Never a mommy, but now a nana. That’s me.
It’s a bit unusual, perhaps, but I never had kids of my own, and I married a man with children. Now, those children have babies of their own, making me a rather young nana. I’ve gained a lot from this experience. Learning how to put on diapers and get kids in car seats is only the beginning. Another discovery? Just like old-time TV host Art Linkletter told us, children say the darndest things. Of course, if you spend time with kids, you don’t need a TV show to tell you that what comes out of their mouths is unpredictable, spontaneous, illuminating, and almost always hilarious. Children are funnier than any Seinfeld episode, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t appreciate humor.
We have four grandchildren, three of whom don’t talk much yet—but the fourth, Sydney, has been speaking in full sentences filled with multisyllabic words since age two. She has us laughing on a pretty constant basis. Except for the time when she decided she didn’t like her role as comedian.
“It’s not nice to laugh at things people say,” Sydney would complain.
“I’m sorry, honey,” I’d tell her, “but don’t be upset. Nana isn’t laughing at you. She’s laughing with you.”
“But I’m not laughing.”
Kids are funny for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they know more than we think they do. In fact, as often as we’re amazed by their intelligence, I believe they’re flabbergasted by our lack of it. Here’s another recent conversation between Sydney and me:
“Nana, when they take you to the hospital, how do they get you from the ambulance into the hospital?”
“They have a little portable bed,” I explained.
She paused, then said, “Don’t you know the word ‘stretcher’?”
I was set up!
My friend’s daughter, five-year-old Ava, told her mom that when she grows up, on Tuesdays she wants to be a veterinarian, and on Wednesdays she wants to be a vegetarian. Her mom thought she might be confused.
“Ava, do you know what a vegetarian is?” she asked.
“It’s someone who doesn’t eat meat,” Ava answered. “Don’t you think you should know that by now?”
Ava’s humor was probably unintentional. But a lot of times kids know perfectly well that they’re being clever.
One day my husband was speaking with his daughter on the phone, and asked if Sydney wanted to talk.
“I can’t,” Sydney replied. “I’m busy.”
“Busy doing what?” her mother asked.
My husband (whom she calls Baba) delights in these remarks. He likes to tell Sydney that she’s smart like he is.
“No, Baba,” she insists, “I’m smart like mommy. Mommy is smarter than you.”
One time, my husband responded, “Mommy is my daughter, and I taught her everything. How can she be smarter than me?”
Sydney sighed deeply; this was clearly exasperating to her. “Baba,” she explained as if speaking to a two-year-old, “when children grow up they can be smarter than their parents.”
Children, of course, are part sponge, part tape-recorder. But sometimes what they hear and repeat is just a little off. One of our friends pointed out to his grandson that his shoestrings were frayed.
The child was shocked. He explained his shoestrings weren’t afraid at all.
There was my friends’ four-year-old, who sang loudly in church, “Glory be to Todd.” A seven-year-old, with his mother at the grocery store said he wanted old maid apples. His mother figured out he was asking for Granny Smiths. And when a little girl was asked at an ice cream shop if she wanted an ice cream sundae, she screamed, “No! I want one now!”
While each child makes us laugh in different ways, there’s one subject that moves almost every one of them to make some surprising observations. The inquisition usually begins with the question: Where do babies come from?
My friend tells me that when she explained to her son how children are conceived, the little boy wondered whether the act might need medical supervision.
“Do they do it in a hospital?” he asked. Imagine his shock upon learning that this unbelievable event took place in the bedroom.
When my step-daughter was pregnant with her second child, Sydney wanted to see the door in mommy’s tummy where the baby would come out. Upon learning the real truth, she decided to share it with someone who she figured was just as clueless—her father.
One of the most endearing things about children is that they’re just too innocent to be dishonest. This leads to a good bit of humor, but you need a thick skin to take it.
I heard this story about a man spending time with his grandson. The child spontaneously shared his deepest feelings.
“Grandpa,” the little boy said, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” said the grandfather.
A pause, then:
“But I love Grandma better.”
Our granddaughter went through a phase when she didn’t want to hang out with my husband. He asked her why.
“I don’t like mans,” she told him.
“But you like Daddy. And you like your brother, Zach,” he said.
She thought for a moment and figured out a way for the logic to work. “I don’t like bald mans,” she said.
Here’s a classic: One mother says her three-year-old son was in the room as she undressed. He stared at her for a moment, then gave his expert judgment.
“Mom,” he said, “You need to pump those up.” How in the world would he know they should be higher?
Children, it seems, do make a habit of observing the human form. And you may have noticed that they have a fascination with the derriere. One friend’s seven-year-old grandson was with his mom and four-year-old sister. The little girl bent over to pick something up, and her brother said in amazement, “Look at the size of that ass.” His mother, deeply dismayed, said, “Jacob, that’s nasty. Where did you hear that word?” This didn’t deter the child. He looked at his mom and said, “Well, Mom, look at the size of her ass!” (One has to wonder just how big a four-year-old’s ass could be!)
Our granddaughter has her own thoughts on the size of the rear ends around her. One day, she announced, “My baby brother’s tushy is the size of a pebble. Mine is the size of a rock. Baba’s is the size of a mountain. And Nana’s is as mushy as a cooked carrot.”
I reminded myself at that moment not to be insulted. After all, she was merely stating the truth as she sees it. So, I swallowed my pride, and just told Sydney I would prefer not to have a mushy tushy. She advised, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” So be it. Unfortunately, Sydney has done more than share this observation with me; she has repeated it to others. Embarrassing? Why, yes. Children’s remarks often are.
A friend of mine was with her daughter on vacation. They were sitting in a hotel whirlpool along with several other people.
“Mommy,” she announced loudly, “this water feels really good on my vagina.” Now, my friend didn’t regret teaching her child the names of her body parts, but perhaps another lesson was in order to explain that some things are just private.
Of course, there’s embarrassing, and then there’s mortifying. When a friend of mine was very young, she had a red plastic shovel as a bathtub toy. She and her mom would laugh and pretend to hit each other with this shovel. One day at a store, my friend was behaving so badly her mother told her they were going home immediately.
“Please don’t hit me with the shovel,” my friend screamed. Over and over again. When they got home, her mom took her into the bathroom, picked up the shovel, and they threw it in the trashcan together.
Did my friend know what she was doing? Who knows? But children do seem to sense instinctively how to work the adults around them to get what they want. Even through tears, you sometimes have to wonder. One little boy bumped his head and was apparently close to hysterics. His mother asked if there was something that could make him feel better. He was calm enough to explain that ice cream might help.
While we’re constantly amazed at the intelligence and humor of little boys and girls, some children leave us particularly astounded. These are the children we label, “precocious.” My sister-in-law went to a bridal shower and was met at the door by a three-year-old who said, “I’ll take your coat.” Then the child offered her a beverage. This kid was the best entertainment at the party.
Then there was the six-year-old who arrived with his mom for the first day of first grade. The kid looked around and said, “Who the hell signed me up for this?”
Finally, anyone who’s spent any time with children knows they’re fascinated with anything involving the body’s basic functions.
When my stepson was nine, he was at a baseball game with his dad. They happened to be sitting next to Milton Eisenhower, brother of former President Dwight Eisenhower. Jason began chatting away and told his seat-mate he was studying U.S. Presidents in school.
“My brother was the President of the United States,” said Mr. Eisenhower.
Jason was fascinated.
“Did you ever go to the White House?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Eisenhower, “many times. I even slept there.”
Clearly impressed, Jason probed deeper: “Did you ever make a doody at the White House?”
While all kids seem captivated by things like this, I’ve come to believe that boys never grow out of it. Jason is now 37, and I’m frankly afraid he might still ask the same question today.
Having gone through my childbearing years focused on career rather than family, I consider myself lucky that children and their humor are now a regular part of my life. Of course, laughter is only one aspect of my relationship with them.
I look for ways to connect this young generation to those that have gone before. For one thing, I share stories of my youth with Sydney and she remembers them all. She was with her mom in the car the other day listening to children’s music on the radio. She heard “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and called to tell me, “Nana, I just heard the song you and your Daddy used to sing in the car on the way to the beach.” I love knowing that story is no longer just mine. I hope one day Sydney sings that song to her granddaughter.
With three of our grandchildren age two and under, I know it won’t be long before they weave their thoughts into words and laughter that enrich our lives even more. I can hardly wait to hear what they have to say.
In “Peter Pan,” when Wendy is two, her mother says to her, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this forever?” Truly, children are wonderful. They’re honest, open, smart, and a whole lot funnier than most grownups. We must enjoy every minute and every word, because no one is Peter Pan.