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Parental 'potty talk' can forge family's identity
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Potty talk, for the uninitiated, refers to words that describe things concerning the potty most often, in a rude or crass way. Our kids know better than to use potty talk, especially at the dinner table, but tonight they took particular glee in it - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
When we sat down at the dinner table recently, I didnt expect anything special to happen.

I mean, it was an ordinary night.

Dinner was a little haphazard. We got started a little later than we meant to, and the kids were asking for refills of their water cups before my husband, Jimmy, and I could even sit down. My son didnt like the pasta; my daughter did. They chatted with each other and pretended that their spears of asparagus were fish and they were sharks.

Thats the way dinner is most nights in our family: a routine of necessity, often very noisy, messy, chaotic and frustrating. The kids dont want to stay in their chairs. The baby chucks food at our heads. And at some point everyone ends up yelling. Its pretty standard operating procedure for a family with young kids nothing to write home about.

But this night, as everything was the same as usual, the kids started to do their silly things to make each other laugh. They told jokes they thought were hilarious, like, Why did the skeleton cross the road? my daughter asked.

I dont know. Why? we said.

Because he didnt have any bones, she said, squealing with laughter. Her brother chimed in with an appreciative guffaw. He made a nonsensical joke of his own while he giggled, mouth full of food.

I can make you say boo hoo, she said to me.

Oh really? I said. Knock knock.

Whos there? she squeaked with a gleam in her eye.

Boo, I said.

Boo BIRD! She trilled. I didnt say it! I said boo bird, not boo hoo.

We had overlapping bits of conversation then, my husband and I talking about our taxes, and the kids asking us why we like to go on dates.

Because we like to talk to each other without you interrupting, I said.

But the questions of dates came up after my almost 7-year-old daughter did a most unladylike thing at the table, something quite noisy and better suited for a bathroom.

It caught all of our attention especially her brothers, who thought it was just about the funniest thing hed ever heard.

When youre older, and you go on dates, I said to her, be sure to do that in front of the boys.

And she did it again, which led to more laughing with her brother, and the arrival of potty talk.

Potty talk, for the uninitiated, refers to words that describe things concerning the potty most often, in a rude or crass way. Our kids know better than to use potty talk, especially at the dinner table, but tonight they took particular glee in it.

Finally, Jimmy put a stop to it. And our conversation moved to a discussion of polite words they could use to describe those necessary bodily functions. I told them what my parents called it in my family growing up, and Jimmy told them what his family called it when he was younger.

And suddenly I became aware of how my familys identity was shaped by those words we used. It was a language known only to us, a tradition I was so accustomed to it was nearly invisible to me. I imagined my parents sitting at the dinner table with my siblings and me some night, 30 years ago, telling us what we should say to not be so rude. And my grandparents would have had the same talk, too. And maybe my great-grandparents, assuming there were rude words children dared to use at the dinner table back then.

This was the first night of forging that identity in our little clan, by way of a family discussion of knock-knock jokes, taxes and potty words. But as it ended and I cleared the table, my daughter looked at me with sparkling eyes and said, I just love our family. I love doing fun things.

Our dinner wasnt anything spectacular. It was as ordinary as always, chaotic, messy and filled with potty talk.

But it turns out, this night and every night we are all together was pretty special.
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