On Wednesday, my wife and her mother took Jack out for the day. Jack calls his grandmother NyeNa, his version of Nonnie. This is important.
The three of them are driving along and Jack starts this thing that he’s been doing lately, belting out a high – pitched scream that gives neighborhood dogs the fits. Our chosen strategy has been to ignore the little air raid siren, since he clearly wants attention.
After a bit, he stops. She and her mother start to talk. Jack lets out a scream that could shatter glass.
As he pauses for breath, my mother-in-law turns around. “Jack. Please don’t do that. It hurts NyeNa’s ears. You don’t want to hurt NyeNa’s ears, do you?”
Jack just looks at her, quiet. He waits until she turns back around to respond.
My wife tells me that she had this moment where she was completely frozen. Should she discipline him? Should she act like nothing happened? Should she burst out laughing? She decided to keep her eyes on the road and hoped that her mother either didn’t hear him or couldn’t make out what he said.
After a moment, Jack clarifies his meaning.
And then he chuckles.
It is well-known among the family that Jack picked up that particular word after hearing it from me. This was the first time he’d actually called someone a dumbass. As she was telling me the story, we kind of marveled that he used it correctly.
My wife ends her story with this. “You need to call my Mom.”
I wipe the laughter tears out of my eyes. “Why?”
“She thinks you taught him this.”
“I didn’t teach him. It’s not like I sat him on my lap. ‘Jack. Say dumbass.’ He heard me say it in the car.”
“No. She thinks you call her that. And that’s why he said it.”
“No. She’s serious, I think.”
I sigh, pick up the phone and wonder how many times in life I will call someone to apologize for my son. NyeNa answers.
“How’s it going, dumbass?”
“That son of yours. He doesn’t like when I correct him.”
I can hear my father-in-law in the background. “Dumbass. Dumbass. Dumbass.”
“Don’t feel bad. He doesn’t like when we correct him either.” We talk for a little, rehashing the story. We laugh a bit more.
“I just called to reassure you that I don’t think you’re a dumbass. And I’ve certainly never referred to you as one, either in front of him or when he’s not around.”
There’s a bit of a lilt to her voice. “I don’t know. You say that, but how do I know for sure? I am The Mother-In-Law, after all.”
There’s all kinds of jokes about mother-in-laws. I’m lucky. I love my wife’s family and like to think I do a good job of showing them.
“Well. I’m sorry he said it to you.” I pause. “But this is going to make a great blog post.”
“Oh God no. It’s too embarrassing.”
The next night, we’re driving home from the city. Lara and I are talking. Jack lets out a wail, which dies out pretty quickly when he sees it isn’t working. Then Jack starts a little song.
“Dada Dumbass. Dada Dumbass. Dada Dumbass.”
I’ve never heard my mother-in-law sing. But I guess she does to my son.