The Art Of Discretion

pinata 2Do you ever struggle to balance these things:

1.  The burning desire to speak unabashedly and honestly with all of your true humor and intricate language and vulgar words combined in the special way that is unmistakably YOU? Because you are just DYING to say something you know will be hilarious?

2. The need for a nearby child NOT to hear you talk this way, because you don’t want to answer questions like, “Mama, what’s a cock?”

Let me explain. My family was driving back from a visit to Mexico and we’d just crossed the border back into Arizona.  Although our turn through the checkpoint was ultimately uneventful, it took FOREVER.  Our border guard was a white guy  in his early 30′s, with dark hair, a trim physique and an aggressively domineering attitude.   He ignored us for a few minutes as he talked into the walkie on his lapel, then typed furiously into his computer. Finally he held his hand out, all business like, for the passports, with an arrogant nod of his head, not bothering to speak.

He looked at us, looked at the passports, looked at us, looked at the passports, then suddenly ducked his head down and talked urgently into his walkie. He held up the passports and scanned them from up high, turned to stare at us, then talked more into his thing. He kept perusing us with eagle eyes, then looking at the documents, then staring back at us….as if  we were very, very suspicious indeed.  He barked his questions.

I felt pissed. It seemed like he was deliberately trying to mess around and make us nervous. And while I understand that looking at passports all day is a grueling job, and typing things into a computer is severely taxing mental task, and that yes, there are cute little families in SUV’s that are really toting hundreds of lbs of weed or something, that still, trying to rattle people just for the hell of it? Not cool.

Or maybe he had simply lost his contacts. Maybe our pure awesomeness was blinding him. Maybe he was consulting on a complex Chinese take-out order. Maybe he was helping his genius son solve a tricky calculus equation over the phone. Or maybe he was just dumb.

In any case, I was feeling pissed. And after a few more minutes of watching him  looking at us  and talking furtively into his walkie, I started to worry:  “Is he going to pull us over? Are we going to turn into THAT car, the one with the doors dis-assembled and the people standing awkwardly off the side near the guards with their weapons?”

Border Guard swiped our passports one more time, then picked up his phone and called someone. He spoke urgently into the phone, and continued looking at us, at the passports, at us, at the passports. Finally he handed them back and nodded: You can go.

“Well, fuck you TOO,” I wanted to say, but didn’t, because that probably WOULD turn us into “that” car after all.  (And just to clarify, no – we have never carted anything illegal across the border, and have no reason to be treated with suspicion!)

Later on, as night gently fell, hubby and I talked as our daughter slept quietly in her car seat. I even checked to make sure she was asleep before I spoke quietly.

“My GOD!” I said with a giggle.  “Could that border guard have been any more of a jerk-off? What the hell was he doing on his walkie-talkie and computer and phone that whole time? Was he checking us out because he thought we looked suspicious or something?”

“I think he was bored and wanted to mess with us,” said my husband, rolling his eyes at the memory.

“It doesn’t take that long to swipe a passport, does it? It’s never taken that long before,” we discussed.

“He had SUCH an attitude!” I exclaimed, wrinkling my nose in distaste. “It’s like he was trying to show us that HE was the boss, and WE were the stupid insignificant peons trying to cross HIS big old bad old border. And HE was going to damn well take his sweeeeet time if he wanted to!”

We agreed that he had a crap attitude, and that he seemed to be deliberately flaunting his authority.

As I warmed to the topic, I really wanted to explain how I thought he was acting. “Geez,” I said with emotion.  “He was being such a total tool about it. I halfway expected him to come charging out of his guard booth and start slapping our car with his cock. Take that, you stupid tourists!” I said, deepening his voice and imitating what he might have sounded like. “I will hit you with my nice hard cock to show you who’s boss around HERE! I will scan your passports one hundred times if I want! And you will take it! Hyaaah! Hyaaah!” I moved my hips to demonstrate just how such a move might be executed, and it looked pretty good, even within the confines of my seat belt. For good measure, I also made some hand gestures to follow-up, just in case the hip movements didn’t convey the message.

My husband agreed 100%. We laughed together in companionable friendship, me also with a certain amount of pride, because I had so accurately summed up our experience.

And then, from the backseat, floated a sleepy sweet voice:  “Mama? What’s a cock? And why would he hit our car with it?”


My husband and I looked at each other with one of those “Oh, Fuck” looks, complete with the guilty grin and the wide eyes.

The small sweet voice yawned and continued. “Oh, I think I know. Let me say. It’s probably like a piñata stick, right?”

“Yes!” I said brightly. “Yes, it IS like a kind of piñata stick. But sweetie, we were totally joking. Just joking around. Nobody would ever hit our car with anything at the border. I was speaking figuratively, like we talked about the other day. You know how Mommy likes to joke around all the time and uses her figurative language. He was just taking a very long time to check us through, so I was making jokes about it. It’s illegal to hit a car and he would NEVER do it. So you don’t have to worry, OK?”
“Yes, I know,” her voice drifted off.  Then she added, “I want to get an Adventure Time piñata for my next birthday, if I’m still into Adventure Time. And we’ll probably need to get a new cock, too, because I don’t think we have the one from last year any more.”

“Ah,” I said. “That’s a great idea. You know, though? Let’s just say Piñata Stick. That other word? It’s kind of…old-fashioned, and most people wouldn’t know what it meant. So, Piñata Stick. OK?”

“OK,” she said agreeably, and drifted off to sleep again.

Whew.  I mean, sure. I could have explained what I really meant, but I think that is a discussion which would be more appropriate when she’s, say, NOT SEVEN.

It’s hard for me sometimes, because the truth is that I like to make jokes that are sometimes inappropriate for younger audiences, and my little Young Audience is so clever and observant, all the time, in all ways.  She is ALWAYS LISTENING. You know what? She has probably even read this blog post, somehow, even though she doesn’t have internet access, because that’s how porous kids are these days. And I want to shelter her from certain facts and phrases until she’s FAR older and ready to handle them.  I mean, it’s rough enough to grow up without needing to know that Mommy likes to make jokes about penises sometimes.

So I have to self-censor and keep certain things private, or save them for a later moment, thereby diluting some of the humor, and sometimes it can be a challenge.  Maybe you can empathize?

And here’s another one, while we’re on the topic of discretion.  You know how lots of things are suddenly able to be charged up through a USB port on the computer?

So there’s this one…thing…I have, which – go figure – recharges by plugging into a USB port on a computer. They claim it’s easier that way, on the packaging. And I’m all, “Really? Easier for whom? For a person who has a kid in the house and friends who drop by from time to time? How EXACTLY is it easier to charge it up in full view of anyone who happens to walk by? Or should I be using my spare “just for charging these kinds of things” computer that I happen to keep in the bedroom closet?” I mean, it’s cool and all that it has a USB port, it really is, and if I lived here without a kid I’d be all over it. But right now? I’d rather just charge it up in a less obvious location.

And so I was charging it up on the computer and OF COURSE I totally forgot it was there, because I got busy with photo editing. And then my little Observant One, who notices if a new air molecule has been introduced into her environment, came in and noticed it, and said, “That’s a pretty color, Mama. What is that?” And I had to think fast and tell her it was a cool new device to download photos from my camera’s memory card to the computer.

She looked longing at it and said, “It has a cool shape. Can I play with it?”

“Sorry, sweetie,” said, trying to sound apologetically. “It’s kind of…fragile. But we’ll find you something else cool to play with, OK?”

And she just said, “OK!” and wandered off to play with her dolls.

And Whew! Another awkward and age-inappropriate discussion avoided! I mean, sure, we can talk about things like that when she’s older. Just not now!

When you have a small child around, there are moments when your separate grown-up-only life and your life-with-the-child start to merge together in ways that are not quite cool.  Sometimes it’s hard to  stay on top of everything and keep it all compartmentalized into neat segments. But I do try, even though mistakes happen, because I want her to live in her child’s world of magic and age-appropriate games. She has enough life-size issues and worries of her own without the need to struggle to understand things beyond her maturity level.

I partly dread the day when she’s old enough to talk about these kinds of things and really understand them, the day when she’s old enough to handle that kind of conversation.  I love her youth and her sweet innocence, and as she grows up and matures, she also will become more vulnerable to the kinds of pain and difficulty in the grown-up world.  Of course, as she grows up she will become fully herself, and that will be wonderful to see, and I look forward to it. And then we CAN joke together, hopefully, like I do with my mom and sisters, about all kinds of horrible non-politically correct gross things -  and love it.

And for now? For now, we can compromise and enjoy certain things together…things like Adventure Time.  It’s a really cool cartoon, and guess what? It includes butt jokes. Something we can both enjoy together!

I highly recommend joking around with your kids as much as you can, on a level that works for both of you. I’ve said it before:  I think humor is  an essential way to decrease stress, increase joy, and make life more amazing. I’m going to slip up and let my daughter overhear some things she shouldn’t, but we’re also going to have tons of perfect laughs together about things she DOES understand.

I’m not going to tell  you what to do or say or watch, because my choices won’t necessarily be yours. This week, it really brings us closer to share jokes about Finn and Jake and the gang. Next week, we’ll move on to something new. As for what you choose to laugh about? Well, whether it’s a cartoon, a rechargeable device, or an annoying border guard, it’s up to your discretion.




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