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Raising a Potty Mouth

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Our two-year-old is going through the "repeating phase," and he repeats everything he hears. It’s great when I need backup vocals. I can put on any musical number—The Wizard and I from Wicked, Opening Up from the Waitress, anything by Lin-Manuel Miranda—and there he goes with a high-pitched belting at all the wrong parts, just like his daddy. It’s not all roses, though. Say one “shit” while driving in D.C. traffic, and that becomes his favorite word for the next hour or so. I think it’s something many parents struggle with. Still, it’s different when it’s your own kid moving about the playground with the vocabulary of a vulgar theater major singing “Baby Shit” instead of “Baby Shark.”

My worry has me in a near-constant state of paranoia. I was talking to my husband about the value of crafting good dialog, and I referenced the episode of American Horror Story: Coven in which Marie Laveau (played by the great Angela Basset) addresses the failures of someone she hired to do a job. She’d buried her archenemy Delphine LaLaurie (played by the great Kathy Bates) deep in the ground some hundred years ago, and her new enemy recently unearthed her. “When I plant a fat-ass cracker bitch, I expect her to stay planted, not come back up like goddamn ragweed!” she tells the guy she hired, and it's also what I told my husband as our two-year-old rounded the corner. “Did he hear me?” I wonder, and I now sit afraid he’ll call somebody, anybody, a fat-ass cracker bitch and get banned from the playground or schoolyard, or Walmart Supercenter.

He's cute, though. Too cute, at least, so I don’t worry he’ll be banished from society. If anything, he’s too likable, objectively speaking. I wouldn’t say I’m jealous of our little tyke, but he has a way of stealing his daddies’ spotlight. Especially mine.

I acted quite a bit when I was in high school. I don't remember ever wanting to be an actor, but being a country kid with no cable television meant watching the same movies on repeat, and eventually, acting them out with my cousins. By the time I was in the fourth grade, I could recite the "table scene" from The Color Purple, with my brother and each of my cousins playing a role. In my freshman year of high school, I performed The Creation by James Weldon Johnson in the Dramatic Interpretation category for the Spring Literary competition, then at church for the rest of my life. I memorized the piece in 1999, and because the poet depicts the opening verses of Genesis, I made the mistake of performing it at Ebenezer United Methodist Church as a dry-run performance ahead of the competition. Now, twenty-four years removed from that performance, someone from Ebenezer United Methodist will ask me to perform The Creation. It usually comes as a surprise if I dared to go to church with my family on a return visit to Toombs County, Georgia, and if not as a surprise, as a direct violation of my pre-discussed refusal.

“Go’on now, baby. Do that piece you did,” someone would say, and I’ll tell them I don’t remember it.

“We don’t know it either, so we won’t be able to tell if you mess up,” they always say, and I mean always, as though that’s how performance works. Trust me, if I pause after “And God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said, ‘I’m lonely. I’ll make me a world....” and just stand there looking crazy, they’ll know.

Sometime between my freshman and senior year, I fell in love with infomercials. I’m not talking about modern infomercials that make sense. I’m talking about the ridiculous ones from back in the day for products such as "the Potty Patch," a fake patch of grass you can put in your house if you're too lazy to take your dog out and you like houses that smell like piss. “The Potty Patch is the best training aid ever. I’ve seen it work the very first use,” said the actress, delivering her lines as though she were a hostage in a ransom video. “Please do what the man says,” I expected her to say next, but the scene instead cuts to a dog pissing on neon green grass that was supposed to look and feel like the real outdoors.

Those were the good ones, the ones that took an ordinary task and exaggerated its difficulty. “Are you tired of picking up dog poop and having this happen?” The camera cuts to a guy covered head-to-toe in shit who turns to Camera 1 and shrugs. “Well, now introducing the Poody Doody,” some device meant to revolutionize how poop is scooped.

I wanted to be that guy covered in shit.

After high school, I did some stage acting in Monterey, California, at the Barbary Coast Theater, and later, I was in an episode of My Strange Addiction (I’ll let the rest of that story be a mystery). I stopped thinking about acting until my husband and I moved to Mexico City. At least once a week, film crews filled the streets outside my office to shoot television shows, and I spent the past four years hoping I’d be discovered while walking past a casting director holding a Starbucks coffee and looking very American. It never happened.

In comes our son, Shai. He was sitting in Parque Lincon with his usual bunch of friends when a film crew began to set up. Partway through the setup, a representative from Televisa, one of Mexico’s largest multimedia companies, approached Shai, who was with our nanny at the time. They were filming a new telenovela and thought Shai would fit perfectly into the story. They commented on his beatific smile and the charm he just seemed to exude. And his eyes. Oh, how they loved his eyes. In the end, it didn’t happen. The nanny couldn’t get ahold of us for our permission, plus memorizing lines, marks, and cues would've interfered with Shai's nap schedule. For a while, I was a tinge jealous, but also, disappointed. I mean, to have our son in a Mexican telenovela! It was a vicarious dream come true! Everything happens for a reason, though, and perhaps his not getting the part was for the best. After all, if he's caught on camera calling his scene partner a fat-ass cracker bitch, he would get canceled before he even makes it to preschool.

If Shai were to get canceled, it's his daddies' fault. He's being raised in the house by two military veterans who both happen to be avid video gamers. The welcome mat on our stoop might as well read, "Bring your ass on in here, and shut the damn door before you let all my good air out." So if you happen to see us out in town, wave, but beware. We have a little potty mouth on our hands, and he's too cute, at least.

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