Saturday, May 19, 2012

When My Name Was Mommy

My son has always had a great capacity for assimilating data and putting it to use quickly. When he was two and my older daughter was three and a half, it dawned on me that I could bathe them together as they were both out of diapers and not yet adolescent. I placed them in a tub of bubbles and lathered them while they played with their bath toys.

Suddenly, J stood up and began to circle E, a look of deep concentration on his face.

“Mommy!" he exclaimed. "E has a different kind of penis.”

E snapped, “Stupid! Don’t you know a vagina when you see one?” She held J's rubber ducky under water until it drowned.

I explained that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and they went back to splashing each other and racing their plastic boats.

The next day, I was at the grocer's with J perched in the kiddie seat, swinging his legs and grabbing whatever he could off the shelves.

A sweet little old lady shuffled up to us with her walker and cooed, “Ohhh, you are the most beeeyootiful widdle boy!”

He looked her dead in the eye, and then beamed radiantly as he made the connection.

“You have a bagina, don’t you? “ he crowed.

She clutched her breast and gasped, and I thought she would have a heart attack and fall down right in the cereal aisle of Stop & Shop.

When she didn’t die, I pushed my shopping cart away and said, “Honey, it’s vagina with a va, not a ba.”

But J's attention had already moved on to Fruit Loops, which had a very nice picture on the box.

The only thing I ever knew J to fear was haircuts. When he was 2 1/2, his father decreed that “MY SON will not have long hair anymore.” So we took the children to Mr. Gay, a fashionable children’s barber on Madison Avenue in New York.

E went first. She adored the attention, the swivel chair that went up and down, the praise for being such a good girl, her new look, and the red lollipop at the end.

It turned out that J had a Sampson thing going. He accelerated to full hysteria as soon as he was placed in the chair. He could not be reasoned with, he could not be bribed. He was uncontrollable, a small whirlwind, squirming, leaping, thrashing and full-bore pedal to the metal screaming.

E stood by his chair, watching with scientific detachment as she licked her lollipop. The parents of other children put down their magazines and stared in horror. I was ready to pay the barber to stop, but MY SON had to have short hair.

Mr. Gay said, “I can’t do this,” threw off his smock and headed for the door. He was about 90 years old, had given thousands of children haircuts, but he had met defeat in the form of a small but determined blond cherub with exceptional vocal chords.

As the barber disappeared down the street, the other barber (I think he was Mr. Gay’s father) came over and began to cut J’s hair, trying to establish a rhythm between wild leaps and flailing arms. We had to tip him double.

You would think this torture would not be repeated, but a few months later, MY SON had hair hanging in his eyes and over his ears again, so off we went.

E got a lollipop but no haircut, which clearly disappointed her, and J was hoisted, screaming, into The Bad Chair. This time both barbers joined forces to perform the operation, one holding him down while the other attempted to cut his golden fleece on the downswing.

J’s ear got nicked, and I said, “That’s it. Let him go.”

He got two lollipops, and we left.

For the next few years, I cut his hair at night, while he slept, like a stealth bomber with scissors. I would drape a towel over his pillow and turn him like a chicken on a spit, this way and that, until the deed was done, collect all four corners of the hairy towel in one hand while propping J’s head with the other. He never once woke up, and I don’t think he ever noticed the difference because he had no interest in mirrors.

Years later, when he began to notice girls, he suddenly became GQ-worthy and brushed his teeth voluntarily, showered without being reminded, and even took himself for haircuts. I don’t know if they gave him lollipops.

When my younger daughter, C, was 6, she got the part of Lucy in her school play, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." Her father took her to a costume shop near an area of Boston known as the Combat Zone, which is the red light district. He must have looked like a pedophile with a mini-skirted little girl in pink Miss Piggy sneakers. She noticed that the "lamppost ladies" were swinging their pocketbooks, so she swung her Snoopy umbrella.

A very old man was walking slowly ahead of C and her father.

A scantily-clad woman in a doorway said, "Wanna fuck?"

The old man said, "What?"

She repeated herself, louder. "Wanna fuck?"


She sighed impatiently and said it again, louder than before.

He cupped his ear and said, "I'm sorry, miss, but you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you."

The hooker put her hands around her mouth and yelled, "DO.YOU.WANT.TO.FUCK!"

My daughter said to the woman, "Whatever it is, he doesn't want to. His ears don't work anymore."


Secret Agent Woman said...

I love (and sometimes fear) about children that they just call 'em as they see 'em.

Cro Magnon said...

We were standing on the railway station platform at Toulouse, when my 3 year old son shouted 'Look Daddy, a black man!'. The man in question put his arms in the air, and replied 'Me black man'. I had to explain that we lived out in the countryside, and didn't have TV etc, and that he'd never seen anybody with dark coloured skin. The man was American, and saw the funny side (THANK GOODNESS).

Kids eh!

Paula said...

Such funny stories Susan, even if somewhat embarrassing at the time!

My poor mother had an experience almost exactly like Cro Magnon. When I was that age, we also lived in the country, with no black people living nearby, and no TV. My mother and her friend had taken me with them on a shopping excursion to the largest city in our vicinity, the county seat. We had left the restroom of a large department store, when they realized I wasn't still with them. You guessed it, they backtracked to find me with my head stuck in the bathroom door staring at the black woman working as the attendant. Fortunately, she was amused rather than insulted.

seventh sister said...

Whatever it is, he doesn't want to...that's hilarious.

nick said...

It's sad when boys like their long hair but are forced to cut it off because other people don't think it's "appropriate". Glad to see he got over the experience and eventually decided haircuts were a good thing.

Claudia said...


I absolutely love this: “You have a bagina, don’t you? “ he crowed.

What delights me is your capacity to let the kids be kids, not take it personally or assume it means anything about you.

You're fabulous! :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I think the true loss of innocence is when children are socialized to be insincere and circumspect.

Cro Magnon,

That is quite a story, and will come in handy for many years when the need arises to embarrass your son.


Oh, dear. Another mortifying experience for parents. When I was little, my family had a black maid who was very kind to me. The difficulty arose whenever it was time for her to go home because I always wanted to go with her.


...Since his ears no longer worked. The logic of children is often wonderful.


I loved his long hair. It was his father who considered it important that there be no mistaking his maleness. (My son never looked in the least androgynous, nor did my daughters.)


I was impressed with his ability to recognize that his slightly older sister and that shriveled old woman had something in common. Baginas!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I love you, Susan. This stuff is pure gold.Your memory, your stories, your twists, your rhythms. Everything.

I almost spit the banana out of my mouth when I read, "When she didn’t die, I pushed my shopping cart away and said, “Honey, it’s vagina with a va, not a ba.” " Brilliant.

Please, may I have a hardcover book of this, all of this, all your memories and stories?

Maria said...

SO funny! I love it that you stealthily cut his hair as he slept. And whatever happened to the children's father? Why did he make such a fuss over something that was obviously not worth fussing over?

Maria said...

Whatever happened to your son's father? And why did he make such a fuss?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Like you, I have funny, lovable children. And yes, it's never too early to correct their pronunciation. About that book, from your lips to God's ear.


The haircut-obsessed father and I divorced when our children were 5 and 4. The father of my third child, C, was not obsessed with haircuts.