It seems like everybody’s mad at Yahoo and the NSA for spying and/or revealing personal information and secrets. Not me. Go ahead, read my email! I guarantee you’ll be disappointed, just like I am. Here’s a real example of an incoming message from the past 24 hours, which bore the subject line “How to have a perfect period.” It read, “Ladies, if there is a way to make that time of the month more pleasant, you know you want it! We’ve compiled a list of must-have products to make your period just another day in paradise!” Have I mentioned that publicists often assume I’m a woman? I mean, yeah, I enjoy scented candles and I take bubble baths and I’d be excited for an ER reboot and, OK, I guess I understand why they’d think that.
Anyway, if you’re worried about a constant stream of untimely revelations, the NSA has nothing on kids. Mine are now 4 and 6, an age range when they’re walking voice memos, repeating whatever they hear. My wife, Heather, and I basically live like organized crime bosses or citizens of an oppressive regime—you always assume that you’re under surveillance. Want to discuss your checking account balance or the prescription cream for your rash? Better go in the bathroom, turn on the faucet and speak in code. “Hey, how does the red fern grow? And how many apples are in the basket?” Otherwise you’ll be dropping your kid off at school the next day, and as he walks away you’ll hear him cheerfully inform the nearest adult, “My dad has $200 and a rash on his butt!”
Incidentally, when a kid asks how much money you have, you should always say you have $200. They’re definitely going to repeat whatever you say, so you want a number that you can spin. And $200 could be either a lot or a little depending on the context, so it allows you to control the storyline. When your kid tells the cashier at the grocery store that you have $200, you can say, “Yeah, I wish!” And when your kid tells some other parent that you have $200, you can say, “Oh no, gonna be a little short on the rent this month!” A corollary here is to never tell a kid what anything actually costs, because then your pint-size Freedom of Information Act will chat up complete strangers to tell them how much you paid for your car, your house, your haircut and your prescription butt-rash cream.
A friend of mine said that having twin daughters was like living with a pair of small vaudevillians, but in my case it’s more like living with insult comics. It’s not that they’re trying to be mean, but they basically have no internal monologue—if a thought occurs to them, it’s getting shared, probably at high volume. For instance, we have a neighbor who evidently hasn’t bought a new pair of athletic shorts since 1983, when men’s sportswear embraced a hemline popularized by Miss Daisy Duke. He also wears really long T-shirts. This unfortunate sartorial combo makes for a disconcerting image when you walk around the corner and see him out doing yard work. You think to yourself, “Gee, somebody should tell that guy that he looks like he’s not wearing any pants.” Then your 4-year-old, suddenly summoning the lung capacity of an Olympic swimmer or Tour de France cyclist, bellows, “Daddy, why is that guy in his underwear?” At that point, you’ve just got to own it. Smile and shrug, as if to say, “Kids! They tell you what you probably actually needed to hear!”
Toward the end of the summer, we took our kids to New York so they could visit the Intrepid museum, see the lights of Times Square and find new people to offend. Walking through Manhattan was a nonstop exercise in damage control. Within minutes of setting foot in the city, Heather told our younger son to stay close because “bad people will try to take you.” To which he jovially pointed at the nearest weirdo—a greasy-haired, strung-out-looking dude about 10 feet away—and yelled, “You mean like that guy?” Well, yes. Sorry, sir. But you do have that look. Later that night, I was waiting outside a Duane Reade with our older son when a woman walked past wearing a burqa. “Look!” he screamed. “A ninja!” I quietly explained that she was not a ninja and asked him to please not yell that again. I did, however, acknowledge that it would be super cool if there were ninjas just walking around.
The next verbal battle, I can already tell, will be against myself. Because I swear. A lot. And when you hear your own kids swear, when you hear that bilious profanity tumble forth in an innocent, cherubic voice, well… it’s really hilarious. But I’m still going to nip it in the bud. I’m telling them that if they swear, then I’m writing them out of my will. And then they’ll be out $200.