I'm pretty sure my three-year-old daughter's nickname for me is Naughty Pants. She usually shouts, "Naughty pants!" in an accusatory way when she's angry with someone, but this cannot be true in my case, for just today I said, "Gabriella, come here and comb your hair."
Ella sauntered down the hall, turned the corner and cooed, "Okay - Naughty Pants."
Later when I told her she could only have one more pumpkin cookie, and she replied, "Fine, Naughty Pants," with a matter-of-fact delivery, my son Berto said sternly, "You shouldn't call Mama naughty pants, Ella. That's not nice."
"Yeah," I said in a bumbling, mumbling way. "That's really no good. You've got to stop that."
I'm not cowed; I'm confused. What did I do to earn this misnomer? Is it a term of endearment? You know, like the way folks in the South sometimes call their children booger (apologies to my darlin' Mama for the use of this vulgur word)? Or like I sometimes call Matthew, my husband, Pumpkin Head even though his head does not even remotely resemble a pumpkin? Or is it, dare I say, a case of monkey see, monkey do? I fear the latter. You see, a while ago I jokingly started to say to Ella every time she was being a little bratty, "Oh, stop being such a naughty pants..."
And so it comes back to haunt me. Just another incident to reinforce the rule that if the kids pick up an irritating phrase or bad word, it is without doubt my fault. I can't recall a time they repeated one of Matthew's annoying expressions (trying to think if he has any...). Believe me, I'd be on it in a heartbeat with an Aha! followed by a gleeful grin and some diabolical hand-rubbing. That's usually what happens on the rare occasion when he breaks something; I pounce on the chance to say, "Okay, now listen - don't get mad the next time I break a dish, okay?" That's because I break dishes so often, one might suspect I think it's necessary to ward off evil spirits.
So when I tell Ella we're not going to the park until late in the afternoon, and she replies aggresively with, "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" I hear the echo of my own stupid utterance. When Berto, just a toddler at the time, said, "That's crazy, Baby!" to another Mom who was trying to tell him something about her son, Matthew knew to blame me as he tried to explain to the woman that his son did not really understand what he was saying. The first time Berto, our oldest, said, "Dammit!" because one of his toys wasn't working, Matthew didn't ask, "Where'd you hear that?" The expression on his face as he looked my way said plainly that he knew. After all, I'm the one who says, "What the hell?" when one of my children lets out an ear-piercing scream while playing, the one who shouts, "Stupid damn thing!" when a utensil is stuck in the kitchen drawer, and I'm banging it back and forth in illogical spite. It's all backwards. The dad is the one who's supposed to shoot off his mouth in front of the children while the mom pulls nervously at her pearls, cocks her head toward the innocents in the room and dutifully chides, "Now, Honey...the children."
The first time Matthew heard me use my favorite swear word, we had yet to even meet. I was in Idaho; he was in Texas, and we were having one of our late-night, nearly all night, long-distance conversations. He knew that I professed to be a lady. I had certainly told him of my mom's high standards, so I'm pretty sure he was convinced that I ne'er let a foul word or hint of slang pass my innocent lips. So on this night of disillusionment, I was rattling on about heaven knows what. When I paused to hear his response, I realized the line had gone dead. We had been disconnected before, and I was sick of it. After jangling the receiver and calling stridently into the silence, "Matthew? Matthew?" I let one fly into the empty void of the telephone line (yes, it was a landline...don't get distracted now). "Dammit!" I exclaimed with whole-hearted gusto and practised enunciation. A stone-cold silence, and I was just about to hang up the phone when I heard a man's voice query uncertainly, "Hillary? Uh, is that you..."
I bonked my head against the wall and said a bad word in my head.
But is it far, far too late for me even now? If only somehow I could swear off swear words and all coarse slang, no longer would I disappoint my mother, The Lady. Mom is possibly the last true Lady on the planet. Her good example drives the rest of us to drink. Drink sloppily. From a keg. I comfort myself she feels guilty about that.
Well, well - if I can't be a lady, I'd like to not be a naughty pants, if possible. So I'll just start saying to Ella every time she behaves properly, "Oh, Ella, stop being such a lady!" If the formula tests true, she'll be addressing me as "Lady" in no time. Sure that makes me sound like somebody's favorite cocker spaniel, but it's better than the alternative.