Children display this uncanny and innate ability as soon as they begin to talk. Sure, they may look all cute and innocent, but that's just a highly evolved survival mechanism, as well as their secret weapon. They're counting on you to be disarmed by their charm and to let down your guard before they strike.
It's amazing that they always make sure there's an audience of onlookers for maximum degradation. This explains why parents love to torture their grown children by holding their friends and dates hostage with photo albums full of naked baby pictures – it's payback time, baby!
When my son Jonah was the tender age of 2 years old, we were walking through the crowded mall together the week before Christmas. It was chaotic and crowded and all I wanted to do was get home. Suddenly, Jonah shouted out "Ball! Ball!" and yanked his hand out of mine and dashed off.
I took off after him instantly, but since he was much smaller, he disappeared into the crowd. In a panic, I pushed and shoved through the throngs of people, searching for him. All the while, I kept wondering what ball could he possibly be chasing after in the mall?
To my immense relief, I finally spotted Jonah at the entrance to the food court. But my relief quickly dissolved into horror when I saw him engaged in a tug of war with an ancient senior citizen over his walker. Jonah was saying, "Ball!" and prying off the old tennis balls on the bottom of the back legs. The elderly gentleman, who appeared to be at least 90, was feebly attempting to pull the walker out of Jonah's tenacious grip.
By this time, there was a crowd of shoppers gaping at this bizarre showdown between the Unruly Toddler vs. The Senior Citizen. By the time I navigated the crowds to arrive at the scene, Jonah had pulled off both tennis balls and was hugging them to his chest possessively. "Give the balls back to the nice man, honey." I pleaded between clenched teeth. But of course, it wasn't going to be that easy. Jonah absolutely refused, yelling, "My balls! Mine!"
I had to forcefully pry the tennis balls from his clenched fists while he cried and carried on. Flustered by all the public attention, I apologized profusely to the poor gentleman and put the tennis balls back onto his walker, fervently wishing that a bolt from above would smite me down and put me out of my misery. Luckily, the incident ended without a broken hip (mine included). But to this day, the mere sight or smell of a tennis ball will induce a post-traumatic flashback so vivid that I'll break out into a cold sweat.
I also hated taking Jonah into public restrooms with me because every time I unzipped my jeans he would point to my privates and say loudly, "Mommy-Penis!" I'm sure every woman in the restroom thought I was a tranny or a she-male. After all, this is Los Angeles with all sorts of alternative families.
But now that we're on the topic of penises, my friend Steve once endured the most mortifying experience of his life at the expense of his two-year-old daughter Emily. To preface this story, Emily had accidentally walked in on her father in the bathroom and came face to face with his male appendage for the first time. In a family of all girls, she was taken aback and horrified by the sight.
"Ewww! That's wisgusting!" (She had a little lisp.) After dinner that night, she refused to sit on his lap because she was worried she'd be sitting on his penis. "Don't be ridiculous!" he reassured her as he plopped her down on his lap for bedtime stories. But she struggled out of his lap crying, "No! No! It's wisgusting! I don't want to sit on your penis!"
The next morning, he took Emily and her sister Sadie grocery shopping. He grabbed a cart inside and was lifting her up into the seat when she slipped in his arms and slid down the front of his body. Emily immediately stiffened and started screaming, "No! No! No Daddy! No! I don't want to sit on your penis like you made me do last Saturday night!" It was a bustling Sunday at the grocery store but Steve said everybody in the store immediately stopped what they were doing and just stared at them aghast.
"Of course, I reacted in exactly the wrong way. I totally panicked." He recalled. "I mean, why she had to say 'last Saturday night' as if it was a date night or something! Everybody looked at me like I was a child molester." Flustered, he tried to shush her, but she kept asking plaintively, "But why, Daddy? It's wisgusting! Your penis is wisgusting!" Feeling utterly defeated and humiliated, he gathered up his daughters and fled before someone called child protective services.
Another friend of mine, I'll call her Anne, has a son who was a dump truck enthusiast. In fact, every truck to him was a dump truck. Unfortunately, he couldn't pronounce the "tr" sound so he substituted an 'f' instead.
To her chagrin, he would enthusiastically shriek "dumbf*ck!" at trucks that would catch his eye in parking lots, eliciting gasps of shock and horror from passersby. Unfortunately, her next door neighbor had a truck and every evening when he came home from work, her son would be gleefully yelling out the window and pointing, "Dumbf*ck! Dumbf*ck!"
My youngest son is only 19 months old, but I know it won't be long before public humiliation ensues. It never fails to amaze me how completely your spirit can be broken by a person who weighs less than 30 pounds and doesn't have all his teeth.
I have a growing blackmail, er, I mean photo album full of compromising pictures and I'm just biding my time. Someday, my boys will be teenagers and my mere existence will be an embarrassment enough to them. But when the moment is right, and not a second before, I'll have my sweet revenge for every mortifying mommy moment.
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