Image of Koko screaming, rendered as a black and white logo.
John John is almost 6 and the world of knock-knock jokes has arrived unceremoniously on our door step. I vaguely remember some David Cross bit that had to do with hating family gatherings because of all the knock-knock jokes he had to endure from his nieces and nephews, and I only am thinking about it for the first time because we are literally under assault.
The thing is, knock-knock jokes are by nature totally lame. How could they become even less tolerable? By kids thinking that the structure of the joke is the joke, so as the adult we are forced to part-take in meaningless set ups like, “Knock knock,” “Who’s there?” “Truck.” “Truck who?” “Truckee,” (then child laughs maniacally) or whathaveyou. I made that one up to represent because the actual versions I’ve been told, which have been so so many, are so unmemorable I cannot even recall a single one. I believe that today alone I have endured dozens. Literally zero made the recall grade. I really tried but, nothing.
However! There can be a silver lining to such inanity. Especially if you are married to John Hoppin! At breakfast today, we were both indulging John John as he was bandying about his new found craft. We even told him some vintage knock-knock jokes of the “orange you glad I didn’t say banana” variety. But it went on so long and knock-knock patience was wearing thin….when John turned to John John and said:
“Who’s there?” said John John, delighted that Papa was playing the game.
“Your father who?”
“It’s your father,” said John, “Open the door.”
I immediately started crying from laughter, which made John start crying from laughter. For minutes we were laughing so hard no sound came out, wiping our eyes in a feedback loop of hysteria. John John got so mad at us, partly because he didn’t understand what was so funny, but mostly because we were no longer being his knock-knock pawns.
It’s been hours and I still can hardly write this out because it is cracking me up so hard. Either it was hilarious or my brain has been cracked by too much child humor; I can’t tell.
Koko is now big enough to be trusted to walk next to me through a parking lot. She won’t run off putting herself in harm’s way because she knows the rules and mostly abides. Number one rule, of course, is holding my hand through the parking lot. But when we are holding hands through a parking lot, old habits have a way of creeping in and I still instinctively make the pinky-thumb-wrist-lock on her sometimes. You know, the kind you do when they are newly ambulatory babies prone to breaking from your handhold, rushing off to certain danger. It is not conscious and I would not have even noticed I do it, except for the little voice recently.
“Mama, you’re hurting my ankle.”
I looked down at Koko, confused. Her ankle appeared fine. “Your ankle?”
“You’re hurting my…little ankle,” she said, hesitating. “My ankie?” she added, helpfully.
At this point I realize she is referring to her wrist and just about melt from the cuteness.
She still refers to most any joint as an ankie lately – shoulder, elbow, you name it. But I am trying not to put the lock on her hand ‘ankie’ anymore lest I cause discomfort, to say nothing of preventing her from being the big girl she is.
It’s such an amazing journey to watch the kids as they work through understanding and the English Language. John John just started Kindergarten and is being exposed to the wide wide world outside of his relatively sheltered pre-school existence. He knew about things in pre-school, like Star Wars, and Power Rangers Ninja Steel, and Ninjago, but “knew” in a way that’s like he’s the fourth person in a game of kid-culture telephone. But now, he’s at Kindergarten. He is around kids his age through 8th grade. They “know” things and he’s impressed. He’s learning and trying his best to hold his own.
We have a small fake game boy in the house. It’s not the height of modern technology, but it has a color screen and a ton of games, at least by what the box says. I won it at Christmas though still haven’t opened it or powered it up. But John John loves to look at the box. The box says it’s for ages 8+. He knows he’s too young to open it to play (plus, it’s mine – right?) but is holding out till he is old enough.
So, he comes home from school the other day asking me, when he turns eight, can he also play Fork Knife. His question was in such earnest, I had to turn away to crack my smile at the cuteness.
But this episode reminded me of a few things that I have been meaning to write about and need to do it before too much more time passes.
It was a weekend morning, and we were at the breakfast table. The kids were getting rowdy due to hunger and I was making toast.
“I’m hungry!” the kids complained.
“The toast will be done in a minute,” I said, as I took the pieces out of the toaster and began buttering them.
“That toast is bad,” John John declared.
“What do you mean? It has butter and jam. It’s going to be good!” I said in exasperated tones.
“No, it’s bad,” John John assured me. “It’s not kind.”
I have so many questions.
John’s sunglasses case is on the kitchen table waiting to be put back in the car. John John saddles up to the table and starts messing with the case. “Papa, your glasses are on the table,” he informs us.
“We know,” says John, “just leave them alone.”
John John picks up the case and starts messing with it again. Not being super rough, but what is the purpose of touching something like that – it’s only going to potentially damage the contents.
“Be gentle with them,” says John, quickly followed by, “John John, yuk! Stop kissing my glasses!”
Koko’s on her own trip, with much influence from her big brother. Right now she’s on a Mother Goose kick, her favorite rhyme being “Humpty Humpty.”
I can’t wait to see what comes next.
John John was recently sick – high fever, general malaïse. You know. Sick. Of course, as soon as he was getting better, Koko came down with the same symptoms. Unfortunately, I’d run out of those ear thermometer shields by then, so had to go pick some up from the pharmacy and took John John with me.
We walked in to the Walgreens and went straight to the cold and flu aisle in search of those shields. They were, happily, easy to find and our shopping excursion was blissfully brief. “Let’s go,” I said to John John, who was rubbernecking all around the medicinal displays.
One in particular had drawn his attention. It was a little card jutting out from a cold product, calling you to come and buy it for congestion relief. The poor cartoon woman on the ad looked miserable. Red nose, watery eyes rolling back in her head, a tissue in hand, and corks up her nostrils. I’ve felt just that way before.
“Why did she have corks in her nose, Mama?” the ever-inquisitive one asked.
We were walking toward the check out already, and there was a line at the counter. A perfect chance to kill some time while simultaneously growing some empathetic reasoning and logic in the boy, my parental-self thought.
“Well,” I asked, “How would you feel if you had corks in your nose?”
He considered this with some seriousness and thought.
“Angry,” he finally replied.
Then, “Mama, why are you laughing? What’s funny?”
Nothing, my dear. Absolutely nothing.
CSN also said: Teach Your Parents Well. Clearly that is happening.
I want to write something that’s never been written before,
I want to write the hole in the O
My thinking is the inking,
My belief is the leaf
Study of the Artist as a Patient
What’s The Matter With Me? is a podcast I’ve been working on since April. It examines my life as a person with Multiple Sclerosis. I release a new episode about once a week and they’re posted on Whatsthematterwithme.org as well as Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Currently, I’m up to episode 27.
Podcast As Social Practice
I’m an artist, and I’ve taken that approach to What’s The Matter With Me? My artist statement reads, “I believe in using the transformative power of creativity to achieve social justice.” I think of it as self-portraiture.
In Our Own Voices
Disabled people are too often invisible, and spoken about in the voices of others. We are cared for, and sometimes pitied, and too often we don’t have the chance to speak up in our own voices and to determine our own destinies.
Growing Connections and Building Empathy
The What’s The Matter With Me? Podcast connects me to my family, friends, caregivers, the disabled community, and the community-at-large. I hope that thinking about my life as a disabled person and the experiences of others fosters empathy and develops my Disability Consciousness.
John John is still very much in the inquisitive “why” stage, and it seems like the questions often come at inopportune times for me, like when I’m trying to merge on a crowded freeway, or we are trying to finish getting dinner on the table. But instead of setting a boundary to get some space, I often just give in to answering these questions – it’s like some part of me truly believes that if I answer, then the subject will be closed and the questions will stop. Of course, they never do.
It drives John nuts, all the back and forth that happens with John John and me. He can’t understand why I let myself get sucked in. Frankly, neither do I. Which brings me to this story.
Yesterday, John John uncovered this plate I’d gotten from a thrift store when he was littler and never found useful as an actual plate, and so relegated it to the toy area. I also did not understand the plate, and something about that disturbed me and made me uncomfortable using it. For example, if the little one is the baby, then the Salt and Pepper shakers are the parents. What was the baby condiment supposed to be? And, why was the partition at the left so small? “The baby condiment is red, and the partitioned area is small. Maybe it is supposed to be for ketchup and the baby is ketchup,” you might logically think. Except that there are holes in the baby’s lid. You may not be able to see it in this picture, but there they are. Also, why would salt and pepper’s child be ketchup? The lack of logic of this plate bothered me, and these thoughts would run through my head every time I saw the plate, and I was relieved to relegate it to the toy drawer.
But here it was, out, and John John asking to use it on the alternate days from when he wanted to use the other plate I got at the same time, from the same thrift store, that also bothers me (it appears to be a cute plate with the alphabet running around the edge, but upon closer inspection it had only ABCABCABCABCABC printed around the border, teaching nobody anything, and just looking like it says CAB CAB CAB at each and every glance…TOY DRAWER).
So, John John brought the dog plate out. I was preparing dinner. He began coming at me from all angles. I’m deflecting, trying to get food done. John is sitting at the counter, deftly ignoring us both and playing chess with someone online.
“What are those black and white containers, Mama?”
“Salt and Pepper”
“How do you know?”
“Because they are in shakers that we use for salt and pepper. Also, salt is white. Pepper is black.”
“What’s in that little one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do!”
“No, I don’t.”
“YES, you do!”
“Maybe it’s, like, chili pepper flakes or something.”
“Because it’s red, and chili pepper flakes are red.”
“Yes, John John.”
“What’s a flake?”
I’m trying to think of how to describe the chili pepper that we’ve seen in shakers at pizza parlors, despite the fact that those shakers are always larger than the salt or pepper shaker; my mind’s a torrent as I also try to finish the salad dressing. At this very moment, John (who I thought was ignoring our ricochet conversation altogether), piped up:
“It’s someone who says they’ll do something, but doesn’t.”
I just about plotzed.
John John loves his sister, but sometimes he needs to exclude her just to have something for himself. Some space in an idea that he doesn’t have to share everything.
He often likes to engage in food related pretend play, where he is the server, John and I are the customers. Some days he is selling ice cream, some days he is selling restaurant food. Some of the time, he will tell me, “You and Papa can have this, but Koko can’t have any, okay?”
It cracks me up that he gets some satisfaction withholding pretend food from a girl who is not even around or interested when this type of activity is usually happening.
She is around, though, on occasion. And then, he will have to make up a food that she can’t even pretend to eat.
The other day he was playing ice-cream shop.
“Mama, do you want ice cream?”
“Okay. What flavor is it?”
“It’s a grown up flavor, so Koko can’t have any.”
“What kind is it?”
“It has caff, caff…” he struggled to find the word for that thing we don’t let him drink. We drink a lot of coffee and tea, and he knows it’s not for kids.
“Caff…caff… It has alcohol,” he finally came up with.
Yes, that is the other interdit for children in our house.
**on a side note, he was recently playing restaurant and asked me what I wanted to order. I asked him for an ice cream sandwich, and he goes, “That’s disgusting!!” and I realized he had never had an ice cream sandwich, so took the words literally. Ice cream sandwich, extra mustard, hold the mayo. Yuk.