I work with children. I’ve worked with children for almost a decade. The work is rewarding, and its nice to see you’ve made a lasting impact on a child, but if I’m being totally honest, I do it because children say hilarious things. Arguably there are no people funnier than children, on the entire planet. Actually you know what? I’m changing my mind, the point is not arguable, they are incontrovertibly funnier than you and (if it were possible) me.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Spencer, as an adult, who does adult things, at an adult job, with other adults, I can assure, adults are pretty gosh-tootin’ funny. Adults.” To which I say, “no” and “You’re a poopy head”. This is true for lots of reasons, for one; kids are still learning empathy, so their filter between thought and speech is thinner than a prepubescent boy’s mustache. They also have a vocabulary that is still very much a work in progress, so words are going to be pulling double duty in ways that don’t really follow the laws of grammar, or, ya know, logic. Finally, their sense of shame has yet to fully take root, so self-imposed embarrassment isn’t a thing. It leads to unpredictable conversational volatility, like when your dog eats the comic strip section of your newspaper; you know some funny shit is coming eventually, you just gotta wait around long enough to see it.
So for those of you who have been wondering just what your missing out there in the world business meetings, suitcases, and I dunno, bidets(?), here’s just a sampling of the things you may not have gotten to enjoy(names have been changed for the sake of privacy):
5. “I’m just gonna make fart noises until I fall asleep. That’s what I usually do, and its what I’m gonna do now. Don’t worry, I got this.”
Sometimes, kids just know what they need. One summer while working at a camp, I was on duty in the nurses station keeping an eye on a few kids, just in case they needed any last things before bed. Usually you get a smattering of desires, “I need my teddy bear”, “I wanna brush my teeth”, “I wanna call my mom”, but regardless of the requests, when a kid is sick and away from home they can be a bit particular. They’ll jump right back to what mom and dad do to take care of them when they’re ill, and can feel that’s the absolute standard. But not this girl. Not Vicky.
Vicky made her own rituals. Vicky knew how to handle herself. Vicky knew that if she laid in bed and imitated the sound of gas leaving a butt for however long it took, be it 5 minutes, ten minutes, an hour, maybe even two hours, she would fall asleep. And that’s just what she did. She laid down, stared at the ceiling, and went “pppbbbthhhthehpppbbbbb” for sixty minutes until she was out cold. Know they self as they say.
4. “You are a 熊 (Xiong)!!!”
This one required a bit of explanation, because its one of the few times a child absolutely played me. At one of the camps I worked at we had a young girl who was attending camp from China. While she spoke some English, Mandarin was her first language, and as any nine-year-old(or anyone spending allot of time in a foreign country) would, she found the language barrier frustrating.
In order to help her work on her English and get her talking(she was pretty shy), I had her begin teaching me bits and pieces of her native language. It was pretty simple stuff, “hello”, “goodbye”, “whats for lunch?”, that kind of thing. She even gave me a nickname, “Xiong” which means bear(like a grizzly). Now, I’m a pretty big guy(6’4, 300lbs), so to a girl who maybe weighs eighty pounds soaking wet, that seems like a fairly reasonable analogy.
As I have learned, cultural context is key. If we fast-forward a year, I’m working for another outdoor program, which also happens to have in attendance, a small crew of children from China, whom mainly speak Mandarin. Employing the same strategy as before, they begin teaching me their language and I mention the girl from earlier and the nickname they she gave me. The laugh. In my face. Forcefully. It is then that I remember how the girl who gave me that nickname, also seemed to laugh at me whenever she called me Xiong, with a similar intensity. The children then explain to me that calling someone a bear, at least in the part of China they’re from, is the equivalent of saying, “Hey, look at you, you fat fucking pig, I bet you eat allot, on account of you being so fat, fatty.” I may be paraphrasing. Point is, she played me. She played me good.
3. “NO! ITS NOT A CATAPULT, ITS A FUCKING TREBUCHET.”
Now, I’m not master of Medieval combat, I’ll be the first the admit that. My knowledge of siege warfare is, unfortunately, lacking. So I had to do a bit of research to figure out the difference between a catapult and trebuchet; catapults generally rely on some kind ballistic device(a spring or tension) to fling heavy projectiles at a long range, where as a trebuchet utilizes gravity, weight, and an elongated “flinging“motion to accomplish the same task. This information was not something I had prepped in the forefront of my mind. The same can not be said of Ian.
Ian, an eight-year-old with a surprisingly vast knowledge of both war in the eleventh century, and cussing, knew what the fuck a catapult is. He also knew what it wasn’t. So on King Arthur day at camp, when a group he was a part of was tasked with building a catapult out of cardboard, bungee cords, and duct tape, he knew exactly what to do. His team however, being children of an equal age, found his lisp and wind-chime-level-high-pitched voice to be invalidating. He found they’re faces to be stupid. Combine these two factors and we get the above quote.
2.”If Mozart was a zombie he’d be… decomposing“
No funny story here, this is just maybe the funniest joke I’ve seen a 10-year-old think up on the spot. Seriously. On the spot. I watched him as he thought up the punchline and the realized the levity of what he had just said. He just began with zombie Mozart and ran from there. Seeing the satisfaction and surprise of humor-well-delivered wash over their face was magical.
1.”Stand still, I want to come on your back.”
This one sounds shockingly inappropriate, but please, please, please, bear with me, because I can guarantee it is, in no way, what you think it is. It was, in no way, what I thought it was. It was startling to hear, and then immediately hilarious after a few moments of computing and realizing what the kid meant.
To set the scene I was working at a YMCA, in the shallow end of a pool, helping some children organize a game. It was a free time period, so the majority of the children were just enjoying splashing around, for the most part ignoring my attempts to bring about order. That’s to be expected, you gotta roll with punches and the small attention spans they come from.
In a moment of silence, deciding my time would be better spent on supervision then trying to impose a game, I sat at the edge of the pool, content to simply make sure there was no rough-housing, horseplay, drowning, that sort of thing. While sitting, one of the kids came up behind me. Until the end of my life I will not know why he whispered, nor why he felt the need to sneak up on me. It was with panther like stealth and ninja silence that his head materialized over my shoulder. With a ghost-like wisp of noise he uttered the words, “I want to come on your back.”
In horror I wheeled around, to find a kid, at oldest, 11-years-old, eagerly awaiting an answer. We stood there in silence for what must have been a solid 60-seconds. He seemed utterly confused by lack of a quick or easy answer. I seemed confused by his nonchalance. He finally pantomimed, what he meant, showing me that game that father’s play with their children, where the kid grabs your shoulders and you swim around dragging them behind you. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever got a bigger shock from a single sentence.