The girl-child has impeccable manners. She’s all please and thank you and may I and I’m sorry and oh, excuse me and it’s entirely disarming. She can be in the middle of a nuclear-scale tantrum and she’ll still stop to say excuse me and wait for you to step aside before she stomps past you shouting THANK YOU. It’s kind of awesome.
She’s also generous with the compliments. We think that it’s something that they’ve been teaching at her preschool, because although my husband and I are unfailingly polite, we tend not to walk around praising each other’s clothing choices and hair-brushing techniques. Emilia, on the other hand, is all about praising the finer details of the appearance and comportment of others: nice buttons on your shirt, Mommy! she’ll say. And, I like your hair today, Daddy! Did you brush it? Or, are those new shoes, Mommy? I like the laces! (said of laceless Converse sneakers.)
And then, the other day, this:
(bursting into the bathroom and confronting her very surprised father, in flagrante urinato)
NICE PENIS, DADDY!
Which, you know, was kind of funny, but only in that embarrassing, not-for-sharing-at-dinner kinda way, like that time last year when she shouted, from the backseat of the car, excuse ME, mother-f***er! and we both looked at each in horror before exclaiming to each other she didn’t get that from ME and then laughing, uncomfortably, out loud. That kind of funny.
The thing is, on the very rare occasion – very rare – that she says something that is obviously inappropriate – like, say, mother-f***er – we can console ourselves with the facts that a) she didn’t get it from us (we save all of our cursing for after hours and, in any case, never refer to ourselves or anyone else as mother-f***ers) and b) it’s easy to explain to her that some words simply aren’t polite. But how do we respond to complimentary commentary on genitalia? I mean, she was trying to pay a compliment. She wanted to say something nice, and the obvious thing, when the person to whom one wants to say something nice has directed their attention to a specific part of themselves, is to direct one’s compliment to that specific part. That’s just basic etiquette.
But Emily Post didn’t provide direction on how to compliment penises for a very good reason: one simply shouldn’t go around complimenting penises in any circumstances other than those engaged in, in private, by consenting adults. Which is not something that we’re not yet talking about with the girl, who is, after all, just two days shy of three years old and so some twenty-odd years off from dating. So how do we explain to her that although it is nice to say nice things to other people, there are just some things that we don’t draw attention to? We do not, after all, want to suggest to her that there is anything shameful about the parts that she is complimenting; we do not want to suggest that those parts are anything other than ‘nice’. And isn’t there something potentially confusing and problematic about telling her that we simply shouldn’t talk about those parts?
Obviously, the fast answer is lock the bathroom door. But that doesn’t resolve the bigger issue: we’re fairly modest people, inasmuch as we tend not to wander around naked, but we don’t make a fuss about concealing ourselves from each other, because, again, we don’t want to send the message that there’s something shameful about bodies. We have talks about privacy, but we’re not fascists about it. So, you know, occasionally there’s going to be a glimpse of a penis or a boob and if the girl decides that those things are deserving of compliments, well, how are we to respond? Should we respond, in any manner other than simply saying thank you and moving on?
Because, you know, I don’t get compliments on my boobs all that often, and so I’m kind of inclined to take them where I can get them.
(What do you/will you/would you do?)