants and carried on. My wife and I had a little talk with my son after that. I swear my neighbor has an extra twinkle in her eye whenever we greet each other as we come and go.
How do my children demean me? Let me count the ways:
I have held my child playfully above me, cooing and oohing in delight, only to have my forehead vomited upon. Puke seems to be a common method of comeuppance. Company and grocery stores are prime catalysts for the production and movement of young bile.
I have been peed upon more times than I care to remember. If you’re in the bathtub with one child behind you giggling while you wash the other’s hair, know this: the one behind you is not pouring a cup of warm water on your back. Be careful if you are standing on the other side of the toilet while potty training them – they have better aim than they take credit for.
I once took my young child to work to show him off. His diarrhea became so bad it took the help of a coworker and the entire roll of paper towels from the men’s room to clean him up. I still have nightmares to this day.
Broken dishes at the in-laws; dramatic, scenery-chewing fits in the parking lot; unabashed penchant for nudity and the word “penis” in public places. I even caught my youngest child urinating off our back deck. This is evil, pure evil.
I can only hope my parental skills outweigh the fear and stigma my children so artfully draw on my back while bathing. I can see my parents now, knowingly nodding their heads. For them life has come full circle. I will get no sympathy from them. As for me, I’ll have to wait for grandchildren to exact my revenge, provided I’m able to hold out that long.