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Wendy Fontaine Headshot

'Don't Lick Your Shoe' and Other Sage Advice

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WHAT I NEVER THOUGHT ID SAY
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Last night, my daughter, Angie, wanted to retrieve a giant inflatable dolphin from the top shelf of her bedroom closet. Because she's 6 years old and fiercely independent, she fashioned a chain out of plastic clothes hangers and decided to scale the side of her closet, like something out of an old MacGyver episode.

Instead of reaching her dolphin, she came crashing down, in a flurry of broken plastic and tangled clothing.

"Honey, don't use hangers to climb the wall," I said.

And there it was: another sentence I never thought I would say.

Over the past six years, I've uttered the most peculiar phrases -- things I never would've imagined myself saying before becoming a mother. "Keep your pants on at the playground" and "Tuna sandwiches don't belong in the DVD player" come to mind.

When I was pregnant with Angie, I knew nothing about kids. I had never been a babysitter, had never so much as held an infant. My knowledge about babies would have fit neatly onto the head of a diaper pin.

A month before my due date, I asked my 9-year-old niece, Maddy, to come over with her Cabbage Patch Kid and show me how to change a Pamper.

"The picture always goes in front," she said as she squared the Big Bird cartoon between her doll's chubby legs. Maddy was kind enough to stifle her laughter. She probably never expected to be explaining something so obvious to a grownup.

No matter how old we are, though, there are things we don't know until somebody who loves us comes along and spells it out. Maybe it's the words to a song sung incorrectly, or the proper way to tell if a pineapple is ripe. Or perhaps it's the notion that plastic hangers make lousy ladders.

Here are a few of the sentences I never thought I'd have to say:

"Don't put the alphabet up your nose."

We all want a little privacy in the bathroom, but leaving Angie alone on the toilet for too long spells "D" for disaster. Literally.

I was cleaning my office one day, taking advantage of a few rare minutes of solitude, when I heard blood-curdling screams coming from the bathroom.

"Mama! Come quick!"

I ran to my daughter, who had shoved a foam letter "D" up her right nostril, so far up that neither of us could retrieve it. I felt a surge of panic. Should I take her to the hospital? Reach for the tweezers? Call 911? Instead, I pinched off her left nostril and told her to blow with all her might. She did, and the foam letter shot across the room and landed on the floor.

There was a lot of blood, more blood than I'd ever seen come out of my kid. Angie was shaken, but fine. She cried for a moment, then summed up the incident quite succinctly: "Well, that was stupid!"

"Don't lick the bottom of your shoe."

One Sunday afternoon, we were driving home from the zoo (of all the places in the world, why did it have to be the zoo?) when I looked into the rearview mirror and saw my daughter licking the sole of her pink Croc.

"Oh my God!" I screamed, startling her so badly that she dropped the shoe onto the floor of the backseat. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know," she said. That's her answer for almost everything, probably because it buys her precious seconds to think of a good excuse or an acceptable lie. But this time, I figured she truly didn't know. I mean, what reason could a person possibly have for licking the bottom of a shoe?
Closely related to this expression are "Don't drink the bathwater" and "Don't bring your dessert to the toilet."

"Don't eat ketchup with a spoon."

I'm pretty liberal when it comes to how Angie eats her food. As long as she's actually eating it, anything goes. Well, almost anything. Mandarin oranges dipped in barbecue sauce? Sure. Potato chips in your ham sandwich? OK. Eating ketchup like it's soup? Sorry, but no way.

"Wipe your hands on the napkin, not on the table."

Or on your shirt. Or on your friends. Also related: "Don't wipe your nose on my arm" and "Don't pick Mommy's nose."

"Your butt is your responsibility."

I don't remember the context of this one, but I know I've said it -- more than once.

"Spit that into my hand."

My mom used to say this to me about Hubba Bubba bubble gum, but for Angie, it's usually a new food she tried but disliked (calamari) or something that shouldn't have been in her mouth in the first place (a guitar pick or a quarter).

There was a time when I couldn't debone a chicken without gagging, but since I've become a mother, nothing grosses me out. Chewed-up turkey sausage, green gobs of phlegm, wood chips from the playground -- it has all been spit into my hand at one point or another.

Angie once vomited canned peaches. And I caught them mid-air, without giving it even a moment of thought.

"Don't write on your honeydew."

Or the windows. Or the rug.

When Angie was 4 years old, she took a blue Magic Marker to the beige carpet in her bedroom, and drew an elaborate design of circles and stick figures that stretched from one wall to the other.

"I'm sorry, Mama," she said immediately. She knew she was in trouble. But when I returned to the scene of the crime with a bowl of soapy water and two sponges, her mood went from remorseful to resentful.

"You're going to wash it off?" she said. "I drew a picture of us holding hands in a giant snow globe, and you want to erase that?"

Artists are so melodramatic. After the carpet was cleaned, Angie lost her television privileges for three days. And I stocked up on paper and washable markers.