My daughter Penny has just turned two. Apparently, this is the age when everything must be named. The only thing I hear from dawn to dusk is “what’s that, Momma?” So we’ve been telling her. The problem arises when we don’t want her to know the words.
With potty training on the horizon, I’ve been trying to help her make the distinction between gas and actually using the bathroom. Growing up, my mother always called gas “smell bads.” An actual bowel movement was called a “B.M.” I didn’t realize these weren’t global terms until a few years into the public school system when inevitably everything my parents ever taught me had been replaced by playground vulgarity. The first time my daughter asked what the word for gas was I panicked and blurted out “it’s a phantom poop.” And so it was. Mother had spoken it, and it is now forever inscribed in her little brain as fact.
“Penny, do you need a diaper change?”
“No, Mommy. It was just a phantom.”
“Oh right. Those darn phantoms…”
I’ve babysat enough children to learn scores of silly home-made euphemisms for the body’s more delicate functions. I’ve always held up my nose and promised that when it came time for me to explain life to my children, I would tell it to them straight. No nonsensical words or cutesy euphemisms. But in the key moment, all I could summon was “phantom poop.” We have been dancing around another word lately - Penny’s nose has been clogged up since Christmas. Upon seeing her disastrous nasal condition, her grandmother asked Penny if she had “snotchity.” Apparently this is the word my husband’s family used growing up to describe this particular mucusy function. I found this word hilarious and my daughter and I have taken to calling each other Snotchity as a raucous term of endearment when we’re goofing around. But it’s a sight better than “snot,” right? Should I embrace this silly term and risk her using it in public only to be ridiculed by her wiser peers who’s parents were brave enough to use real English?
I remember when I first heard the word “rape” on a news program. I was only 8 years old but it seemed like a very important word. I asked my mother what it meant but she gave an evasive answer and convinced me that I didn’t want to know - wouldn’t I rather go play outside? I have no doubt this was the right response. In the end, I’m relived that when it came to teaching my daughter her words I turned out to be like most other parents. I didn’t have the stomach to be straight with her. She’ll find out the real words eventually and laugh at my silly efforts to preserve her childhood through euphemisms. In time, the world will undoubtedly steal away my babies. But I’m committed to hiding under our kitchen table with my sweet little Snotchity giggling about her phantoms until it finds us.
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