Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Stories From The Edge

In the pantheon of preschool fiction there is no genre more tradition-steeped, more hallowed, more universal than the potty talk story. (For other posts about kids' stories click here, here and here.)

When we start our storytelling each year, we do so without the confinement of rules. Anything goes, and so unaccustomed are children to this state of affairs in their lives, that it doesn’t take long for them to begin searching for boundaries. You should see the kids’ faces as they test out the words “poop,” “pee,” “toilet,” or even “underwear”. There’s always a pause, a grin, and often a sly, sidelong look. They’re walking on the edge and they know it.

My response has evolved over the years, but since we are going to be reading these stories aloud, I’ve learned that there are certain words that one simply can’t shout in a crowded Circle Time, “poop” and “pee” being the two most prominent. These words have the power to turn an otherwise peaceful class of preschoolers into a wild and rollicking mob. This in mind, when these two words come up, I calmly state, “I don’t want to write that word.”

Beyond that, however, I’m a faithful secretary until, as it always does, the potty talk gets out of hand and we find it necessary (usually before the December holiday break) to make a rule relegating potty talk to the bathroom.

But until that day arrives, we delight in the normally forbidden. In most cases, it’s clear to me that the authors are thinking of their audiences’ response, expecting, and usually getting, huge laughs.

Here’s a classic from Elliot (4) that has it all:
A ghost was putting a underwear on his head. And then it went to the bathroom and flushed itself down the toilet. And then he popped out of the bathroom door. Then he drived the car upside down. And then he went back home and flushed his whole self down the toilet. And then he popped out of the house door. And then he was going to go to the beach. He drank the salty water. And then he drived the car upside down again.

You can tell that Elliot is one of the older kids because he clearly understands that you can’t rely on the potty talk alone for laughs. The popping out of doors and upside down driving were true comic innovations. I think this may have also been the first of our stories to involve flushing living things down the toilet, an apparently hilarious innovation that inspired a host of creative imitators.

Jack (3):
One time a king was inside a castle. And then a rooter tooter comed. And then the rooter tooter saved the king. Then the king flushed down the toilet. Then he got smash. And then he goed like this (frantic hand gestures). Then he knocked on the Boo Boo Baa Baa (which means, "silly robot"). That time morning he flushed down the ghost. He flushed down his self. And then he was over a play dough. This time the morning he flushed down his self more.

Lukas (3) used the flushing convention as a jumping off point for some of his own original comic bits:
A ghost got a people and flushed it down. And then a talking TV came. And then a blanket flew over. And a saw blade, and cut the blanket in two pieces. And then it happened, a bunny is talking, and said, “What’s a bumbee?” And that’s the end.

And Luna (3) cut out all the other nonsense and got right to the joke:
Why did the rat get flushed down the toilet? Because a pirate made a hot dog out of his hand!

That’s right, Luna’s a girl. And while potty talk stories know no gender, it is true that fewer girls tell the potty talk stories. And when they do employ these highly charged words, they tend to do so as a way to indicate humor, rather than as a core element of the story.

Esme (4):
“Goo Goo Gaa Gaa.” That’s baby talk. And then the baby falls on its underwear and bonks its head on the floor. “Goo goo gaa gaa goo goo.” That’s what the baby says. And then it drinks some milk. And then it’s cow milk. Chocolate milk. And then the baby says nothing. Then the baby drinks some juice. Apple juice. And then the baby falls asleep.

And Katherine (3):
My story is about a splat bat, a pony potty and a donkey hair. And there was shoes that scared the horses away.

Contrast these two milder, yet no less entertaining, tales, to this potty talk classic from Mikey (4), where the scatological drives the narrative:
Once upon a time there was a ghost. Then he ate an avocado. He put on some glasses. Tomato walked along. And then he ate a piece of banana. He talked on a tomato. And then he put his self in a garbage can. And then he went to the bathroom. And then he flushed the toilet and got some underpants on. And then the family come home and said, “Hi, tomato. I’m going to the bathroom.”

During this year's Circle Time discussion about potty talk, there was debate about the word “underwear”. Is it a potty talk word or not? We were split on the matter and when we can't reach consensus we tend to err on the side of not making a rule.

The following day, Alex (3), a boy who had never told a potty talk story before, dictated this one:
Captain Underpants. Okay, he broke some glass and then some bad guys came and Captain Underpants threw underwear at them. Then he broke some glasses. Then he ate some food. He ate all the food in the fridge and freezer and got a stomachache.

Since we'd decided the day before that "underwear" did not qualify as potty talk, I read the story aloud at Circle Time, but it was clear that Alex wasn’t having as much fun as he’d anticipated. The following morning he informed me, “I’m not going to tell Captain Underpants stories any more because it’s potty talk.”

I replied, “But we decided that underpants isn’t a potty talk word.”

He answered decisively, “I’m just not going to tell those stories any more. I’ll just tell Transformer ones.”

1 comment:

dv.x.3 said...

OK, so now you're making me want to transcribe Jules's stories, to preserve them for posterity, but also force myself to SLOW DOWN and LISTEN to my kid. The other night he told me the creepiest story about a girl bear cub who "goed for a walk down a dark dark path in the forest" and, when she saw she was being followed by a "reindeer with big sharp antlers," she "shivered with fright." Spine-tingling stuff.

Btw, Jules's ultimate insult to me lately has been "YOU GO put yourself in the GARBAGE CAN" --just goes to show there's a whole spectrum of potty words, and boy can they be creative about springing a new one on you.