"You are a knight. I dub you Knight Without a Penis," I heard my 10-year-old say to my four-year-old one afternoon in our TV-less and (at that time) relatively computer-free apartment.
"Okay!" I heard my younger son exclaim. I glanced over at them.
My four-year-old wore a crown made out of pieces of white printing paper with squares cut out around the top. It fit on his head like a baker's cap. My 10-year-old knelt in front of him.
My kids were talking about their male organs a lot. That same day, I'd seen my younger son stretch his penis out like a piece of double bubble gum, and cry, "Look at me!"
I'd heard them exclaim over "Pookie's penis." (Pookie is our badly named dog. She's a girl.) I'd heard my preschooler say, "I see your penis, Mommy."
That's why, "I dub you Knight Without A Penis" was no big deal.
And then I heard, "And now I will castrate you."
I whipped around to see my younger son lying down on the living room floor with a gleeful expression plastered across his face. My older son, bore a pair of sewing scissors above the family jewels.
"I'm just castrating him," he said, giving me a nonchalant look.
"It's really okay, Mom," my four-year-old explained.
I confiscated the scissors. I explained that they were used and for cutting paper and not organs. I asked them not even to pretend to do something like that again, but before the words got out of my mouth they were both laughing hysterically.
Penis. Penis! Penis.... I wondered how many times they said it in a day. Hundreds. Maybe millions.
I decided to buy a counter and find out.
But after going to The Dollar Store, London Drugs and Dollarific, I discovered that counters haven't been used since the days when cell phones had rotary dials. I went home and cooked dinner, and tried to think about anything else.
Carols and cajoling
Before I served the meal, my younger son was screaming shut up at my older son at the top of his lungs because my older son was annoying him by singing stupidly on top of the Christmas carol album I had just purchased from Starbucks. They got into one of those, "You shut up," "No, you," NO YOU," kind of arguments that inevitably left the little one overpowered, and therefore searching in the extremities to regain his sense of mastery over his brother and life.
I put dinner on the table and as my older son and I sat down to eat, my younger son remained under the table, pouting, withholding his usually charming and very entertaining company. I asked him to come back to the table many times, but the usual herding of cats resulted in the usual poor results in the cats going anywhere. I gave up and ate.
But my older son began to miss his brother's company. "Come to dinner," he said, "I don't bite." My younger son thought this was hilarious, cracked a smile, but held back for better persuasions. The Christmas carols played on.
"If you don't come and eat dinner, I'm going to cut off your penis with a kitchen knife," my 10-year-old said in his kindest voice. There was a large smile now on my four-year-olds face, but he sensed if he held out for still more, better was coming.
"No, if you don't come to the table, I'm going to cut off your penis with Mommy's fork," my 10-year-old promised.
This seemed sufficient. My younger son was now smiling from ear to ear and happily took his place at the table. We ate without a moment of silence and the conversation went something like this:
Elder son: "Penis."
Younger son: "Penis!"
Elder son. In a low voice, and with warning eyes, "Penis."
Younger son in an unabashedly delighted, high pitched giggly voice: "Penis."
Deck the halls with...
This went on for some time, then my younger son grew reflective. Then jubilant. "Penis, penis, penis," he said, taking a bite of chicken, then he waved his arms over his head back and forth. He punctuated this by saying, "Penis."
My older son slid down in his seat, all smiles.
"He's mashing my penis," my four-year-old said, looking at me with a furrowed brow and worried eyes.
"No, I'm not," my older son said.
Dinner went on. Deck the Halls melted into Jingle Bells and, they talked on and as I listened, I had to laugh. The conversation kept shrinking and soon all that was left was just one word, a word that didn't become boring.
I wanted the information. Now I had it. They were laughing with tears rolling down their cheeks. So was I.
A boys life
When I was rushed off to do genetic testing six weeks into my second pregnancy, because I was so old, 44-years-old, (I swear) and I learned I was pregnant with my second boy, I was both ecstatic and resigned to the coming years being filled with a kind of crude humour I didn't feel a natural kinship with: the merriment induced by speaking out loud the names of bodily functions or certain body parts.
I saw that I was giving birth to the numbers that would eventually defeat me and, not only that, I was starting off extremely disadvantaged by age. Powering over them at two would be a challenge. At 15, I'd better be on very good terms with my sons, because I was going to be really old by then, maybe even frail. I certainly wasn't going to be picking them up and tossing them over my knee. I figured that the best way to stay on good terms with them would be to enjoy them, and, as much as I could manage to do so, enjoy them just as they were. Boys.
I didn't always do that great a job at it, though.
But when their dad and I split up, I agonized so much over their sadness, particularly in the first wrenching months after our separation, when they struggled to adjust to a situation that broke their hearts and I searched for ways to lift it. It was then that I began to revere the things that delighted them.
I found that if I stepped aside and let them have at it, their language devolved and they split their sides with gales of laughter that rang through the house. Because we didn't have a TV, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do. We sat at the kitchen table drawing a lot. We made cartoons of each other that cracked us up. We did puzzles that took forever and made everybody who came over help. We did board games that lasted forever. We turned on music and danced and laughed at how silly we looked and danced some more. It didn't mean they weren't sad. We were all in a state of mourning. The laughter just made room for something else. Laughing together was the proof that even in times of immense sorrow and loss, you could still have fun.
Lure of the tube
Of course there were other ways I could have dealt with it. I could have turned on the TV, and sometimes I could have kicked myself for not having one. If we'd had one, many times, I'd have eagerly turned to it. "Save me, TV!" I'd think, when my kids started crying for their dad. Sedate us!"
If I'd have been able to put them in front of the TV, I also could have been spared seeing the pain on their faces. It would have acted as a pacifier. I knew that then. But I hoped that if they could learn to laugh through some of the pain, they'd gain tools. Maybe later on in their lives, they wouldn't need to sedate themselves to soothe their emotions later in life when they would face inevitable painful times.
Maybe at the worst of times, after they'd finished crying, they'd laugh.
Related Tyee stories:
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- How to Avoid a Code-Red Christmas
Five ways to stop drunken family from ruining the holidays.
- In Defense of Scrooge
Maligned for his thrift, besieged by home invaders, the old guy gives in to terrorists. This is the message of Christmas?
Read more: Gender + Sexuality