Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Amazing But True Stories, Part 3

While we’re on the subject of my hapless conversations with kids, I’m reminded of an incident that occurred before I had kids of my own. This conversation involved my brother’s eldest daughter. She was, I think, about seven years-old at the time.

Looking back, it seems like a kind of warning.

Back then, my brother would invite me (his wayward, bachelor brother) to vicariously experience family life by tagging along when his family went to, say, Ben and Jerry’s to get ice cream.

While standing in line for ice cream one humid night, I decided to show my eldest niece the case of Poison Ivy I had on the back of my right hand. I am still a little fuzzy on why I made that decision, but I think it went like this:

“Hmmm. Kids like gross stuff. The Poison Ivy outbreak on the back of my hand is definitely gross. I think I’ll show my niece my Poison Ivy rash.”

Seeing my mistake in retrospect is easy. I had used the very same reasoning that has launched a billion pull-my-finger jokes. I had aimed squarely for cool uncle territory and instead doddered into embarrassing granpa territory. This could end in only one way.


My niece did not disappoint me. She looked at the bubbly rash on the back of my hands for a few seconds. I waited for her mouth to form a kind of fascinated smile, but it didn’t. Instead, her entire face screwed up into, well, a horrified look. And then she yelled at the top of her lungs:

“Ooooooooh. My Uncle has AIDS!”

Did I mention how loud she said this? Have I mentioned how quiet the Ben and Jerry’s store got? You could hear nothing but crickets outside and the ice cream coolers inside. To this day, I have never seen people staring as intently at their bowls of ice cream as the people in this store did.

While I calmly, noisily and repeatedly explained to my niece that I did not have AIDS, part of me was happy. Once you’ve been that intensely embarrassed, I hypothesized, nothing can ever embarrass you again.

Next: My Other Niece Proves Me Wrong

Sunday, April 10, 2005

We Are Bald-Headed Robots

I know that five year-old kids ask a lot of questions. As a parent, I’m prepared for that much. Prior to getting into this parenting gig, though, I imagined that my child and I would have, well, Socratic conversations. I imagined that occasionally my darling naïf, full of wonder at the world, would ask questions and I would gently hand down wisdom accumulated from my world travels.

I wasn’t prepared for the interrogations. And, to be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the stupid crap we’d be discussing. Don’t get me wrong. I like discussing stupid crap; I’d just rather be inflicting it than enduring it.

A recent conversation in our car went like this:

Gabriel: Dad, are we bald-headed robots?

Dad: What?

Gabriel: Dad, are we bald-headed robots?

Dad: No.

Gabriel: Dad, are we bald-headed robots?

Dad: No.

Gabriel: Dad, are we bald-headed robots?

Dad: No!

Gabriel: Dad, are we bald-headed robots?

Dad (exasperated) Yes, Gabriel, we are bald-headed robots.

A few moments of silence:

Gabriel: Dad, why are we bald-headed robots?

Clearly, my kid has future in Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency or some other bureaucratic hell agency where they prize circular, painful conversations – perhaps the customer service line at my cell phone company, for instance.