I have always thought I had a healthy tolerance for poop jokes. My children would beg to differ.
When the kids were first learning about the hilarity of bathroom humor, I aimed to be nonchalant, figuring they would outgrow it if we didn’t make a fuss. When the potty mouths didn’t subside, we told them bathroom jokes belonged in the bathroom, figuring they would be in there alone without an audience. Undaunted, they would stand at the bathroom threshold and sing songs about Dora the poop-explorer.
As the kids grew older, their jokes grew more colorful. Harmless, yes, but still nothing I wanted Grandma, teachers or random cashiers to hear. We needed to get tougher.
The problem was, the jokes were getting funnier, and sometimes the delivery was just too much. The kids saw through my ambivalence, as explained by the wise 5-year-old: “Being a grownup means pretending not to laugh at poop jokes.”
Oh how I get it. I totally get it.
I grew up with two brothers, which mostly says it right there. Decades later I can still recall lengthy conversations about all things scatological: the SBD, the wet fart, the ghost poop, the cannonball poop, the clean poop….I could go on and on.
I never shared a bathroom with either brother, but there were plenty of times I was invited to theirs to admire someone’s handiwork. “Sis, you have GOT to come see this turd before I flush it down!” More than I once I followed, fingers pinched to my nose, a bit curious but mostly determined to chastise them for being so disgusting and immature.
During some choice sibling battles, one brother would hold me down while the other threatened to fart in my face. I know I ratted on them hundreds of times, and I’m sure my parents chewed them out plenty, but only one punishment stands out vividly in my mind.
I was about 7 years old and my younger brother ran into my room, farted, and ran out. A drive-by shooting! I went crying to Dad. The punishment he delivered: The farter had to take a deep breath from my room, run to his own room and exhale. Repeat 10 times until the offensive air was transferred. Fair is fair.
Only after my brother ran in and out of my room 10 times did he tell me that he actually exhaled into the air vent, so that ALL the fart was now in Mom and Dad’s room! We howled with laughter, cheered his brilliance, and were once again friends and allies.
So here I am 30 years later about to put the kibosh on such hilarity and bonding? Well, yes. My daughter was already the preschooler who explained sex to her classmates, did I really want her to also be known as the Bart Simpson of elementary school?
It was with this in mind that I resolved to get tough. I had an immediate opportunity when the first-grader came home singing a lovely version of Yankee Doodle that includes the line, “Stuck his finger in his butt and called it Hershey chocolate.” In our house, that’s considered over the line.
“First of all,” I said, “you know I don’t like you using the word butt. Second, that’s just gross. Cut it out.” Thirty minutes later she was hanging over the fence, teaching the song to our neighbors’ kids.
Ok, time to be smarter than a 7-year-old. “So you want to talk about poop?” I asked. “Ok, let’s talk about poop. Here’s a shovel, here’s a bucket. You are in charge of picking up all the dog poop.”
And because the fates of discipline were with me that day, I remembered that we had not picked up after the dogs in several days. And better yet, it rained yesterday.
There was grumbling and whining and lots of cries of “dis-GUSTING!” I have not been this proud of a parenting moment in a long time. And in return? Going on five full days of poop-free conversation. I shit you not.