Back in the good old KROQ days, when I woke up in LA to the rude humor of Kevin and Bean, I once heard this:
Don’t pick at it. You’ll get a Feargal Sharkey.
It instantly became one of my favorite things to say, and for such a long time, that I knew—knew—I was developing dementia when I reached for that name in a moment of motherly desperation and could not find it. I needed something to frighten Kid with when he expressed concern about some newly festering part of his anatomy, who knows what, I hardly can bear to look at the bathwater some days. GOD. Anyhow, I finished lamely with “. . . you’ll get a . . . boo boo.”
A boo boo.
I consider this a sad commentary on my ouevre as mother.
Like Kid, I was mothered as a young child by a woman on the verge of many things, including her 50s. In an age where children were still spanked in public, we were all used to such colorful threats as “I’ll skin you alive!” or “I’ll give you to the first gypsy I see” or “I’ll warm your backside with the wooden spoon but good.” It was all in good fun, mostly—none of us imagined for much more than a moment that our mothers would actually trade us for a pack of bubblegum and a stiff drink.
One of the things I was looking forward to when I discovered I was about to become a mom was joining that jovial crew of sarcastic child observers. As a kid, I knew they were having fun, rolling their eyes at one another, taking long drags on the Craven A, wiggling their painted toes as they watched us fall off the fence, parachute from the swings, or chase each other around the yard brandishing sticks. “Honestly, Micky,” I remember my mom saying, “they’re enough to drive a strong man to drink.” The ice in her drink tinkled against the glass as she spoke, the bright green lime a flag that signified her total acceptance of our shenanigans. We drove her to drink, sure (a weak gin and tonic), we were hooligans and vulgarians and there were potatoes growing in our ears but that’s the way kid life was and she was up to it if we were.
Today, it’s a little different, as we all know. We’re encouraged to believe that children don’t “get” sarcasm until they’re 9 or 10 (although Kid wouldn’t have survived 15 minutes in this place if he hadn’t learned to be the world’s most sarcastic 3-day-old). Hooliganism is definitely out—where would it take place? On a playdate in front of educational toys, all watched over by maternal machines of loving grace? Kids don’t run wild anymore and that means that moms don’t get to run wild anymore, either. What is there left to be wry about? “Honestly, Micky, Kid just cannot distinguish between b’s and d’s.” So many of the surprises are gone. I always know where Kid is. I pretty much always know what he’s doing. I know the state of his clothing. I know if there’s dirt on his face and where that dirt came from. I never have to say “what on earth have you gotten into now, you heathen?” The world has become perhaps a little less piratey not just for kids but for the moms who, if they’re like me, long for a little adventure, want to be shocked and “horrified” by what the little buggers have gotten up to this time.
Tomorrow, I do believe I shall spring my nearly 7yo from the backyard and let him go to the park with his friends for a little while. And when he comes home, all covered in gravel and mud, I’ll welcome him back with some colorful sayings that he’ll be able to tell his kids all about, things his mom would say when he showed up at him with the unmistakable sings of adventure on him. The word “boo boo” won’t be among them.