Further “not in the manual” chapters

By Mir
September 26, 2008

My favorite overused joke is about how once Chickadee becomes a teenager, it’s either military boarding school (for her) or the Witness Protection Program (for me). I still feel woefully ill-equipped to handle a teenager, but I guess I’ll be getting one in a few years whether I’m ready or not.

The thing is, though, everything’s a moving target. I remember having one of those deep, philosophical conversations, once, with a mentor who was already a senior citizen when I was in college. “I think about it, now,” I said, “and 50 or 60 seems really OLD, to me. But maybe that’s because I’m 20. Maybe when I’m 30, I’ll see 70 as old. And when I’m 40, 80. Do you ever FEEL old or does it keep shifting like that?” He assured me that the “scary old” age just keeps moving forward as you age (and at least so far in my experience, that’s been true).

So, really, maybe I needn’t worry. Maybe by the time we get there, it’ll be okay. I’ve certainly figured out lots of things I never expected, so far.

Why, those bonus chapters that we all know should come with the parenting manual are just piling up, around here. And they’re all sorts of things I never imagined being part of my experience. Consider these recently-added items, each suitable for a dedicated chapter:

It’s Only Hair. No, perhaps you didn’t picture yourself with a long-haired hippie of a son. Perhaps some days it’s less amusing than others when people ask what your “little girl” would like and he pipes up, “ACTUALLY, I’m a boy!” This same child will assure you that he loves being awesome, because he is and you didn’t squash him over something silly like a haircut.

How To Do Cheap At-Home Hair Streaks. The secret is waterproof Sharpies. NON-waterproof Sharpies will leave ink on your hands, your clothes, and your sheets. (Go ahead, ASK ME how I know this.)

Baby Steps to Laundry Freedom. Sure, you have to do all of the laundry for a while. Then you can recruit the kids to pair their socks. After a while, you can just give them a basket of clean, folded clothes to put away. Next, it’s an unsorted basket and zipping your lips about folding techniques. And finally—sweet freedom—they can be taught to launder independently. I hear.

Discussing Testicles at the Dinner Table. I’m a big believer in teaching kids the proper terms for things, but they also need to know the slang. And feel like they can ask questions and get honest answers from their parent. It turns out that there are a LOT of alternative terms for the family jewels. I hope you’re hungry!

Discussing Homosexual Sex at the Dinner Table. Testicles are dinner conversation, but “But wait… HOW do they… you know…?” should wait until after dessert. We’re not ANIMALS, people.

Let’s All Use Our Inside Voice, Continued. This one begins in early childhood, of course, but as the children age it turns out that it’s Mom who really needs to learn how to turn down the volume. Even when a big glass of water has just been spilled onto her keyboard by a kid who was “just twirling a little” in her desk chair.

Defusing Responsibility: Hazard Objects and Light Sources. Everyone knows that if you have a sibling, anything left where it doesn’t believe either belongs to or was touched last by someone other than you. Ditto for lights left on. As a parent, it’s your job to lovingly explain why it doesn’t matter one bit whose it is or why it was left on, it just needs to be dealt with before your eyelid begins to twitch.

Defusing Responsibility: Actions and Disappearances. Similarly, broken items are always someone else’s fault, and missing items were last used by The Bad Child. Much like learning to bluff in poker, the resilient parent learns to appear unruffled by problems with missing/broken items belonging to the children, and to appear just on the verge of complete insanity to extract a confession about personal belongings not meant to be touched by the children in the first place.

Ignoring bullies didn’t work when you were a kid, and it still doesn’t. Telling your kid to ignore a bully only confirms that you are too stupid to live. Suggest, instead, that your child either smiles broadly and says, “Thank you SO MUCH!” or that she look as bored as possible while replying, “And your point is…?” (This works best with a streak of purple in her hair, by the way.)

Sharing a timeless love of the arts. Most of the time, you’re hopelessly uncool. But occasionally you will have some precious knowledge which will be of some use. Such as: The last line of the greasy grimy gopher guts song is not, in fact, “… and I forgot my spoon.” It is “… and I forgot my spoon… BUT I GOT MY STRAAAAAAAW! *slurping noise*” That will net bonus points that may last an entire day.

It’s always an adventure, that’s for sure.


  1. RuthWells

    Sign me up for the freedom-from-laundry chapter. Good lord above, there are weekend that I fold 6 load of laundry and only end up with 3 pairs of underwear of my own.

  2. Megan

    Laundry freedom – does exist, can be done BUT it should be noted that some children (no fingers pointed) might possibly view the dryer as an appropriate clothes storage object. Also the top of the dryer. Also possibly the floor around the dryer…

    The two diffusing responsibilities – we JUST had a massive…erm… discussion in our house about this very thing! How strange. I remember my mother chirpily reciting an anonymous poem titled Mr Nobody. Didn’t help then – doesn’t help now. However apparently just the right manic edge to a voice will garner at least three days of moderately clean and tidy Children.

  3. mamalang

    I worried about the teenage years a bit, but I have to say that they can be fun. Worrisome, heartbreaking, and frustrating, sure. But so were the toddler years, the child years, and pre-teen years, because that’s what being a parent is. I haven’t found that one period is better or worse, just different.

    And I think you’ll do just fine…you seem to be already!

  4. Leandra

    I didn’t know that was the last line of Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts! Boy, I’m going to be the cool one when I get home!

  5. Visionsister

    My step-daughter is now 12 and fully responsible for her own laundry. Her room is a disaster area I try to avoid if I can. I can’t tell the clean stuff from the dirty, and I don’t think she can either. So the conversations at our house are mostly about how if she leaves clean clothes on the floor with the dirty and ends up washing things that were never worn, that’s wasteful. And if she always wears her best clothes back to her mom’s house, and takes an extra outfit or two with her, eventually she will have to go naked at our house. We will not buy a new wardrobe every time she comes to our house.

  6. dgm

    We began our Great Laundry Freedom Project when my daughter was 4 and I was pregnant with my son. Then my son grew up (well, he’s 5.5 now) to watch his sister fold and hang her own clothes, and he aspired to do same. Recently the 10 year old has been instructed in the sorting and washing and drying of the laundry. Soon enough my husband and I will be able to sit back on the couch scratching ourselves and drinkig beer as we watch the little labor units take up the slack. MWAHAHAHAHAAAAHAAAAAAAA!

    Oh, and the long-haired hippie son? I have one of those, only I’m the one that wants his hair long. His dad, not so much. But I contend that the kid’s head is so big that he’d look like a pumpkin with that more traditional, clean-cut boy look.

  7. ellbee

    Not having kids (yet), and having a mental age of 12 (roughly), I find myself at a loss to remember the words to the Gopher Guts song! This is going to drive me insane ALL DAY. Let’s see, there were itty bitty something somethings…mutilated something elses… crap.
    However, I do remember that the approved version sung in my childhood home ended both ways…you sang “and I forgot my spooooon” and then yelled “but not my FORK!” and commenced making disgusting eating noises.

    (something something la la laaaa!)

  8. kate

    Haha! I remember MY mom teaching me the last part of the last line! (the straw) We were on the way home from vacation Bible school. Awww. I had forgotten.

  9. Barbara

    I have been forever grateful that we get to grow-up with our children until the teen years. We get dear time to prepare. My children’s teen years have so reminded of their 3rd year – there’s a fear-inducing threat! Just kidding. Hubby and I still feel like we have to be on our toes and be constantly ready to deflect yet another unexpected ‘chapter’. Have hope. Keep the faith. Think of the butterfly on the keyboard.

  10. Jenn

    We have the “it’s only hair” chapter in our house, too, but in reverse from yours. My daughter loves her hair short. Really short. As in shorter than her brother’s. She’s just funky that way. And I have to laugh when we’re out in public and someone says, “oh- you have 3 boys?” Erm, well, no… “I’m a GIRL!” She’s also the only girl on her soccer team, but manages to blend right in (not only with her hair, but her aggressiveness on the field). So rock it, Monkey!

  11. el-e-e

    Ha! Had totally forgotten “greasy grimy gopher guts…” or so I THOUGHT! It’s still lodged in my brain somehow!

  12. LiteralDan

    Laugh if you will, but studies have shown time and time again that it really, really wasn’t me, it was him.

  13. Kemi

    “Greasy, grimy gopher guts
    Chopped up parakeets
    Mutilated monkey meats
    (and this line is optional)
    And little dirty birdie feets.”

    My MIL had a ridiculously weak stomach, and just humming the tune would send her into such a fit of dry-heaves, her whole body convulsed. Of course, my husband, who at 38 has the mental age of a 10-year-old, would sing it under his breath at EVERY opportunity.

    Naturally, it was one of the first songs my kids learned to sing. Poor Oma.


  14. Rebecca

    There is such a thing as independent laundering. I can’t fathom a day when that happens. But I’ll embrace it when it comes!

  15. Kelda

    I learned the (second-to) last line as “and me without a spoon.” A rather old-fashioned phrasing, now that I think about it.

  16. The other other Leanne

    Hee hee….I learned it this way:

    “Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,
    Chopped up baby parakeets,
    Mutilated monkey meats,
    All wrapped up in little bitty birdie feets,
    Mmmmmmmmmm, don’t forget to lick the spoon!”

  17. Mike Golch

    I would like to think that every parent goes thru this our parents did when we were teens as well.They survived it as we did.

  18. Therese

    At one point in my life, I had FOUR teenagers living in my home (19, 18, 14 and 13). I swore to my husband when this time came, we would simply abandon the house to them and flee to the woods. As of this point, I only have two teens left (19 and 17 1/2). And we have survived with house intact. Maybe not our minds, but our house.

  19. barb

    On Tuesday I had to take my boys to the pedi for a checkup. Their dad is a former police officer and requires their hair “high and tight” at all times. In the waiting room they began to play with 2 children – one an older boy with short hair and one a 4-6 yr old “girl” with the cutest afro-puffs and a plain bright red t-shirt. The “girl” asked my older son to hand “her” a toy and as he did so, my son asked “Hey girl, what’s your name?” “She” looked very offended and loudly delcared “I’m NOT a girl, I’m a BOY!” Immediately I shot a look at his/her mother, sure I had heard incorrectly, only to have the mother nod and say, in a resigned voice “Yes, he’s a boy, he hasn’t let us cut his hair in over a year so he gets mistaken for a girl all the time!” My son turned bright red, apologized to the boy, then turned to me and stage whispered “but Mom, he’s got GIRL HAIR!” Fortunately for all involved the other family got called back into an exam room at that very minute and Son and I had a chat about how people like to wear their hair in lots of different styles. In my head though, I admit to thinking “but I’ve only ever seen that particular hairdo on little girls!”

  20. Amy

    My version was

    Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts
    mutilated monkey meat
    little birdies’ dirty feet
    eyeballs floating *something* in a bowl of blood
    and I forgot my spoon
    dramatic pause
    I’ve got a strawwwwwwwwwwwwww slurp

    I am going to be going crazy all day trying to remember my missing word.

  21. MomCat

    Selective amnesia helps with the insanity. I never remember where anything is or who touched it. If something is missing, I say, “Look for it.”

    My mom told me that after we all moved out, she missed all the kid-related noise, getting us to turn off lights, pick up our things, etc. The house was so quiet. It’s hard to see ahead when they’re kids, but I try to take a dose of perspective when I’m getting out there at the corner of No and Where, near Wit’s End. Sometimes I just turn off the dang light or toss the dang sock into her room and remind myself that I’m glad I have a child to love.

  22. AdaM

    I don’t know the song, but love the lyrics already! Is there some place on the web where I can hear it?

  23. jennielynn

    I’m on the other side of the adolescent horror, (not gloating, I have a 4 and 2 year old as well, so it’s God’s way of not piling too much on) and I promise you, it’s awesome. Picture laughter and fun shopping and confidences from this beautiful young woman, hearing her talk about nascent political and social beliefs and sharing favorite books and movies. I love having a teenage girl.

  24. Flea

    We’re only now beginning to learn how to deal with bullies. My daughter has been bullied. Teaching her to go straight to the teacher or principal has been difficult, but she has a friend modeling it for her and is doing better. I wish she could give the nonchalant answer, but her temper gets the best of her.

    As to the others – amen and amen! And waterproof Sharpies – really? How cool is that?

  25. bob

    I’ve long belonged to the school of thought that “you rise to the occasion” and am proven right more than wrong. I have no doubt that by the time yours are teens you will be a brilliant mother of teens – just as you have been a brilliant mother of babies, rug-rats, toddlers, munchkins, monkeys and chickadees.

  26. Shalet

    My twelve-year-old boy has “the hair.” They all do – he and his friends. My son’s hair is wavy curly and girly. He is CONSTANTLY mistaken for a girl. I grit my teeth and grin and bear it. What else is there to do?

    And the laundry – tell me there’s hope! Currently we send it upstairs on hangers only to find it dumped on the floor. Clearly a parenting blackhole sits mid-landing where all reason is sucked out of adolescent minds. It seems this force field only applies to children because I’m able to get the clothes to their proper destination. Hopefullly as my children age they will be less suspcetible.

    And finally, I’ll come have dinner with you anytime. Here I’m banned from several topics of conversation because, apparently, they are too disgusting for the dinner table. Me – not at all quesy.

    Thanks for making me smile. :o)

  27. Aly

    The version I learned:
    Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
    mutilated monkey meat,
    shrunken little birdie feet,
    french fried eyeballs soaked in kerosene
    and I forgot my spoon……..
    but I got a stra-a-a-a-w (should be done with jazz hands)

    I never went to camp – and I have no idea why this is taking up valuable brain space.

  28. Wendy

    it is funny to me that we all know a slightly different version of that song….

    Great green globs of greasy grimy gopher guts
    marinated monkey meat
    chopped up parakeet
    french fried eyeballs swimming in a bowl of blood
    and I forgot my spoon….
    I’ll use a straaaaaaaaaaw (yes, with jazz hands, obviously!!)

  29. Naomi in Ohio

    Teenage years … you can actually CONVERSE with them (maybe with some eye rolling, but ….)

    You’ll do great … (I just have to keep telling myself, he won’t need therapy because I was a disciplinarian and not his friend)

  30. Cathi

    Laundry freedom can be a reality. But it’s all {as usual}up to Mom. If you start complaining about wrinkled T-shirts and dingy underwear than you lose the war. They’ll be proud of what they can do if you are proud of them and trust them to do it. Mine all learned how to do their own laundry and cook simple meals in middle school. And eventually my husband even started washing his own clothes! And my son now even irons his shirts! Some day some woman will thank me for raising my son to be independent.

  31. The Other Other Dawn

    Ah, the delightful regional variations of the gopher meat song. In my neck of the woods, we sang:

    Great, big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,
    Percolated monkey meat,
    Dirty little birdy feet,
    Great big piece of stinky, stinky skunky meat,
    And I forgot my spoon.
    But a brought a straw… (slurp, slurp!)

    I feel much more sophisticated now.

  32. Katherine

    My 12 yo son has the girl hair now too. In fact, his hair is longer than mine currently.

    We’re not all the way to laundry independence, but I do frequently point both boys (9 and 12) to the dry laundry and have them fold and put away. I still have to help the 9 yo pair up his socks. The 12 yo solved that by not matching his socks! I also have a fine of 25 cents per item if I find clean laundry in with the dirty. I’ve only had to collect once.

  33. Katie in MA

    Great googly moogley! We’ll only get to the teenage years if I let them live through 2 and 4. :) I tell ya, it’s a close call some days!

  34. KarateMom

    Hmmmm…I always sang it as
    “…great big eyeballs, rolling down the slimy street,
    And I forgot my spoon!”
    No straw, but I think I’ll add it, just so I can do jazz hands!
    Also, does everyone know that the very last line of “Little Bunny Foo Foo” is, “And the moral of the story IS…Hare today, Goon tomorrow!”? *said in very best fairy godmother voice*
    Because I was listening to that song on a kids CD and the fairy kept turning Foo Foo into a DUCK, for cryin’ out loud, and that just doesn’t make any sense!

  35. Half Assed Kitchen

    What about freedom from dishes. And whining. And steam cleaning the rugs. And labeling backpacks. And making food that everyone ends up hating anyway.

    Can you tell I’m having a hard day?

  36. beenreadin, now commenting

    …but you discuss the details of heterosexual sex at the dinner table? i’ve been reading your blog everyday for the past two months now and cracking up and crying and loving it so much that i read the months of your archives b/c i couldn’t get enough of it’s realness and candor and just the all together ROCKAness of it. kinda wait no COMPLETELY taken aback by that comment. it gave me pause…i wouldn’t necessarily be discussing in any kind of detail any kind of sex at the dinner table or conversely if we were, then ask away…and no kind of sex is off limits.

    big shrug, big sigh and a bigger hope that you are as big minded as you are big hearted.

  37. Kristy

    um, is there something wrong with me if I’m nearly 30 years old and have never heard of this greasy grimy gopher song??

  38. Damsel

    YAY for Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts! (except for the part where it will be in my head for the rest of the evening)

  39. mama speak

    we roll our socks when they go in the dirty clothes and clothes pin them together when going into the wash, so my 5YO can “fold/match” sock on her own as well. Mine are 5 & 2 and are excited to “help”. I realize this won’t last. But I’m taking advantage of this while I can, they help me “fold” I leave the ones the 5YO does as long as it’s something that won’t look awful by the time she’s gets to school. The 2YO’s version of “folding” is rolling it into a ball, and she redoes mine occasionally.

    Just want to say thank you for adding the chapters to my manual.

    Oh, and my G’ma used to call me Sara Bernhardt as well. I do believe my 2YO is following in my footsteps, there must be a gene for it. :-)

  40. Jenny

    Okay, the version I learned (from my parents, natch) is pretty gross:

    Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,
    Mutilated monkey meat,
    Little dirty birdy feet —
    All mixed up with all-purpose porpoise pus,
    And me with out a spooooon.
    But I’ve got my STRAAAAWWWWW!!!!

    Oh, good times.

  41. Karen

    One of the rites of passage at the Fabgrandma household was that when any of the children turned 12 years old, I introduced them to Mr. Washing Machine. After that introduction, they were on their own. If they did not have clean pants to wear to school, it was their problem, not mine. It took my son longer for that fact to sink in than it did for my daughters, but eventually, he was clothed in clean garments, too.

  42. lmerie

    Laundry freedom as been around our house for almost 5 years. When DH and I married, all kids, except the 8 year old were taught and expected to do their own laundry. The 8 year old insisted that he could do his own laundry, and I, not being one to hold my kids back said Great! Let me teach you – I did – he learned – it has been wonderful!

    There was a towel problem though. My husbands children used 2-3 towels per shower. So they would come in on their weekend, use up all towels and be gone leaving the younger kids no clean towells and the used ones scattered. We color coded towels – and it worked.

    As for lyrics to great gross songs – there is a book, I bought it at books a million that had all the great versions of the gross/bad/funny songs. I will have to see if I can find it – it is a funny book.

  43. Cele

    Oh mi gosh now greasy grimy gopher guts will run continuously in my head today. All of my daughters full and steps were hideous at cleaning their rooms, folding cloths, and doing their own laundry. Two of the are immaculent house keepers now…the married one, not so much.

  44. Heather

    A couple of weekends ago I was sitting with my 87 year old grandpa having discussions about when he was my age. He told me that you don’t feel old until you do and it comes on you quick. He said he didn’t feel old until after he was 80, but now he feels very, very old! He said now life is just waking up every morning, so enjoy life now!

  45. Memawcas

    OK, so after 41 straight years of 4-H summer camp, I just had to jump in (we won’t even begin to discuss the fact that I have gone to 4-H summer camp for 41 straight years! My therapist is still shaking her head over that one!)

    Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts,
    Chopped up Monkey’s meat
    Little birdies dirty feet,
    French Fried Eyeballs,
    drenched in a bowl of blood
    Get them at your favorite store..
    and the spoon comes free!

    It really is kinda funny how many different versions of this song there are out there. Maybe it is a regional thing, I grew up in Northern California.

  46. Audi

    I am also almost 30 and have missed out on the wonderful song. Went to girl scout camps and all growing up too. Man, I feel very deprived now. (off in a corner pouting)

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