Monday, January 22, 2007

Private eyes, they're watching you.

(In honor of being caught today saying "Good gravy, fifteen dollars is a lot for a magazine!", I am offering a re-run where I discuss my inner censor. This originally ran in April of 2005)

A while back, Daughter announced: “Daddy says f**k, but you don’t say f**k, so I don’t say f**k”.My only inner response was, of course, “f**k”.Consort is a superb father but he never really got the idea that you shouldn’t paint murals with obscenities in front of your kid, not even when the person in front of you in the fast lane is doing fifteen miles an hour with his left-turn signal on. But, I thought optimistically, at least she thinks that swearing is a gender-based issue. As long as she identifies with being female, Daddy’s words are just scatological background music. I just can never swear in front of her.

How hard can that be?

Not a week later, I found out. I was grabbing something from a lower shelf and stood up without noticing the upper cabinet door had swung open, and it put a divot in my skull (Nowhere near the unholy bump). Thanks to Daughter and her observational skills being in the kitchen with me, my only response was:“Heavens, that’s uncomfortable. Oh my…goodness, that’s painful. I’ll…be…darned…I think I’m bleeding. Sweetheart, could you please hold up some fingers and let’s see if Mommy can figure out how many there are.”

The ringing in my ears stopped after a day or so, and the double vision wasn’t noticeable at all after a week.

Most important, during a completely unplanned painful experience, I kept it G-rated. I was smugly thinking how I was short-listed for the Alfred Nobel Mother of the Year Clean Vocabulary prize when I cleaned out the fridge a few days later. Staring in dismay at the green slimy soup in the vegetable crisper, I murmured “What the hell is that?”

Daughter, in the farthest reaches of the house heard that, and has been working it into her daily interactions every since:

“Mommy, what the hell is that?”

“It’s your lunchbox, sweetie, and please don’t use that phrase.”

“But I don’t know what the hell it is.”

“I think you enjoy saying that phrase, but I don’t want to hear it coming from you.”

“What the hell are you saying?”

What the hell am I saying? Is this about swearing? Not as much as it is about scrutiny. If someone told you that you were going to be under near-constant surveillance for ten years or so, wouldn’t it make you a touch…antsy? That’s what having a child in your house means; someone who is constantly monitoring your actions for discrepancies and weakness. I understood I needed to model good behavior. I just didn’t understand that if I modeled bad behavior once, it would neatly undo months of good behavior.

If you work very hard teaching your daughter not to scream at people when she gets frustrated, it sets your work back a touch if -- and I am not saying this happened -- while waiting for your gas tank to fill, you notice a woman at the next car smoking a cigarette while topping-off her tank so you leap out of your car shrieking “I don’t actually care whether you blow yourself up, but you’re not taking my kid with you!”Daughter remembers nothing of the thousands of courteous small interactions she has seen me have with people, but she would remember that incident if -- and I am not saying this happened -- I were so low-class as to do something like that.

Table manners are another animal entirely. It takes Daughter about a week of reminding to get the basic idea, followed by two months of her being the vigilant Manners Police. Witness last night’s dinner:

QUINN: How did your meeting go?

CONSORT: I was pleasantly surprised. He was…

DAUGHTER: Daddy, your elbow is on the table.

CONSORT: …He was…What?

QUINN: She learned this week that you’re not supposed to have your elbows on the table when you’re eating. But, sweetheart, Daddy isn’t eating yet.

DAUGHTER: He’s having a drink.

CONSORT: But I’m not eating yet.

DAUGHTER: (Dissolving into tears)

QUINN: What’s the matter?

DAUGHTER: (Sobbing) He interrupted me! I want him to have a time out!

Between flogging her parents with dinner table manners and waiting breathlessly to see if her parents break some rule of conduct in day-to-day activities, Daughter has turned etiquette into an extreme sport. I guess I should be grateful she finds us so fascinating. I am horribly self-absorbed and completely mad for her father, but I wouldn’t watch either one of us with the focus she does. Mind you, she’s looking for flaws, but we do have her attention.I didn’t get into the Mothering business because I looked in the mirror one day and thought, “you know, perfection like this has to be replicated”. Let me be honest here. I understand that I am a work in progress. I also understand that making mistakes and having the awareness to correct them in front of my daughter is among the best things I can do for her.

But f**k, I’d like to go one whole day being Gallant instead of Goofus.


Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

Just hysterical. Thanks for another laugh out loud entry.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"perfection like this has to be replicated"

funny stuff!

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was the best way to start my day, with a good giggle!!

7:26 AM  
Blogger OHN said...

My kids were in 2nd and 3rd grade when a kid on the bus taught them ALL the dirty words...that was an interesting dinner table that night.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, I didn't see it the first around, being a new reader of this here BLOG. Hit home for me. I try to be so good around my Boy(s) - or so I thought, until the other morning the Elder Boy was being crazy at breakfast. Jacked up on cookie crisp and new birthday toys. After a few warning, his Mom told him he'd better stop or she'd put his favorite transformer in time out, to which the Boy replied, " Don't do that Mom, I'll stop, I promise, I'll quit dicking around right now.

Father of the year. That's me.

11:28 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Funny and tounching - as usual.

I don't know where else to pose this question, so I'll asking here: Have you any thoughts about Abigail Breslin's nomination? I'd be interested to read what you think about her performance and nomination and what personal memories, feelings and present day opinions it brings out for you.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my daughter was 8, she was after me for two solid weeks to find out what the "f" word was. She knew it existed, just not what it was exactly. She tried coercion, and begging, and logic ("what if I say it by accident?") until finally I gave in. "It starts with an 'f', rhymes with 'luck,' and I don't want to ever hear you say it!" I said. She pondered, then said, "I can't believe you told me that. I'm only eight."

2:51 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I always knew I was cursed with a mouth like a sailor, and doomed to parental impropriety, so I took refuge in the "you can use it as soon as you know when not to use it" rule. It works pretty well, and for the most part my nine year old is just utterly mortified by my oh-so-plebian resort to expletives in lieu of a properly vivid vocabulary. See what you have to look forward to?

Except I think I heard her whisper "damn" under her breath while playing her game boy the other day, although she swears she didn't.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daughter once announced to several strangers in a public bathroom, "My mommy got SO mad in the car that she said f*ck." Just as plain as day. I was like, "Ummm, yea. Honey, mommy was yelling at a big truck that was trying to beach our minivan on the median - I wasn't yelling at you." Boy, you wouldn't think people in public bathrooms at the mall would give such judgemental looks, would you?

On another note: Are you still looking for podcast ideas? Because I really liked the Mayor of Simpleton. Classic QC.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is just so funny! I love it!

1:57 AM  

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