This morning I was listening to my usual radio station, Star 94.1 – Jesse Lozano in the Morning, and they were doing their bit asking for callers to report instances for “The Lonely Parents Club”. Basically, callers talk about some embarrassing moment that their innocent kid spewed from no where.
An example of this from today’s call was a mom comforting her child after a nightmare and when she asked him what would help make him feel better, he said “if you washed your mouth”. Cute, funny, embarrassing.
Whenever I listen to this bit, I recall a time that I embarrassed my mom, and it wasn’t cute or funny, but I thought I was being funny. I was 11 and I did not understand innuendos. Particularly very adult, sexually vulgar innuendos.
We were at our annual family reunion, it was nighttime and there was a bonfire on the beach. I’m at the younger end of the cousins spectrum that attended those events back then, this would have been 1991. So the majority of the folks around the fire were older than me, and mostly adults. Jokes were being swapped.
I was a quiet kid. And living where we did at the time, I didn’t hang out with a lot of my peers, but instead with lots of my parent’s adult friends that came to our house, mostly my dad’s contractor buddies who stood around the workshop swapping stories and jokes. My older male cousin was quite often set up to be our “babysitter” and he would bring his friends over too, more stories and jokes. Being a quiet kid, they never sent me scattering away from their conversations. Honestly, they probably assumed I wasn’t even listening as more then likely, I had my nose in a book. I always had my nose in a book, it’s an addiction as I wrote about here.
Problem is, I’m a masterful multitasker and I can read and listen at the same time. And I have an eidetic memory, particularly for audial experiences. These are bad combinations.
Back to the bonfire. I knew a joke that I had heard that make adults laugh and laugh and laugh. And it sounded totally benign to my innocent 11-year old ears. I won’t tell it here, but you probably know it. It involved a fly and a cat and the moral of the story was how something always gets wet. Know that one? The joke is laden with sexual innuendos, is horribly vulgar, and quite degrading to women.
Now imagine me at 11 telling this lovely joke to a bunch of my family members. No one laughed, not even a giggle. Complete silence. And I was extremely confused. I know I told the joke correctly, I can still remember every word for it. And whenever I had heard it told by adults to other adults, it always made them laugh. Why did I get no laughs?
Someone else quickly told another, appropriate joke, and got the night back on track and my mom said we needed to leave shortly after. Walking through the dune grasses and weeds that towered above my head, trying to follow her shadow in the darkness of the moonlight. She gently but firmly reprimanded me for not knowing what kind of joke would be appropriate for that audience. I didn’t argue back, but my confusion of that night deepened. Why was a joke about a bug and a cat inappropriate? Why did no one laugh? Why was my mom mad?
It would be two more years before I knew enough about sexual slang to get it. And when my mind slipped back to that moment in time and my confused memory snapped into total comprehension…holy hell did I feel like a piece of crap.
So to everyone reading this that was there at that bonfire, I sincerely apologize that I had no idea what kind of joke I was telling.
Moral of the story: watch what you say in front of a kid, even if you use completely innocent vocabulary and it appears that they aren’t paying attention, you never know when they might turn around and embarrass the crap out of you.