Minding One’s Peens and Q’s

November 11, 2008

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)


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?)

(Thanks to Niksmom for the title suggestion via Twitter)

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    Anonymous November 12, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I’d say “why, thank you!” and start locking the bathroom door.

    WaltzInExile November 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I’m with Anonymous. “Thanks. Now please give Daddy his bathroom privacy.” should work. There’s no way to explain to a 3 year old the nuances involved here. I’m hoping this isn’t a compliment she’s going to have occasion for outside the house…?

    derfina November 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Yeah, I think a simple thank you and a talk about knocking, maybe? If you make a big deal about it, it is more likely to be a problem than if you are matter of fact about it.

    Her Bad Mother November 12, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    WaltzInExile – DEAR GOD I HOPE NOT.

    Denise November 12, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    This post made me laugh. I am trying my best to figure out what I would tell my boys if they did this but I can’t think of anything. I do believe that annonymous is correct. Say thanks and lock the door.

    Her Bad Mother November 12, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Now that I think about it, tho’… she has seen penii at the home of friends, when she’s bathed with her (male) BFF. Although on that occasion she said HEY HE HAS A REALLY SMALL PENIS. Which, you know, I hope he forgets he ever heard.

    Black Hockey Jesus November 12, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    I’d probably say “You got that right! Now shake your little ass out of here.”

    Tere November 12, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    I’m with the others here. At 3, I’m not sure you can do much more than say thanks, lock the door and not make a fuss over it. With my 3-yr-old, the less attention I call to an undesired behavior, the less he does it.

    As she better understands privacy and modesty, she’ll learn that she has to keep her thoughts about penii to herself.

    This reminds me of my current dilemma with the boy smacking my ass whenever he wanders in on me getting dressed. It’s very affectionate and all, but still.

    LAVANDULA November 12, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    oh that was a funny post today catherine. i would just say thank you and leave it alone. oh and happy birthday to wonderbaby!

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins November 12, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Maybe nothing needs to be said at all. I’m sure your hubby was shocked, but when, really, is she going to see another ‘peen’? And if she does, hopefully someone will hear her compliment and immediately realize they forgot to lock the door.

    Kristy - Where's My Damn Answer November 12, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    eek … I have SO been faced with these situations before. I think I’m more with the school of thought that you just say thanks and be more mindful of the door in the future. She’s pretty young for the what’s appropriate and not appropriate talk right now.

    Don Mills Diva November 12, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I was in the bath with my son last week and he told me I had nice nipples.

    I just thanked him for his astute observation and hoped to God I wasn’t somehow scarring him…

    Expat Mom November 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I have to say that I`d just leave it alone. After all, we can hope that she`s not going to have much call for complimenting genitalia outside of accidentally seeing her dad. And besides, I`m sure some guy will be appreciative that you didn`t squelch her complimentary nature . . . way, way, way in the future. ;)

    Plus, as you said, a mom can`t turn down a boob compliment. :)

    This reminds me of my oldest son who is nearly three as well. He does the same shouted “THANK YOU!” when he`s mad. It`s hilarious. He also frequently compliments me on my bra choices, which would be totally inappropriate if he were much older, but at this age, what can you do?

    *The Young Mother* November 12, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    This is SO funny. I agree with anonymous as well. I really would just say thank you, and keep the door locked from now on. At least she has great manners though! You should be a proud mama!

    Oz November 12, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I’m afraid to lock the bathroom door – or even close it all the way. That’s an invitation for the boy to cause total destruction to himself or our belongings or pets.

    Her Bad Mother November 12, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    BHJ – how’d you know what my husband said?

    Lynette November 12, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I say hope that she doesn’t wait til she gets around a group of people and say… HEY MY DAD HAS A NICE PENIS.

    Mary G November 12, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    She may have the male appendage on her mind a bit because of baby brother — he has one, she doesn’t. So, now she knows Daddy has one. The interest may or may not go away — in the interim, I would probably lock the door. She’s still young enough that most people will be tolerant.
    I’m struggling with the next stage of the issue. How do you explain to a five year old that compliments and comments on body shape, colour and and differences are perilous, because it is so easy to say the wrong thing. Without quenching her innocence.

    Chantal November 12, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t think you guys need to do anything different. Emelia will learn the nuances eventually. At least she was complimenting your hubby. My 3 year old son was in the shower with me the other day and he poked my stomach and said “Mommy your tummy is all jiggly, why is your tummy all jiggly???”. UGH

    Shannon November 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I wouldn’t say anything. She’ll figure out that that’s not something you generally tell people outside of the bedroom as she gets older and no need to discourage this otherwise very positive character trait. :) But yeah, closing the door to the bathroom might be an option. We’re working on that one in our house, too.

    Anonymous November 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I have a friend whose daughter went through this at about the same age. We live in a very open otwn where it’s not that unusual for toddler penii to be exposed (my pants-averse son included). Little A would approach a baby and say “I really like your eyes. I really like your arms. I really like your……all the way to I really like your penis.” humiliating her mother all the way. My daughter, who is 4, also notices these things and asks all sorts of uncomfortable questions (such as “Mommy, what’s my vagina for?” answer “that’s how babies come out of mommy bellies.”) The other day we were at Target, in the handicapped stall – so we can fit two kids and a stroller – she went, then I went. As I was puling up my pants, she said, LOUDLY, “Mommy, your bum is more hairier than mine. Why?”

    Badness Jones November 12, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Let it go HBM, I’m sure she’s forgotten about it already.

    Jill November 12, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    “Peens and Q’s”… LMAO!!

    Her Bad Mother November 12, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    badness – well, no… she refers to it whenever she helps me change Jasper. DADDY HAS A PENIS TOO YOU KNOW. IT’S A BIG ONE.

    Which, you know, fine, but I’d rather she not say it when, say, one of the little boys at her preschool has a potty training incident..

    O'Neal (The woman in charge around here) November 12, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    That is the BEST thing I have heard all week! And so eloquently put!

    It was just yesterday I was writing about the same thing in someone's comment section, and how the 2 yr old princess is always so interested in watching Daddy "make bubbles" in the potty and how well he has adapted & improved with his aim. ;) Most recently I have been on a manners mission and thought if I start it from the beginning when I am teaching her to talk, she would have no other choice but to have them permanently ingrained in her speech. The Ped thought is was hilarious the other day at a snot & sniffle visit when she asked Pink if she could look in her mouth and the snotty well mannered child cried "No thank you!" over & over again! I have to admit I WAS proud!

    PS – For what it's worth I personally think you've got a great rack! ;)

    Anonymous November 12, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    that kid is motherf**ing funny!

    Karen MEG November 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I’d take the compliment and run. Especially if they were about boobs, because I have none.

    We’ve had a few of those comments but they’ve tended to stay in the house (ie. son: wow, Daddy’s is SOOOO much bigger … gotta love that!). We haven’t addressed each and every instance directly, it sort of went away with the boy… and the girl, not a big deal.

    Good luck with your cutie!

    Anonymous November 12, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    My son was in the changing room at the pool with his dad and shouted at the top of his voice “My daddy’s got a big winkle!” I almost peed my pants when he told me.

    I just let him say what he wants and ignore him, he usually shuts up. It’s when he calls bras ‘boobie things’ in the middle of shops I cringe a little.

    And he’s another one with good manners when he’s cross, and when he’s being disobedient, “Come here.” “No thank you mummy!”

    I love toddlers

    Goldfish November 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Too much! A few years ago our oldest son happened in on my poor husband who had just gotten out of bed and was, well… tumescent. Husband was mortified. Son was impressed, and said so. “Whoa-hoa, Dad! Nice one!” he exclaimed. We just kind of let it slide, and it seems that he’s figured out the subtleties of complimenting genitalia now. We hope.

    Niksmom November 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    ROFLMAO! Hey, thanks for the linky-love. :-)

    Um, are I say this is what happens when you let her play with a giant phallus? Really. And, hey, at least she didn’t say “Nice penis, motherf****er!” ;-)

    I think afer falling down laughing on the floor, I would ultimately ignore it and pray it goes away as she gets a little older.

    Niksmom November 12, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Oops, that should have read “dare I say…”

    JNo November 12, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    I’m wiping tears from my eyes – at least your daughter said it to your husband. My darling son asked my mother about “pop, sleeping naked”. She just calmly said yes. So then he asked (and I quote), “So, do you touch his pee pee?”. Her jaw hit the floor and then she started laughing. I just tried to calmly say that was a rude question and on we went. Gotta love 4 year olds!

    Tuesday Girl November 12, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    My husband got a “wow what a big penis you have dad” once and he still hasn’t stopped talking about it.
    I had to remind him a 4 year olds “big” is relative.

    NikiN November 12, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    I think I may have a suggestion. I personally believe that those basic social compliments should be directed at something somebody has chosen or picked. So…a haircut, buttons on a shirt, shoelaces, new glasses, etc. are all things which, when complimented, really refer back to the wearer’s sense of style or grace or whatever. Giving someone a compliment on things they have no real choice on (“nice legs,” “pretty nose,” “great boobs” and etc.) is moving away from complimenting the other person to making a statement of enjoyment/preference. Hm…am I making any sense? There are times when you gaze into a loved one’s eyes and tell her how gorgeous those eyes are, or hell, even times when you might point out this beauty to a friend or even stranger. (Although I find it really weird and a bit uncomfortable if a stranger compliments my height…um, thanks?) In any case, that is a different sort of compliment. I think they type of compliments Emilia is trying on can easily be directed away from all body parts, whether they are intimate or not. And now that I think about it, while penii and vaginas and boobs are clearly private, other people might feel uncomfortable about things like legs or noses or what have you. Meh, now I’m just rambling so I’ll sign off.

    Backpacking Dad November 12, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Teach her to say “Nice package!” instead.

    Or “wang”.

    “Penis” is so clinical and impersonal.

    The Queen of Hyperbole November 12, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    My son has paid similar compliments to my husband. And you know, nothing makes a man feel like more of a man than getting compliments on his dick from his three-year-old son.

    Even more horrifying: there was a time–don’t even ask me how this got started–when my daughter referred to her vagina as her cooter. Luckily, that era came to an end.

    Anyway, maybe you can try explaining that some parts are private, blah-blah-blah, and that these parts should not, therefore, be pointed to and talked about. Or you can take our route and simply leave the room and laugh your ass off.

    geeklady November 12, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    A far more important question is how do you avoid guffawing in these situations??

    I’m going to be horrible when GeekBaby is older, I don’t think I could keep myself from laughing, horrified or not.

    Rachel November 12, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    “Why THank you very much, your mother seems to think so”

    No wait, that’s even more inappropriate.

    My daughter once commented that my son (an infant) has a penis, just like DAddy, except DAddy’s is bigger. My husband fell on the floor laughing and my neighbor turned bright pink. Special stuff.

    Momo Fali November 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    I guess I’d say something about privacy.. Not over the top, but just enough to make her understand that private parts are just that. My kids are very comfortable with their bodies, but know they shouldn’t walk around Target without any pants on. Well, my son might…but, that’s another story.

    Her Bad Mother November 12, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Rachel – yeah, she comments on Jasper’s wee all the time. Like, IS THAT HIS SMALL PENIS MOMMY? I;m just waiting for her to announce it to the neighbors.

    Michelle November 12, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    That is fabulous. I don’t think that anything really needs to be said about it. Peanut went through a “reach into mom’s shirt and grab her breast” phase (still does occasionally), but she only does it when we’re talking before bed. I do think that she might continue to praise his penis in the bathroom, but if you don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s unlikely that she’ll do it elsewhere. She may praise another penis if she sees it, but I don’t think a fellow toddler will mind. But then again, I’m partial to precocious children so… maybe I’m not the best person to ask. I think it’s adorable.

    Syko November 12, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    The great thing is going to be when they’re teens and she tells the love of Jasper’s adolescent life about his tiny penis.

    It’s definitely a problem. You don’t want to make things seem “dirty” but at the same time you can’t have them telling the cashier at the supermarket about Daddy’s nice penis. I’d pretty much ignore it, but try to bring up, perhaps at another time so she doesn’t sense a reprimand, the facts about some things are very private. She should be getting the talk about not letting strangers touch her anyway, maybe you can work it in?

    My grandson at age two announced to my next door neighbor that his uncle had a “GIGANTIC weenie”. Huh.

    R November 12, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    LOL HBM!! That is too funny, and I don’t know what I would/will do in this situation, but sounds as if you have some great suggestions… wow, what a way to end my work day :) thanks! have a great night!!

    Overflowing Brain November 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    I think I’d not say anything for now.

    If she complements his wang again, perhaps I’d gently say thank you and try to impress that penises (penii?) are private and perhaps should not be discussed with other people.

    But mostly, I’d probably just save this blog for her first date (in 22 years). Nothing like making everyone uncomfortable all at once.

    Domestic Extraordinaire November 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I tend to agree with the others on that she won’t have much of a chance to see other penises. However, if you are worried that she might tell someone in preschool that her daddy has a bigger penis I would think that because she has a baby brother and knows that her dad is also a boy but bigger that no one would really think much of it. At least she isn’t grabbing people’s penises and proclaiming that they have “peanuts”

    Issas Crazy World November 12, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Funniest post award of 2008 goes to Her Bad Mother.

    I have no idea what I’d say. I guess thank you and let it go. If you don’t make it a big deal, she won’t either…or some kind of psycho-babble like that. Personally, I would have a hard time not rolling on the ground laughing. My little one asked the other day why her brothers wenis (haven’t bothered to correct her, since it’s kinda cute) is so teeny compared to daddy’s. Couldn’t stop laughing. She got tired of me eventually and mover on.

    Norm November 12, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. All the way down to “two days shy of three years old and twenty-odd years off from dating.” I’m dying over here. I’m just going to go ahead and compliment your boobs now on account of the fact that they’ve helped you raise at least one AWESOME child.

    Susan November 12, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    That’s quite a dilemma! I think I’d have a hard time ignoring it completely… maybe if it came up again I’d try to say something about privacy, but no idea what. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to start explaining to my son that sometimes people want privacy in the bathroom. We’re pretty open-door around here, and the wee boy has taken a real fancy to watching his daddy go pee, so the topic’s going to come up pretty soon. Another joy of parenthood!

    J from Ireland November 12, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    That is just hilarios. Great manners, I would just say thanks and no more, though I would be in stiches laughing. It reminds me of my daughter when she was that age(now 11) watching her Dad pee and telling him ” you have a big nose Daddy(which he does)…. and a big willy too” It still makes us laugh today.

    J from Ireland November 12, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    um, hilarious I mean.

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