With one husband, twin five-year-old boys, and two neutered male cats, Girlfriend—my best friend of nearly 40 years—is the only female in her household.
Last night she told me that she and her husband are teaching the boys correct terminology for parts of their bodies. Boys being boys, the word “penis” has captivated them, as has the whole concept of the penis. Both boys like to push the waistband of their shorts under their scrotums, exposing themselves, and run through the house, pumping their fists in the air and bellowing, “Penis! Peeeeeenis!!!”
“It’s like that scene in ‘Braveheart’ where Mel Gibson yells, ‘Freeeeedom!’” Girlfriend said. “All they need is the blue and white body paint.”
In lieu of body paint, one of the boys took a permanent marker and drew a town on the carpeted floor of the bedroom he and his brother share—buildings, roads, trees, train tracks.
“Any idea how to get permanent marker out of carpet?” Girlfriend asked in a Facebook post in which she briefly related the story.
“Treasure these years,” said virtually every person who commented on her post. “They grow up so fast. You’ll miss these precious times when the boys are older.”
Girlfriend is not treasuring the carpet town, the penis exhibitionism, or the fact that one of the twins is particularly rough.
“When he kisses me good-bye in the morning when I let them out at school,” she said, “I always have to caution him not to hurt Mommy. It’s like I send him in there with his club and his backpack. They’re Neanderthals. They feed off each other.”
The boys were—and are—much wanted and much loved. Girlfriend is simply outnumbered and overwhelmed. Penis-brandishing Neanderthal cannibal children with clubs are not quite what she had in mind when she decided at the age of 44 that she wanted a baby. Eight months after the implantation of in-vitro-fertilized donor eggs, two healthy boys were born.
“We paid good money for this,” Girlfriend said once when they were infants, “and I’ve never been so fucking miserable in my life.”
I applaud her for her honesty and for not buying into what I call the Cult of the Child—the brainwashing some parents undergo that convinces them their children are innately, infallibly wise, untainted by worldly prejudices, and therefore their opinions and pronouncements should be heeded as if they were handed down from the heavens, and their every wish should be indulged.
If you don’t know parents like this, count yourself lucky. If you are a parent like this, get a grip. Children can be smart, funny, and astute, but they are not little gods, and treating them as if they are places an unfair burden on them. Expect them to be children—complete with penis-brandishing and improper application of the permanent marker. Set boundaries. Allow them to experience consequences. It will make them healthier adults.
Do I speak as a parent? Oh, hell, no. I am happily child-free, and therefore in a uniquely unqualified position to give parents unsolicited, objective advice.
Girlfriend sometimes wonders why she wanted children, but at other times she says they are worth the “constant interruptions, constant servitude, and constant exhaustion.”
I can’t imagine that I’d feel that way—ever. The cute things they say? I am not amused. The adorable smelly little hugs and kisses? Keep ’em to yourself, kid. The refrigerator artwork? Mm-hm, nice, thanks, into the trash it goes.
Here’s the deal, boys. I have certain expectations of you: You will keep your sticky, stinky kid funk to yourself. You will not whine. If you brandish your penis in my presence, I will laugh at you, not with you. You can draw on yourself all you want with that permanent marker, but draw on anything of mine and you will learn that Auntie Susan isn’t as nice as Mommy.
If you keep up your end of the bargain, here’s what you can expect of me: I’ll send you birthday and Christmas presents. When you’re older, I’ll teach you to ride a horse. I’ll teach you to swear, if Mommy hasn’t already done that. I’ll let you eat as much chocolate as you want. That’s it. That’s all you can expect from me. I never set out to be your favorite aunt. Don’t make me remind you: I do not belong to the Cult of the Child.