Illustration by James Callahan
The Boy spent the first several years of his life laughing. Sure, he was a happy baby by nature, laid-back, cheerful and easy to please. But what really kept him in stitches? His parents. Well, OK, I was pretty amusing, but mostly he was laughing at Tad. It was Tad who would break into an elaborate dance without notice, or make up — and bellow — an entire multiversed song about mashed yams, or dirty diapers, or why it was important for The Boy to go to sleep. It was Tad who would cram himself into tiny spaces to play with The Boy on his own turf, and who would throw himself into choking fits at his own jokes in the process of amusing and placating The Boy. In almost every picture I have of the two of them together, from babyhood up until recently, The Boy's eyes are little crescents and his smile is wide and merry, laughing at that silly, silly Daddy.
Lately, though, there's been a change in the air. The Boy is now 8, and he's got serious interests and a personal image to uphold. When he talks to his friends about us, he refers to us as "my mom and dad," not "mama and daddy," because he's all business, you see, and we parental types need to be kept at a distance. Apparently — and I know you are going to find this hard to believe — we're embarrassing.
Us? Embarrassing? Say it ain't so! I mean, look at me. I wrote a TMI memoir about belly dancing and my disastrous love life! And then I wrote a follow-up memoir about standing next to hair-metal guys while wearing tight clothing! Just the mom that every kid would want to introduce to his friends, right? And look at Tad. Just an average concerned citizen who used to work at a topless bar and who is equally likely to issue forth a communist political rant and a boisterous rendition of the soundtrack of 1776. Why, we're the picture of decorum!
We knew this day was coming. I remember when The Boy was tiny, and someone mentioned the concept of embarrassing parents in passing. "Oh, he's in for it when he gets older," Tad said, gazing lovingly at our unsuspecting son. "He has no idea yet, but our kid has hit the embarrassing parent lottery." Now he is starting to reap that windfall. The first incident happened one sleepy Saturday morning, when we were all watching LazyTown.
"Robbie Rotten is really cool," Tad said admiringly, as the pompadoured villain made his way across the screen in an exaggerated bad-guy gait, wearing a purple striped zoot suit and spats. "I wonder if you can buy a Robbie Rotten costume anywhere?"
"You can't," blurted The Boy, a little too quickly.
"Oh, I'll bet you can," I said helpfully, flipping open my laptop, ready to Google.
"Please don't buy him one," The Boy pleaded, his hand flying out to block the keyboard. I didn't, but in case you are wondering, yes, they make them — not quite large enough for Tad, but he says he would happily don a two-sizes-too-small one, "because that would make it even more disturbing."
One Monday morning, Tad called me at work to report another incident that occurred just as The Boy was coming downstairs for breakfast. "I was right in the middle of the foyer, and it was nice and bright and sunny," he said. "Oh! And I was still in my underwear. So of course I started singing ‘Mr. Roboto' really loudly and doing the robot."
I mean, wouldn't you?
"How did he react?" Even I felt a little sorry for The Boy. He is less of a morning person than I am, if that's possible.
"He backed up the stairs slowly with a perfectly neutral expression on his face, slunk into his bedroom and locked the door. He's still in there now."
I guess we could try to behave a little more like normal parents, but that would probably be embarrassing in a whole different way. And not nearly as much fun.