It is a morning in the summer, and the sun streams through our kitchen window so that the water running from the faucet looks like tiny rainbows. Harper’s in the living room, practicing piano. She’s been playing for a year now, and the harmony she plays sounds fluid, her rhythm effortless. She finishes the last note, her index finger holding down the ivory key so the sound lingers, floating around the room, and dancing with the sunbeams.
“Harper,” I say, almost whispering, “that was beautiful. What’s that called?”
Harper takes her hands from the keys, puts them on her lap then says, sweet as sugar, “It’s called, ‘Hadley is a butt.’”
Hadley, who’s been hiding around the corner, charges Harper who puts her hands up, while Hadley attempts to fart in her face.
My mom won’t like that I’ve chosen to use the word “fart.” She doesn’t think it’s classy, and would prefer I use “toot.” My thoughts on this are as follows:
Toot is an “Oops! Sorry! I didn’t see that coming.” Toot is a friendly mistake; a misfire. Toot happens to all of us. It’s embarrassing, but it means no harm.
Fart, on the other hand, knows exactly what it’s doing. Fart is totally deliberate. Fart moves sunbeams in the living room.
I’m sorry, Mom. Hadley farted.
This juxtaposition, if you will, of beaming pride and rapture that my children are learning and creating and growing, to one of disgust and bafflement is how I walk through my days. One second, my eyes well with tears at my girl playing Mozart, and the next I’m screaming, “Get your butt out of your sister’s face!”
It’s enough to drive me crazy, so I do what every rational human-turned-parent does. I make rules about butt jokes.
“No butt jokes after noon.”
“Only three butt jokes a day.”
“If you do one more inappropriate thing with your butt, you will never have screen time again.”
“If you fart on cue in this house again, I will never buy you another donut.”
(Whom is this punishing, really?)
Sometimes, I’ll coach them on their delivery. I feel like I’m handing the girls a compromise. Telling them, “I know you’re not going to cut it out, so at least let me help you sharpen that joke you’re telling about misplacing a soup pot for a toilet.”
Often, more than I care to admit, I join in. Because I cannot beat Hadley and Harper. Butts and toots are always going to be funny.
This is how the three of us came up with the word “buttzantoots.” If you say it correctly, and convincingly, you’re technically not saying words you’re supposed to avoid.
Here are some examples of real conversations the girls and I have had with this vocabulary word.
While at the grocery store, I ask, “Do we need any buttzantoots?”
“Oh, right,” Hadley says, doing her best not to crack a smile, “We ran out, but I think they’re in the baking aisle.”
Or, at bedtime, I’ll ask, “Did you put away all your buttzantoots?”
“They’re all next to my Beanie Babies!” Harper tells me, innocently sliding toothpaste on her toothbrush.
The three of us have found that it is impossible to be in a bad mood while including buttzantoots in the conversation.
Which leads me to this observation: Being in a good mood leads to smiles, and smiles lead to laughter, and laughter makes you comfortable, and I think being comfortable eventually leads to confidence and bravery. And I want my girls to be confident and brave.
It is a Sunday evening in late summer, and I’m standing on our driveway in my bare feet, leaning on our car, talking to Hadley and Harper who are buckled in the backseat. They are headed to their grandparents for a couple of days because tomorrow I go back to work, and while I’m lucky to keep the same hours as my girls, my school year starts a week early, so Jesse and I are sending them to “Grandparent Camp” for a few days.
The cement is warm from being in the sun all day, and it feels good on my feet, though there is an edge in the air, a hint of something frigid blowing off Lake Huron, wickedly pushing summer away. A few leaves scurry down our street, and their edges sound crinkly and crunchy, not soft like a maple leaf so drenched in chlorophyll, looking at it you’d think it’s too heavy to lift.
The girls are anxious about the trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s. They’ll be fine once they get there—they always have a blast with them—it’s the thought of being away from each other that’s sad. They look at me with teary eyes, and I want to call up my boss and say, “I quit.” I want to stay with my girls.
When I imagined being a mom, I thought I’d be the DIY, homemade everything, Room Parent mom. I pictured my girls in neat ponytails or braids with bows coordinated to their outfits. In reality, I set foot in Hadley and Harper’s classrooms once each last year, and it was for parent/teacher conferences. I DIY nothing unless you count the cut-offs I made for myself this summer with a pair of Harper’s old kindergarten scissors. Jesse cooks most our dinners, except the circular ones I pull from a box and slide into a preheated oven. Hadley would punch me in the face if I tried to put a ribbon in her hair.
I love my job. I love the kids I get to work with. I love the idea—the hope—that I get to use what I have to help kids walk through stories—those they read, and those they live.
But the end of summer is sad, and that sadness makes me second guess my work. It makes me remember the mama I imagined myself to be.
Because this summer, I got to be that mama. I got to help with “Fun Fridays” at the pool when all the moms set up DIY yogurt and trail mix stations (I brought Fruity Pebbles). We went on bike rides and found tiny frogs, and we dropped our bikes and held out our hands and cooed, “C’mere little frog. C’mere.” We explored all the Ann Arbor libraries, and we climbed the Sleeping Bear Dunes. We painted our toenails on our front porch during a thunderstorm.
We made up words.
I stare at Hadley and Harper, and I know they can see I am scared and sad, too. I don’t mind that they see me this way, but I want to show them I am confident, and I am brave. I want them to know we will be okay.
I put my hands on the open window of the car, and lean in, a sly grin spreading; my eyebrows lifted.
“Did you pack your buttzantoots?” I say hesitantly, unsure they’re in the mood.
Harper erupts in giggles, while Hadley smiles shyly, not completely convinced.
“Do you have enough?” I continue. “You never want to run out of buttzantoots. That would be awful!” The three of us are grinning at each other, so proud of our inside joke.
Jesse gets in the car and says, “Grandpa said he’s taking you out for ice cream tonight.”
Without missing a beat, Hadley says, “I hope they have my favorite topping,” Harper is silently laughing, her shoulders bobbing up and down.
“What’s your favorite topping?” Jesse asks.
Poor guy. He stepped right into it.
Hadley’s chomping at the bit to deliver the punch line, so I nod, a silent, “Take it, girl.”
“Buttzantoots,” she says, and we all collapse into laughter while Jesse rolls his eyes and turns the car on.
“This word has Callie fingerprints all over it,” he says.
I shrug. “What can I say? I’m a wordsmith.”
He’ll learn, I think as I wave while they coast down the driveway. Butt and toots are always funny.
And I get to be whatever kind of mama I want to be.