A recent exchange with my two daughters went something like this:
Grace (age 4): When I get older I’m going to marry Oliver (our cat).
Me: You can’t marry Oliver. People can only marry other people.
Grace: And cats can only marry cats?
Me: No, cats don’t get married at all. Only people get married.
Nadia (age 2): Yes. And chickens don’t have teeth.
And so goes a typical conversation in our house. I so enjoy conversations with the girls, as they are often an adventure for all parties concerned. Sometimes Grace and Nadia are immensely perceptive and thought-provoking; sometimes (in Grace’s defense, I am mostly referring to Nadia) they border on incoherent. But, in our house, there’s almost always a several-minute conversation at dinnertime, during which Mike and I recount to each other all the loopy things we heard the girls say throughout the day. I’d been mentally composing a kids-say-the-darnedest-things piece when, a few days back, I received an e-mail from someone who has known me a long time, referencing something I myself said some 20-odd years ago. The story goes something like this:
During a second-grade discussion about various career options, my seven-year-old comrades and I fired off possibilities to our teacher, Ms. Stec. We’d covered some serious ground, having listed all the dreams and aspirations of the average kid, and on the chalkboard was written our occupation suggestions, like firefighter (surely it was listed as “fireman” in the un-PC days of the early 1980s), teacher, doctor, nurse, police officer, etc.
I had wanted to contribute “cop” (which was my career goal in the days before I developed my continuing disdain for rules and societal norms) but a classmate had volunteered it before me. As the list burgeoned, our second-grade-ideas were petering. I think I was able to add “garbage man” to the list, not as a personal preference, of course, but as a career choice that would be more suited to some of my crayon-eating cohorts. With a furrowed brow, I continued flipping through my memory bank, trying to come up with something heretofore unthought-of by my classmates. And that’s when it came to me and I raised my hand in victory, blurting it right out.
First, let me offer some background. I am the last of five kids, with 12 years difference between my nearest sibling and me. Because of the age difference, I kind of grew up as an only child, with TV as my most frequent companion. This was in the days pre-cable, when we were lucky to get three channels and only as we held ourselves in precarious yoga positions, clutching the rabbit ears. Children’s programming was pretty much non-existent, unless The Price is Right qualified.
I must’ve been seven years old in the second grade and, by that time, I already had a years-old soap opera addiction. During summer vacations and school holidays (plus the well-timed “sick” days, whenever there was a pivotal storyline coming to its climax), I had a four-soap-a-day habit. On school days, of course, I was limited to just one soap…because I wasn’t old enough yet to master the recording feature of the VCR, and I was still in school during the other three. I stayed abreast of the characters and events of the other shows through my mother (from whom I learned my addiction) and would flip through an issue of Soap Opera Digest whenever one was at hand. Though I frequently asked for a SOD subscription at holiday time, no one ever obliged my wish and I eked by, without that oh-so-juicy, behind-the-scenes soap opera gossip. I was just your average seven-year-old.
My favorite soap opera at the time was The Young and the Restless and my favorite character was Nikki, who I thought looked just like a real-life Barbie doll (Barbies being my other great passion at the time). In the early 1980s, Nikki was still a struggling young woman, trying to make it in the world. She had fallen in love with the rich and debonair Victor Newman (they would later marry and divorce several times, as all good soap opera couples do) and was on her way to becoming Genoa City’s premiere socialite. In typical Girl-Meets-Boy fashion, Nikki had met Victor at a club where she worked as a stripper. Likely daydreaming about Y&R during this class discussion, I was probably profiling the show’s characters and their jobs, thus resulting in my career epiphany. So, as I was saying a few paragraphs ago…
I raised my hand in victory, blurting it right out. After suggesting “stripper” as a career choice to my classmates, there was a bit of a tumult. I remember some laughing (though, in hindsight, it seems odd that so many second-graders would even know what a stripper was…perhaps there were more Y&R fans in that age group than I realized?), and I wish I could remember Ms. Stec’s reaction. If I recall correctly, my stripper suggestion ended that class discussion, and we likely moved on to safer material that didn’t include much student interaction.
Many years after the fact, boys who had been in that class with me remembered this one event more than any other thing about me. Forgotten was my status as Timed-Math-Test repeat champ (no one could add and subtract like me), and the fact that I could run really, really fast. I defended myself for years, always reminding people that I never said it was my career goal, but it was instead just another option for people who were so inclined. Years later, one of my classmates, as I heard through the grapevine, actually did go on to become a stripper, though I do hope that it wasn’t a seven-year-old who first planted the seed.
So, now, when my daughters say something ridiculous or ridiculously silly, I’ll remind myself to look no further than the mirror to see where their lunacy might have originated. And though I wish I could say that I outgrew my verbal gaffes, Mike would be the first to tell you that I am still occasionally guilty of saying ridiculous things. And so, for those of you who haven’t known me forever, I offer this musing as evidence that I have been saying “the darnedest things” for at least 26 years now. As a warning to my daughters, it seems to be genetic and there is a real possibility you will not outgrow it.