Things properly left unspoken, except by 11-year-old boys


I was raised among women -- three sisters and a mother who used to say things like "This isn't how the Kennedys behave at the dinner table" -- and as a result I have certain sensibilities that are easily offended by my 11-year-old son and his disgusting 11-year-old friends.

There were many topics which polite girl children did not discuss my time. Among them, the human body and its functions. The most naked I ever saw my parents was in Bermuda shorts, and everything I knew about sex I learned from the pamphlet inside the package my mother left on my bed when I turned 12.

As you might imagine, we never, how shall I say this, passed gas. If one of us did, by accident certainly, the others did not comment and pointedly did not look at the person who had offended.

If we picked our noses, my mother told us our fingers would get stuck up there. If we cursed, my mother said the center of our potatoes would be black forever. When we visited the bathroom, my grandmother would ask us if the angels were going to sing.

In any event, a woman raised in this climate of denial does not do well with young boys and their fascination with bathroom humor. To my horror, my son not only passes gas, but he and his friends name them and have contests. A friend says it is because they have immature digestive tracts, but I think it is their brains that have not matured.

These same boys have 12 synonyms for vomit. They can belch on command and are teaching my daughter, who was a rose in her ballet recital, how to do so.

My husband is of little help. When my son's wrestling coach explained that the perfect wrestling crouch would be one that would allow you to -- I can barely phrase this for polite company -- to defecate in the woods without creating any unnecessary personal hygiene issues, my husband thought it was the most apt illustration he had ever witnessed.

I was appalled beyond words.

I have made my compromises with this, telling my son and his friends that they may not do any of these things in my presence nor call my attention to it.

But I am clearly old-fashioned, because they are writing books about this stuff and those books are selling almost as well as "The Bridges of Madison County."

I am speaking of the trilogy, "Everyone Poops," "The Holes in Your Nose" and "The Gas We Pass."

Written by Japanese authors and published in this country by a )) small family publishing house that specializes in international children's literature, these three books have sold more than a million copies since "Everyone Poops" first appeared in 1993. "The Gas We Pass" appeared at bookstores last fall. But these books were written more than a decade ago in Japan.

"The Japanese are extremely direct with young children about things they think they need to know," said Madeline Kane, owner of Kane/Miller Book Publishers with her brother. "But the Japanese are very closed about things they consider personal problems. They would be horrified at 'Oprah.' "

Written for toddlers to explain body parts and their function, these books are colorful and forthright. "Everyone Poops" shows everyone's poop: Elephants', birds', bugs' and little boys'.

"The Holes in Your Nose" begins innocently enough, with different sizes and shapes. But pretty soon, a child with a stuffed up nose is saying that he can't smell his . . .

And then we are right into "The Gas We Pass," a lightly humorous illustration of the mechanics of flatulence.

Coming to book stores in October: "Contemplating Your Bellybutton." Also translated from the Japanese, it explains the role of the umbilical cord.

"It is just amazing how many people know about these books," said Ms. Kane. "There is a perception that parents and teachers don't want to talk about these things, but perhaps they really don't mind. Especially young parents. They want their children to understand these things."

These books are not just purchased by parents of toddlers. According to Kane, adults buy them as humorous coffee table books, powder-room accessories, gag gifts for friends or for their college-aged kids.

That's good to know. There is still time for me to come around on this.

To the woman who sent me the heartfelt account of her experiences as a teacher: Please contact me at (410) 332-6637.

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