Looking for Mr. Fart Boy
By Margaret Renkl
OCTOBER 19, 1998: "David has a new nickname," my oldest son remarked the other day during his after-school snack.
"New nit-name," his two-year-old brother mimicked, grinning proudly, a gob of milk-softened graham cracker tumbling down the front of his shirt. In his bouncy seat at the other end of the table, the baby gurgled and dribbled his own drool-and-milk brew. I considered going into the kitchen to get a clean napkin for both of them, but I didn't want to miss the end of my son's story.
We were gathered at the dining-room table for our usual "Today in First Grade" report from the only one of us who had actually left the house for the outside world that day, and the only person who had spoken to me in more than monosyllables for over eight hours.
"New nit-name," my toddler repeated again.
"Why does he always do that?" my firstborn scowled. "He's always copying me."
"So what's David's new nickname?" I prompted, ignoring the question and attempting to move this story along. In any case, my son already knows by heart my standard h e ' s-imitating-you-because-he-thinks-you're-the-greatest-hero-in-all-the-world explanation.
"Mr. Fart Boy," he replied, leaning over to pick up a dropped cracker.
"Fart Boy," my toddler repeated.
I did my best to look extremely serious. "Honey, that's a very mean nickname. Fart is not a polite word. Besides, people can't help it when they pass gas."
"Fart," his brother repeated once again, pleased with its guttural, Anglo-Saxon sound. "Fart. Fart. Fart."
"No, no sweetheart," I said, shaking my head emphatically. "Don't say that; that's not a nice word."
"FAAART!" he crowed again, bouncing a little in his booster seat and spewing cracker crumbs into his baby brother's face.
"That's enough," I said sharply, scooping up the suddenly screaming baby and hoping my tone of voice would somehow communicate what words could not.
"Fart," he said again, this time in a stage whisper. I groaned. What a lovely word for my little boy to announce when his grandparents arrive next week.
"See how annoying it is, Mom? Now he'll be saying 'Fart Boy' for the rest of the day."
"Fart Boy," his brother repeated.
"I told you you're not supposed to be saying that word," I said to both of them, still jiggling the fussy baby.
"Well, we sure can't call him Mr. Pass Gas Boy," said my logical son. "That's worse than Mr. Fart Boy. It sounds stupid."
"Zounds dupid," repeated the toddler.
"Now listen," I said, "you just can't keep saying these things around your little brother. 'Stupid' is not a nice word either. You shouldn't be using such words in the first place and you sure shouldn't be calling your friends mean nicknames."
"Me nit-name," the toddler emphasized, pursing his crumb-crusted lips and furrowing his eyebrows. "Me nit-name."
"You shut up!" screamed the greatest hero in all the world to his own personal Xerox machine.
"Waaaaaaaaaah!" screamed the outraged baby to everyone in the room.
I decided to let this particular lapse in polite language gobetter to make soothing noises for the sake of the infant and a greater moral point for the sake of the frustrated narrator of this tale. "Let's get back to David for a minute, honey...."
But before I could deliver my standard tolerance-and-understanding-for-all speech, my completely exasperated son interrupted.
"We don't call him," he said, pausing momentarily while he considered his next-youngest brother through the corner of one eye, "We don't call him you know, because he, um, passes gas. It's really a compliment."
Somehow I was willing to bet David's mother would not consider this nickname a tribute. But I was also willing to concede that a 6-year-old boy's idea of an endorsement is not always identical to his middle-aged mother's.
"A compliment," I repeated.
"A comma," the toddler confirmed, delaying the end of this story one more time.
"You hush," I barked, whirling around and wagging a finger in the Great Interrupter's shocked face. The startled toddler instantly started howling in his booster seat. The baby renewed his screams in my arms.
My number-one son grinned at this turn of events.
"Never mind," I muttered, shifting my number-three son to the crook of one arm and pulling my number-two son onto my opposite hip. "Just finish your story."
Standing there beside my milk-smeared dining-room table while a child wailed in each of my arms, I suddenly wanted something to make sense. I'd spent the entire day alone with two miniature people whose combined vocabulary was insufficient to make sense of a single Dr. Seuss book. Suddenly all I wanted was to hear the end of an actual story.
My son, however, concentrating once again on his graham crackers, showed no sign of continuing. I nudged his chair with my toe. "Would you please tell me," I begged over the wails of his brothers, "WHY YOU CALL THAT KID THE FART BOY?"
"Easy," my son shouted over the din. "It's because he's the best one at this."
With that he raised his elbow dramatically, inserted his right hand under his bare arm, and started pumping his left elbow up and down. A series of resonant, entirely authentic explosions filled the air. "Armpit farts!" he exclaimed proudly. The only thing missing was the stink.
His brothers were so impressed by this auditory assault that they both fell silent in mid-scream. "Armpit fart!" the middle boy announced with delight, enunciating perfectly.
By then the big boy, encouraged by his audience's response, had moved to Fake Fart Stage Two, pressing the heels of both hands against his mouth and blowing. The babies in my arms were bellowing with laughter as more and more burbles of simulated human gas filled the air.
My much-admired oldest son was preparing to attempt what he claimed was David's greatest gaseous feat, an under-the-sweaty-knee hand maneuver, when my husband walked in. "Wook, Daddy," our middle son said, pointing at a doubled-over boy who had suddenly reached new heights of heroism in his younger brother's eyes. "Fart Boy!"
Mr. Fart Boy just beamed.
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