Monkey butt

As I navigated my son’s stroller through the press of holiday shoppers a few weeks ago, I could hear the high-pitched shrieks of a small boy in the midst of one very loud tantrum.

“You better shut it,” the kid’s father said from somewhere behind me, “or yer gonna become a statistic!”

I turned to find the father and son in the crowd. Did I really just hear that? After a moment, I spied the man’s mullet and camouflage jacket and knew. Of course it bothered me that a father could issue that kind of threat so casually. But I wasn’t exactly shocked that he’d said it.

Because I have a son, too.

I have a son who, in just 20 months, already has cost us thousands of dollars in damages, destroying my MacBook, scratching DVDs and breaking Xbox discs in half, shorting the cord on a pricy lamp, and leaving stains on every carpet in the house.

He screams and cries and stamps his feet like a baby Rumpelstiltskin when he hears the word “no” before going right back to whatever he was doing, lips puckered out at me in defiance.

I have a son who’s caused me endless amounts of embarrassment in public, slithering out of my arms and onto the floor when it’s time to leave the marionette show or the playground or the department store, and then pulling my hair and screaming as if he’s been branded with a hot iron when I pick him up again and run for the nearest exit.

Do I feel like telling my son he’s in danger of becoming a statistic? Well, no. But I do feel like telling him something that definitively indicates Mommy has had enough.

“I want to say he’s acting like a … well, an asshole,” I confided to my husband not long ago, after Bruiser had picked up a handful of cashews from his sister’s lunch plate and thrown them in Hubs’s face. “But it doesn’t feel right to call a 1-year-old an asshole. Particularly when the asshole is my own son.”

“I know how you feel,” my husband frowned.

“So I’ve come up with something else,” I continued. “Sometimes, Bruiser is … a monkey butt.” Beside me, my 4-year-old daughter, Punky, gasped.

“Bruiser is not a monkey butt, Mommy,” she said in horror.

Punky is her brother’s constant champion. No matter how many times he yanked her braids, scratched her face or sat on her, she always forgave him, generally countering his actions with sympathetic noises and a big bear hug.

“Bruiser is a sweet boy,” she said.

She had a point. The reason we all put up so gracefully with Bruiser’s bad behavior is that about 75 percent of the time, he is a perfect cherub, far more affectionate than any of our other children ever were, full of laughter and sticky kisses and cuddles and hugs. I’ve always believed Bruiser was meant to be a first child, the sole recipient of his mother and father’s attention for at least a few years before another kid came along.

As it is, he’s fourth in line and has to fight for every moment of affection. And fight he does, squalling at my knees until I hoist him up and attempt to balance him on one hip while I cook or work on the computer. From his new position, he covers my face with kisses in a frantic bid to reduce his chances of being put back down.

It works. I fairly glow in Bruiser’s attention, at least until I get distracted by an overflowing pot and he sinks his tiny talons into my neck.

“AAAAARGH!” I shriek, batting at his hands and setting him down. My little Dr. Jekyll has morphed into a purple-faced Mr. Hyde, howling in outrage.

“You little … Monkey Butt!”

He laughs delightedly and, as usual, my heart softens. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who has the exact proportions of Winnie the Pooh. And besides, this is just a phase. He’ll be far more rational a year from now. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

“How old is he?” my carpet cleaner asked me recently, as Bruiser methodically tore pages from a picture book. It was one of those days, and I had opted to sacrifice the book for between two and five minutes of peace and quiet.

“He’s almost 2,” I said. The carpet cleaner looked at him wistfully as Bruiser eagerly crumpled one of the pages and began trying to stuff it in his mouth.

“Man, I wish mine was still that age,” he said, shaking his head. “My boy’s 3 now and he’s completely out of control.”

“You mean they get worse?”

He looked at me and smiled and I felt a shiver run up my spine.

More Monkey Butt? May God have mercy on us all.