KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Sometimes, I can’t help feeling that we haven’t properly thought through the fact that educating children in the facts of life alters their choice of swear words forever. Before we inform them that birds do it, bees do it and even French presidents do it, children are convinced that defecation is the funniest thing in the world, followed closely by urination. Farting is also fiercely funny, if you are five (or 55; actually, farting remains funny even after you find out about the real funny business). When my own children were little, their insult of choice was ‘poo head’, though I do remember one proud morning when The Boy, branded a ‘dope’ by a fellow inmate in the Rainbow Playgroup, responded by immediately calling him a ‘poo chute’, which is an ahole by any other name, and, I thought, quite a sophisticated piece of work for a three-year-old. Back then, the easiest way to make them laugh was simply to shout ‘bum’ or ‘knickers’. I once caught the then four-year-old Small Girl and her best friend breathlessly daring each other to touch The Boy’s newly washed underpants as they dried on the radiator. Halcyon days.
By constantly requesting to work with junior infants in the school’s paired reading scheme, I have managed to cheat, just a little, the cruelties of my own children growing up. My junior infants, like junior infants the world over, are massively amused by anything involving bottoms. There is a wonderful book by Julia Donaldson, of Gruffalo fame, called The Smartest Giant In Town, in which a benevolent giant gives away all his clothes to animals in need. At one point, he ends up wearing nothing but a voluminous pair of underpants with red polka dots and a tattered vest. I suspect the very talented Ms Donaldson knew exactly what she was doing with those pants, and I presume she knows that it is on this page that all social order in junior infants breaks down. To compound matters in our own school, we benefit from wonderfully inventive story bags (created and donated by a parent, Susan Foley, who can rival Donaldson for her imagination), which feature handmade dolls of all the characters in the books. So as
While I’ve always liked the fact we Irish swear liberally, there is something deeply depressing about teenagers effing and blinding
well as revealing the smartest giant’s underpants on the page, I have the pleasure of disrobing the kindly creature in person. And of course, the best thing in the world is to quite seriously warn the children ahead of the reveal that they shouldn’t laugh at the pants — a stern warning which, of course, means that they laugh all the more. Honestly, when you have started your day in the company of four-yearolds in hysterics over a pair of giant polka dot pants, you know that’s going to be a good day.
Anyway, my own children, sadly, are all the wrong side of the facts of life, so bottoms are no longer the funniest show in town. Now they insult each other with depressingly familiar swear words, no different from the ones adults casually scatter. By adults, of course, I chiefly mean their parents, whose own salty language leaves a great deal to be desired (it now seems likely, for example, that I will be remembered for nothing else but the phrase, ‘Clean up after your f****** dogs, Thurles’). I did attempt, when they were little, to moderate my own swearing, but The Husband was unwilling to make any such concessions so eventually I caved in as well. The somewhat inevitable result is that all three of them use too much bad language, with the older two vying for some sort of Olympic record in the sport of sailors.
I wish it weren’t so. While I have always quite liked the fact that we Irish swear as liberally as we do, and I generally believe that potty talk adds to the texture and richness of language, there is something profoundly depressing about sitting down to dinner with a couple of teenagers effing and blinding — and ‘What the f*** are you doing in my room?’ is now officially my least favourite phrase ever.
So let’s give a quiet cheer then for one Général A**e Biscuites, who popped up on French TV news last week and was instantly all over Twitter like a rash. In a dark world where bottoms are no longer funny, the good general reminded me that bottoms and biscuits together will always be comedy gold. I would share the good news with my junior infants, but I fear they would literally expire.