Long-time readers of the blog might remember The Dumbass Affair, when our oldest started dropping the D-bomb in conversation. He was younger than two years old. Not to be outdone, our middle has found a word of his own to drop into heavy rotation.
That word is ‘butthead.’
To his credit, the boy doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can be a butthead. His brother. The dog. He even calls himself a butthead.
But if he’s in the mood to call someone a butthead — and he is, frequently — then that person is probably going to be me. “You,” he’ll say, pointing at me, ‘a butthead.”
Then he laughs and laughs and laughs.
It’s a rite of passage, for children to call their parents something other than ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. I didn’t expect it to start so soon.
Fortunately, I’m pretty sure ‘butthead’ doesn’t reflect his opinion of me. If I already know one thing about my middle son, it’s that he is continually performing for a live studio audience. The mic is always on. He’s constantly workshopping material. This has been his way since before he could talk.
Where he picked the word up mystifies me. I’m starting to believe that children are all plugged into a hive mind and learn things through telepathic osmosis. Words we don’t use. Odd, complicated handshakes. Preferences and tastes not shaped by experience. (“I hate eggs!” “You’ve never even tried eggs.”) They vibrate on their different frequency and communicate with each other without saying a word.
Think about this the next time some kid stares at you, unblinking, while you’re eating brunch.
I never called my parents anything other than mom or dad. To even call them by their first names, much less something derogatory, would have invited trouble that I didn’t want over to the house.
There’s one memory, of sitting on my porch with high school friends, and talking about my mother and some permission she’d denied me. My mother had a tendency toward overprotection, a tendency I internalized. If she didn’t want me to do something, so my thinking went, then she must have thought I either couldn’t do it or wasn’t worthy of doing it.
“She’s ridiculous. I’m going,” I said, filled with the kind of confidence that only shooting the shit with your high school friends on a warm summer night can give you. “Let’s see her stop me! I’ll be in college in two months. What’s she going to do, ground me?”
Relatively tame stuff, as I remember it, compared to the arguments and slammed phones that would come once I actually started college. (That’s a real loss. There’s something dramatically satisfying about slamming a phone receiver down on its base. When you’re angry and want to hang up on someone, imperiously jabbing your thumb onto a screen is the sad trombone of hang ups.)
When I came back into the house, of course she was still awake. Of course she overheard me, through an open upstairs window. “I’m ridiculous?” she asked, as I walked into my bedroom. I don’t remember if I had an answer.
That summer, I was the son about to leave. I’m finally starting to understand what she must have felt.
We have our children, really have them, for a short time. And then they start their departures because other things start to matter. School. Friends. Selfies. Huffing. Whatever other terrible things we’ll wring our hands over because we saw them on Buzzfeed.
That must be why he calls me a butthead. Because sometimes, I take quizzes to find out what Game of Thrones character I am.