Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paper Training

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating his Christmas pie
He stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plum
And said, "What a good boy am I!"

After reading that, I headed for the kitchen, my size 3 Keds squeaking on the linoleum, and stuck my thumb directly into a freshly baked pie. I pulled out my thumb, and the golden, steaming crust broke open like a volcano. It was an apple pie, as it turned out. For a brief moment I pondered having never actually seen a plum pie. The only thing stuck to my thumb now was boiling hot, sticky apple syrup. I forgot about plums, screamed, and did the hot thumb dance. Mom looked over her shoulder and, without any mention whatsoever regarding what a good boy was I, whacked me with a newspaper.

I love the newspaper, which is surprising considering my upbringing. I read it cover-to-cover every day. My parents did too, especially on Sunday, the special sections strewn about on our big dining table like assorted chocolates, anchored by steaming cups of coffee.

I never saw my parents roll the newspapers back up into weapons. Perhaps there were fifty of them hidden strategically about the house, or maybe my parents kept one in a holster strapped to their thigh. When our family dog got sick and started to barf, preceded by that surprisingly goose-like honk…honk…honk…, Dad yelled "No!" and swatted her on the flank with a newspaper produced from thin air, as if it had been resting like a loaded mousetrap under his trigger finger. When I feel like I might throw up, I need someone to pet my back and softly repeat, "Poor baby." I don't need to be told not to do it, because barfing is self-punishing. To be swatted mid-puke would be an awful indignity.

I got a puppy and a little sister at about the same time, although I think it was a coincidence. When the time came for potty training, the puppy got the newspaper like a Steve Gadd drum solo, but Jodi didn't get swatted once. Maybe, like me, she learned by watching. You can learn a lot from a newspaper. I think that's why they say it smarts.

Newspapers don't really hurt that much, but the noise is such a crisp crack that you think it should have hurt, so you cry just in case. Smarting on my behind and in my head, betrayed by my Little Golden Book of Nursery Rhymes, which had been planted on me by my very own mother, who was now putting her smoking newspaper back into its holster, I protested.

"I only did it because Jack did it first!"

I always forget: Jack is my Dad's name too.

Whack!

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