Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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The Covered Wagon (Why is my husband so proud of his farts?) Part III

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 If you have not read The Covered Wagon (Why is my husband so proud of his farts?) Part I, you can do so by clicking here. You can read Part II by clicking here.

I’d never really talked to Tristan about his language. I’d been waiting for the right moment, which really means I’d been avoiding it. I’d been leaving the duty of raising a polite boy who didn’t talk about farts up to Mel. Clearly it was my turn to chat with him about his fart obsession.
A few days after Tristan was sent to his room for farting on Mel, he and I went on a hike in the foothills near Corvallis. It was early September, in the low 90s, warm for that time of year in Oregon. We were eating wild raspberries, collecting sticks and acorns, and discovering bugs. 
Bald Hill, Corvallis

While my mother feels that there is not an acceptable place to talk about farts, I knew that this topic was an essential part of early male bonding. He just needed to use more discretion. But I didn’t know just how to start the conversation. I didn’t want to go in guns blazing and wind up doing more damage. So I decided to teach him, “The Ants Go Marching.”
I told Tristan the gist of it. How with each verse the ants go marching in larger groups. Then we started singing. “…the ants go marching one by one the little one stops to scratch his bum…” I’m not sure how the song is supposed to go. But this was the way we sung it when I was a child.
Tristan said it back to me, “Scratch his bum.” Then he laughed, and laughed. But I kept singing, “…the ants go marching two by two the little one stops to take a poo…”
I didn’t think much about it until we hit verse three, and the little one stopped to take a pee, that I realized my childhood friends and I had really perverted this song.
Tristan looked up at me with a shit eating gaped tooth grin, his blue eyes wide and excited. I, his father, showed him something new and gross. I, a major authority figure, had sanctioned it. His soft pale face was rich with thought. Behind his wet excited eyes I could see the words, olly olly oxen free. He could let it all out now. I’d obviously made the problem worse.
 “Dad,” He said, “listen to my song about the ants. The ants farted and farted and the little one pooped and pooped and then they all ate it! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
His little bald head bobbed side to side with each burst of laughter. He was so proud of himself.
Tristan sang me a couple more versions of his ant song. Sometimes the ants were farting, other times they were peeing. I will spare you the details. But with each verse, I asked him to stop. I told him it was inappropriate. I got frustrated. I yelled. I threatened to take away video games and toys. I tried bribing him with candy: “I will buy you a Sponge Bob popsicle if you stop talking about farts.” Some of the tactics slowed him, but nothing stopped it for good. He laughed harder and harder with each verse. 

So I got personal. I told him that he’d better stop because someday girls will reject him for talking about farts. Then I told him about my embarrassment. I told him about Amanda Johnson and how she kicked me in the shin.
He laughed at my pain.
I told him how I wished I’d learned earlier when and where it was appropriate to make a fart joke. He gave me a furrowed brow look of confusion and said, “Farts are funny, Dad.”
“But what about girls,” I said. “They will think you are gross.”
Tristan furrowed his brow harder this time.
 “Girls are gross,” he said.
We’d been hiking for almost an hour, and were on our way back to the car, when I decided to try a new approach. I decided to speak in a language he understood.
“Remember when that monkey ate it’s own poo at the zoo?” I said.
“Yes,” Tristan said.
“Do you remember how it made you sick to your stomach?”
Tristan nodded.
“And do you remember how you couldn’t stop thinking about it for a few days, and every time you did think about it, you started to gag?”
Tristan’s eyes watered and I knew that I was making him sick to his stomach.
“That icky feeling you got when thinking about the monkey is the same feeling that some people get when they hear a fart joke?”
I went on, listing people that might get sick thinking about farts: Grandma, Ms. Swanson, Mom, Bishop Spivey, The President, and so on.
Once again, I could see the gears turning in his little head. He appeared genuinely surprised that what he found so hilarious might make someone else feel ill.
“You don’t want to make some one sick? Do you?”
Tristan was swinging a stick along the trail when I said this. He stopped walking for a moment. He looked down, his shoulders slumped, stick stuck in the ground, right foot digging in the dirt.
“Well…” I said. “Do you?”
“No.” He said. “That would be really mean.”
I smiled and placed my arm around his shoulder.
We hiked along the trail, the car now within view. We started singing, “The Ants Go Marching,” but we made up cleaner rhymes to go with each verse.
We made it back to the car, and as I helped Tristan with the door, he blocked it and said, “What’s the password.”
He had that old look in his eye, the one he always got just before he told me something gross.
“Remember the monkey.” I said.
He thought about it for a moment. His smile faded. Then he said, “The password is tickle spider.” 
He made a spider with his right hand and had it crawl up my leg, like he often does. Once it reached my stomach, he started tickling.
I laughed and laughed.
“Tristan.” I said. “You are a really great tickler.”

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.