Saturday, May 5, 2012


“Of course we can write on it; that’s why Sharpies were invented,” I said. Maren’s face lit up. Even when you’re a very good girl, there’s no denying the universal appeal of naughtiness, and here I was, poised with a juicy marker to scribble on the ketchup bottle. Her mother had never told her not to write on ketchup bottles with markers, I could almost hear her thinking, but something that much fun just had to wrong.

My favorite kindergartener and I had been spending the afternoon together, and instead of doing dumb grown-up things like shopping, complaining about our lives and whining about our health, we’d been using the doctor kit to give pretend shots to the Chihuahua, dressing up a fleet of naked Barbies and reading Arthur books to each other. Now, instead of spending an overpriced happy hour in a crowded bar, we were sitting in the kitchen, preparing to tuck into a feast of pigs in a blanket, applesauce and milk. But when I opened a new bottle of ketchup, it seemed to have collected some pent-up energy, shooting all the way across Maren’s plate and landing right at the rim.

So I got out a pen and wrote all over the ketchup bottle. “Squirts Really Far,” I wrote. “Good for Food Fights.” The delicious evil inherent in even thinking about a food fight made her clap her hands together.

They say never to do anything with a child that you don’t want to keep repeating every day for a year, but I’d started this little arts and craft session, so I was happy to oblige when she asked for seconds of applesauce and then wanted to write on that label, too. I provided testimonials (“Tastes good.” – Maren) and some serving suggestions (“Eat two helpings!”) The defaced bottles were the first things Maren wanted to show her Mom when she was picked up, and I could tell that every foodstuff in their household would soon be getting the Sharpie treatment, possibly including bananas.

Although my children would be happy to offer long testimonies on my mediocrities as a mother, the truth is that I’m really saving myself for grandmotherhood. I love to taunt them with tales of how I’ll feed their kids potato chips for breakfast and let them watch unlimited brain-rotting television. “You can’t do that!” they usually shriek, and I just chuckle darkly. I’ve learned just a couple things about children, and one is that they love, love, love naughtiness – not necessarily being naughty themselves, but watching others cross the line.

I remember reading aloud the Betsy-Tacy series to Mary Katherine a few years ago. Even writing more than seventy years ago, that Maude Hart Lovelace knew the kind of naughtiness that would thrill kids. I got to the point where I could tell how great the evil was by how still Mary Katherine would become, as if she was afraid to miss a word. When the girls pretended they were beggars, she did not move for long, long moments. And the night when I read about how the girls cut each other’s hair, I looked up to discover that Emma had crept into the room and was sitting on the edge of the bed. This naughtiness was too good to miss.

Mary has always loved a good villain, and she liked to skirt right up to the edge of badness in her day. After seeing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever one year, she spent the next several months “playing Hurdman.” She would become a member of that play’s rabble-rousing family, and I would be expected to register shock and horror at her naughtiness. “The Hurdmans have just covered the cat with peanut butter!” I would gasp, and she would run around the house for a while, and then inform me that she’d just burned down the school. “Oh, Hurdmans!” I would wail, and her angelic face would light with glee.

Why is evil more fun than goodness? I’m sure I wrote a paper or two about it in grad school, and I’m sorry to report that I think Paradise Lost was involved in at least one of them. These days, though, I’m keeping it simple.  Make a kid laugh and figure out a new way to kill time that seems naughty, but is really harmless. That’s what I call a good day.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! You really nailed this description of how even the nicest of children are titillated and excited by naughtiness. Now I'm wondering how much of this stays with us and heightens our enjoyment of what we decide are sinful foods.