Kids Say the Darndest Things

Most non-parents can pretty much skip this blog post, I guess. Well, unless they are about to become parents, and/or unless they’re fans of “The Simpsons” and/or the old 1960s “Spider-Man” TV show. (I’ll explain. It has to do with a song that our daughter Catie, who is not yet three, made up recently.)

First, though, let me note that ever since the invention of writing, parents have felt that they ought to transcribe the adorable, silly and/or incomprehensible things their kids say, which you always think you’ll remember but you never do. Many parents actually succeed in doing this, but often only for the first kid. The first kid also has whole photo albums dedicated to him or her (I refer of course to the age before digital cameras, when photos were on film and collected into books called “albums”). The other kids have a few loose photos in the bottom of the drawer. Often you could flip the pages of the first kid’s photo album like a flip book and basically watch him or her grow up. Evidence that subsequent children existed is often spotty and might be questioned by later historians.

In the past, parents could get away with this on the basis that all parents before them had done the same thing. Now, though, technology has the potential to save us. Our smartphones are all cameras and many of them are videocameras, so there’s no reason why we can’t take just as many pictures of the second and third kids as we did of the first.

As for the cute things kids say, the options are limitless: Email them to Grandma. Blog them. Facebook them, yes, but don’t rely on Facebook, which is a sinkhole into which things disappear never to return.

As a last resort, if you’ve got recent cute comments rattling around in your short-term memory, write them here, in my combox, before they disappear forever.

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What kinds of things? Well, sometimes they’re suitably pious. Well, like the time four-year-old Nathan overheard Anna, who is seven, scolding 2½-year-old Catie for sucking on a plastic baby Jesus Christmas decoration that never got put away.

“Catie!” Anna said. “Do not eat Jesus!”

This scruple baffled Nathan. “But we eat Him every week at church!” he protested. He meant the rest of us, of course; he doesn’t receive communion yet himself, but he knows darn well Who it is.

In fact, not long ago in Mass, right at the moment of the consecration, Nathan jerked upright as if something startling had happened, looked toward the altar with wide eyes, and blurted out loud, “Jesus!” Which meant that I was first hastily shushing him and then delightedly trying to praise and reinforce both his insight and his enthusiasm.

Even cooler, a bit earlier during that same Mass, during the opening dialogue of the Anaphora (“Lift up your hearts ... We lift them up to the Lord”), Nathan stood copying my posture, with his hands together at his chest, held upward in a gesture of offering. Then he turned to me and whispered confidentially, “I wish I was really holding my heart!”

This was very cool theologically because this exchange is liturgically more significant than many people realize. (The sursum corda (“Up hearts!”), coming at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, represents the mystical elevation into the realm of heavenly worship where we “join our voices with angels and archangels,” etc.)

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Of course, like a lot of kids, Nathan’s piety occasionally blurs into other areas of his mental landscape. He was only three when he turned to Suz one day and said confidentially, “Mama, I really love Jesus.” Then, as an afterthought, “... but I hate the Green Goblin.” You can tell his papa is a comic-book nerd.

Incidentally, don’t get any ideas that Nathan is some sort of little angel. On the contrary. He’s quite mischievous—and quite the casuist. One day I heard Anna calling out to me, “Papa, Nathan is on the top bunk throwing boots!” Since only soft things are allowed to be thrown in the house, I called warningly from the next room, “Nathan, you aren’t throwing hard things, are you?”

Nathan thought fast. “No,” he ventured. “The boots are soft ... inside.”

Three. He was three.

Anna is capable of some pretty sharp reasoning herself. One day when she was six I heard Suz call from the other room, “Anna! Why are you naked?”

Anna’s reply: “‘Cause I took off my clothes.” Try and argue with that.

Perhaps the ultimate unanswerable rebuttal came from our second-born, David, when he was about two years old. Mounting his case against an unwanted course of action, he offered a put-away two-step argument that has lived in infamy in our household ever since:

“A, I don’t want to ... and B, I won’t.”

My relatives still say that sometimes. It’s irrefutable.

* * *

Sometimes, kids look at things in ways we don’t expect. One day Anna, six, watching her three-year-old brother sit on the potty, asked the obvious question: “Why do boys have penises and girls don’t?”

“God made girls’ bodies and boys’ bodies different from each other,” I started to answer, trying to figure out where I was going from there, at which point Anna interrupted indignantly, “And why did God make boys’ bodies with so much extra spit?”

Then there was James’s head-scratching attempt to explain Easter symbolism last year. “One of the reasons that eggs are a symbol of Easter is ...” I began.

Interrupting, James proposed, “Because bunnies multiply so quickly?” Think about that one for awhile.

James can be remarkably perceptive, though. A couple of years ago while we were rewatching The Lord of the Rings, we got to the scene in The Two Towers in Helm’s Deep after Aragorn and Legolas’s altercation about the pending battle, where Aragorn is getting vested for battle. It’s a dramatically heroic moment, and James suddenly asked:

“Is Aragorn the hero?”

Chuckling, I replied, “Well, he’s not supposed to be ... but he’s probably more the hero than he should be.”

James thought for a moment, then observed: “The music is going, ‘AR-a-GORN! AR-a-GORN!’” (sort of like “Superman!”). Which I thought was a pretty awesome critical observation for an eight-year-old. (If you haven’t seen the scene, there are no voices. It was the mood of the music he was commenting on.)

* * *

Suz’s older brother Dave died several years ago from a virulent leukemia, and he’s sort of a legendary figure to our kids. I remember James a couple of years ago asking incredulously, “Uncle Dave was a lawyer??” Then, after a moment’s reflection, “I thought he killed bad guys.”

Here’s another Uncle Dave story that gives me chills:

In our stairwell we have a row of photographs of relatives, and carrying Catie up or down the stairs Suz (or Sarah) will talk to her about who the people in the photos are. Most of them she knows from real life, but there are also people that she knows only from the photos, either because (like my brother and his family) we go years without seeing them, or in the case of mother and brother because they’ve died.

In any case, Catie repeats back the names of the people, like she parrots everything else, but one day Suz, thinking Catie might be confused about the fact that we never actually see Uncle Dave, said to her (in that singsong, exaggerated tone that you use with babies) while holding her at the photo:

“Where is Uncle Dave? I can’t find him!”

And then Catie (not yet two) said something odd. She announced confidently, “Mary will find him!”

Where could she have gotten that from? One thing we’re sure of: The only “Mary” in Catie’s experience is the Blessed Virgin in images and statues and in our evening Rosary. But we’ve never talked about Mary “finding” anyone or anything. I can’t think of any basis for Catie making that connection.

* * *

Catie has recently become preoccupied with Disney’s Aristocats movie (as a result of a new nightgown with Marie the cat on it). She pronounces the name of the film “The rest of the cats.” I’m not a big Aristocats fan, but if it means she’s less interested in “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego! Go!” I’m for it.

Watching “Diego” has had a disconcerting effect on Catie: As a result of all of Diego’s animal-rescuing heroics, Catie now thinks of all animals as needing to be rescued. A few months back we took the kids to the Liberty Science Center. There was a komodo dragon there, which I think Catie recognized. Her immediate reaction: “I have to rescue him!” She was genuinely upset, and it was all we could do to try to convince her that the komodo dragon was already rescued. Actually, I don’t think she believed us.

“Dora” also connects, lang syne, to the promised “Simpsons” / “Spider-Man” moment.

I have to say, as used to kids coming out with corkers as I am, I was pretty well gobsmacked yesterday when I heard 2½-year-old Catie improvising:

“Spider-leatherback sea turtle, Spider-leatherback sea turtle
Does whatever a Spider-leatherback sea turtle does
Can he swing from a thread?
No he can’t, he’s a leatherback sea turtle…”

I recognized immediately what this was: a riff on Homer Simpson’s goofy “Spider-Pig” song from The Simpsons Movie—which, for the record, none of my kids has ever seen (they have no exposure to “The Simpsons” whatsoever). They have heard me sing the “Spider-Pig” song, though. For reasons I don’t remember, Homer brings a pig home, and in one scene he holds the pig upside down with its trotters on the ceiling and riffs on the famous “Spider-Man” theme song: “Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, does whatever a Spider-Pig does ...”

I wasn’t surprised that Catie picked up on that “Spider-Pig” song. She picks up on everything. At 18 months old she was going around the house singing the Agnus Dei (all of it, although she had no idea how many times to sing qui tollis peccata mundi before stopping).

But the idea that Catie was swapping in leatherback sea turtles floored me. And the older kids told me she was doing it with all sorts of other animals too (“Spider-impala, Spider-impala…” etc.).

Why leatherback sea turtles specifically? Ah, the older kids explained, that was because of “Dora.” Apparently there’s a “Dora” episode involving leatherback sea turtles ... and now Catie thinks of all turtles as leatherback sea turtles.

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So, enough about my kids. What about yours? Write ‘em down. You’ll be glad you did.