Friday, June 7, 2013

I'm Sorry, Butt-Face

We have a saying in our house:

It’s not an apology if it’s followed by a “but.”

Or a Butt.

Or a Butt-face.

I originally imparted this valuable nugget of wisdom to the boys one summer day when they were four years old and strapped tightly to their car seats with no viable opportunity for escape. The late afternoon heat was piercing the passenger-side window with the precision of a supervillian's laser beam, causing the unlucky twin on that side of the car to swipe angrily at the itchy, wet spikes of hair sticking to his forehead and cheeks.

The full, round sun angled its face down at us and lit up the following scene like a spotlight: Overheated Boy A pelts hard plastic object at Overtired Boy B, hitting him squarely on that jutting part of the eyebrow that heroically takes the brunt of so much damage during the early years of childhood.

The shock of the impact garnered a few seconds of deceptive silence, which increased in suspense until Boy B sufficiently gathered the necessary oxygen into his thoroughly outraged little lungs to let loose a deafening, extended wail, ensuring that ...

1) All of Route One knew he had been victimized; and
2) Every abutting motorist snapped a picture of my license plate to match against future Amber Alerts.

Since I was still a good 20 minutes from home (despite the steadily increasing pressure of my foot on the gas pedal) I thought I’d turn this Kodak moment into one of those teaching moments I had read about in the pediatrician’s waiting room. I sternly commanded Boy A to say he was sorry, which he did immediately. This caused the car alarm that was my other son’s mouth to stutter out a few final beeps before shutting off completely.

Easy peasy.

I was clearly very good at this. I decided to take it up a notch and expound on the importance of a good apology by explaining that one should never qualify an apology with an excuse, thus rendering said apology null and void. But because my current audience still employed the use of training wheels and the occasional nighttime Pull-Up, I opted to keep it simple.

Boys, I said loftily, never say I’m sorry and follow it with a but.

Yes. I used that word.

To two four-year-old boys.

The lesson exploded right then and there into thousands of giggles that bounced around my car's interior like shiny, rainbow orbs before popping into shrieks of full-bellied laughter. The rearview mirror framed two heart-stoppingly beautiful, gap-toothed grins stained the color of Wyler’s grapes.

I’m sorry, BUTT!
I’m sorry, BUTT! 

The joyous refrain rang out all the way home, evolving into I’m sorry, Butt-face as we veered off our exit; and I’m sorry, Butt-head as we pulled into the driveway. They had just latched onto the hilarious favorite of the day, I’m sorry, Butt-nose, as I set them free to fly across our yard, reveling in the unrivaled bliss that can only be found in the magical mix of a gorgeous summer evening and an unfettered stream of potty words released with hearty, outside voices.

We are still, almost ten years later, known to lighten a heavy moment or argument with an I’m sorry followed by an under-the-breath Butt or a loud-and-proud Butt-face. Sometimes someone might even shout from another room an added Butt-head.

I won’t apologize for it.

Because without fail, somewhere behind the butt, comes a smile. 

Did you know it’s impossible … impossible … to stay mad at someone when you’re smiling?

Whatever works, right?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Law Abiding Citizens

My twin, teenagery sons are two things above all else.

Thing one: They are die-hard, obsessed, over-the-top-committed, wake-up-in-the-morning-singing-Sweet-Caroline-oh-oh-oh, Red Sox fanaticals. (Thank you, Dad.)

Thing two: They are hungry. All the time, every time, five minutes after dinnertime, they are hungry. 

I’m convinced no matter how much money we pump into their overpriced educations they will ultimately emerge as food vendors at Fenway Park.

Lately, however, I’ve been considering they might take up law. This wouldn’t be unusual in our family; two of my children’s grandparents and about 150 of their aunts and uncles are lawyers. From the moment my kids began to talk, they would argue circles around us until our heads twisted off like pop tops. (Thank you, Grandpa.)

Both my children are big talkers who, much to our combined delight and dismay, tend to overinform. No matter how simple the question, we’d get long, winding answers that would take us on excruciatingly descriptive journeys to places no parent wants to be—for example, the boy’s bathroom, where we’d get, um, authentic sound effects and memorized recitations of EVERYHING scrawled on the walls. We’d learn who likes whom and what the girls write in the messages they stick in their boyfriend’s locker. We’d hear all about each friend’s boasted “experience” with sex and other cringe-worthy topics that make my brain scream in horror, even as I maintain the sedate, attentive smile that keeps them talking.

We are informed of what every single child in the cafeteria eats for lunch that is so much better than what I provide; who did what on the playground, who got away with it and who got busted. We’d find out what someone said to my son that hurt his feelings, and what he was contemplating saying back in retribution. We’d also learn from one son what the other son watched on Showtime, which prompted the news that the first son was up texting until 3 am.

All I asked was if they had a math test.

But lately I’ve been noticing a new trend. I don’t know if it’s their age, hormones, or just that their mouths are too tired from so much chewing, but recently my dialogue with them has felt more like a deposition.

How was school?
“I don't recall.”
What did you eat for lunch?
“I cannot say.”
Did you finish your homework?
“I do not know.”
Who threw the wet, muddy baseball and two caked baseball gloves into my laundry basket filled with previously clean sheets and towels?
“Uhhhhh,” they’d stall, glancing sideways at each other for what I can only assume is legal representation …
“We plead the fifth.”

Eventually the floodgates reopen and we once again get much more than we bargained for—usually after dinner, or after their after-dinner dinner, or past 11 pm on a school night when they just finished their third dinner and should be sleeping but the Red Sox are in extra innings and there is no way they're missing that. 

That's OK, as long as I can keep 'em talking ... I don't even care if their mouths are full.