One difficult parenting skill to master is the art of sternly disciplining while your sides are trying to split with laughter and the corners of your mouth twitch to betray you.
I first saw the difficulty of this struggle a decade ago when Daryl was an infant. I was sitting with a group of people at the church we were attending at the time. It became obvious that Daryl required a diaper change. I hefted him into my arms, grabbed the diaper bag, and crossed to the far side of the room. I settled down on the floor and got to work.
The four year old son of one of the women at the table approached us to see what we were doing. He glanced over my shoulder for a minute, watching me open the diaper and begin wiping carefully with the baby wipe.
“He has a small winkie,” he said.
“What?” I asked. What’s a winkie? I thought.
A small hand reached over my shoulder. He pointed down into the diaper.
“He has a small winkie,” he repeated.
“Oh,” I said, understanding at last. “Well, he’s still a small baby so I guess his winkie would be small.”
“I have a big winkie.”
I said nothing, at a loss.
“I have a really big winkie.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“Do you want to see my winkie?”
“No. No, I’m ok.”
He moved around in front of me.
“Here, let me show you my big winkie.”
I was trying not to laugh as I stared at my son’s own inferior winkie and tried in vain to convince the little boy that he really didn’t need to show me his winkie.
The pants came down anyway.
And then his mother was crouched behind me, her body shaking with laughter, her face buried in my head. In a desperate voice, she whispered, “What is he doing?!”
I calmly and formally told her, my voice only mildly betrayed by mirth, “He is showing me how big his winkie is.”
“Oh, my gosh!” She kept her face in my hair for a moment before rising with a straight… well… straightish face. “Harold,” she said. “Pull your pants up. We don’t show people our winkie.”
As her conversation with her son continued, she would occasionally be forced to retreat to my hair until her composure returned. I continued on with the diaper change, doing my best to keep my own laughter in check.
Now fast forward to the present. I’m sitting, again, with a group of people at church. Funny how some of the most outrageously inappropriate moments seem to happen there.
I’m at a table with two of my best friends. At the other end of the table are the pastor’s parents. Both with stern expressions on their faces. I don’t know them well and I’ve heard they are kind and friendly people. Their neutral expressions don’t necessarily convey that. Or maybe I’m just self-conscious.
We are in a room full of people enjoying our annual dessert auction which raises money for Relay for Life. It is a loud and boisterous affair with an auctioneer on the microphone and plenty of people hooting and hollering as people vie for their most desired desserts.
In walks five year old Hal. The boys had been roaming the church in a pack. He approaches the table. The older boys come in behind him to see what he’s about to say. Rather than walk around the table to me, he stops on the far side between my friend and the pastor’s father.
Just as he begins to speak, the room falls silent. Not because he is about to speak but because the conversation lulled as the auctioneer picked up the next pie.
And into that silence comes the following gem, spoken loudly because loud is the only volume Hal knows. The first few words might be lost in the dying conversation but the last word is quite clear.
“Mommy, Daryl keeps saying fuck.”
My friends gasp and burst into grins. My eyes go wide and my jaw drops. I call him around to my side of the table and begin to sternly discuss with him the problem with repeating that word.
Daryl is nearby protesting that he never said that word.
My friends are laughing.
I mean, they are trying to hold it in. Sometimes the laughter subsides to giggling. Every once in awhile, there is temporary silence.
In those quiet moments, I try to talk to Hal with a straight face. He looks back at me intently. And then the giggling starts behind me. And my mouth begins to twitch. And I cover my mouth, trying to keep my eyes stern while I regain control.
And then I speak. And they laugh. And it all repeats again.
Until Hal finally figures out that he is in trouble when I tell him to sit down with me and he dissolves into tears. I fold him up into my lap and rest his head on my chest. And turn to glare at my friends. Who burst out laughing full force.
Really, with friends like that…