“Penis!” my 3-year-old says as he jumps off the potty in the men’s bathroom at the downtown library.
“Penis!” I yell because dammit, this is the Year of the Penis.
“Penis! Penis! Penis!” he says because that is our song; our mantra during potty training. It is not “junk,” or “dick,” or “pecker.” That’s not what we have taught my newly potty-trained boy. He came up with the song all on his own, and he sings it every time he goes to the bathroom. That phrase was our abracadabra. My boy has discovered his penis, and if I’m honest, fatherly pride glows within me.
“Now pull your pants up, boy,” I tell him. And since I’m in the bathroom stall with him, I go ahead and take care of my business.
“Dad! You have a penis!” he says.
“And I have a penis!”
“Mommy doesn’t have a penis!”
“And pee comes out of your penis!” After this last bit, he starts to lean forward toward the stream I’ve got going. If being a father has taught me anything, it’s that toddlers are very unpredictable, but I’m ready for it. I grab his head and push him back. I don’t need to explain to his mother why his head smells like asparagus.
“Woah, there, kiddo. Now you’ve made this weird. But thank you.”
“Penis! Penis! Penis!” he says again.
“Penis!” a random guy yells from the urinal. The song of the penis has spread.
I finish my duties, and my son pulls the waistband of his shorts up. I spend most of my time making sure he doesn’t try and dive into the toilet water. This is my third kid. Shit like that has happened before. We wash our hands and head back out to story time.
My son bolts away from me, his baggy shirt flaps like a cape. There are times when I watch him go, and I am overcome with how good a job I’m doing. I mean, really. I’m kinda a big deal. I’m an at-home dad, and I can say that by the third one, I’ve got a system in place. At this point, I’ve basically raised a superhero.
My toddler reaches his 10-year-old sister who sits on the outskirts of a semi-circle of moms. There are 20 of them listening to the librarian go on about Pete the Cat. If it was necessary, I’m pretty sure I could teach good old Pete the penis song and potty train him, too. My daughter throws out her arms to catch her little brother. She’s a good kid. My pride and joy firstborn. And she helps with the toddler all the time. Damn, can I raise them or what? Take note, moms, this is how it’s done.
My boy stops. He doesn’t jump into his sister’s little arms. Instead, he pulls up his shirt, and a look of horror forms on my daughter’s face. I’m still a good 10 feet behind him, and the realization of what is happening comes slowly.
And then my son sings the song of his people.
“Penis! Penis! Penis!” He shouts those words, proclaims them, the town crier for the Kingdom of Penis. In front of all the moms, the librarian, and my horrified daughter.
Oh, holy hell. That little shit.
“Dad! He’s doing it again!” my daughter says. Yeah, this isn’t even the first time he has done this. Like any toddler, naked time is a thing. It’s a phase they go through, usually around potty training, when clothes are more optional. But when my son discovered his special friend and his song, flashing became part of naked time. Usually, it’s just in the house.
My boy turns to face all the moms. I think a few faint, and my heartbeat drums in my ears. I’m in a full-on sprint, but I don’t get there in time.
“Penis! Penis! Penis!” he brays like a donkey. One of the moms probably clutches her pearls because there it is, in all its glory: my son’s penis. His little coin purse hangs over the band like a turkey waddle. He begins to shake his hips and dance. It’s show-and-tell time at the library story hour. My son has an asshole smirk on his face.
“Boy! You put those balls back in your pants!” I whisper-scream at him. He doesn’t listen, because 3-year-olds never listen. Instead, he takes off through the sea of outraged moms. At least, I’m assuming they are. I’m making every attempt to make no eye contact with any of them. I’m focused on my boy who apparently learned parkour in his spare time. And I’m yelling at him. About his penis. In front of all the moms.
I get what this looks like. I’m a large, bearded, and tattooed man chasing a toddler from the bathroom asking him to bring me his penis. This is, uh, not a good look for dad. This is the kind of thing that the police usually get involved with. When the moms give their statement to the cops, the word “sketchy” and “creep” will be used a lot.
“Penis!” he screams again as I close the distance. I pick him up and struggle to pull his pants on as he kicks. This will complete the scene for the very nice police officers that I’m sure have been called. The boy just keeps screaming about his tallywacker.
“Sorry,” I say to everyone and no one. I again refuse to make eye contact. “We’re potty training. You know how it is. The boy likes naked time. Just discovered his penis. Sorry. So sorry,” I try to explain to a room that feels oddly quiet. I get his pants up and kneel down to have a heart-to-heart with him. Embarrassed sweat drips off my nose.
“Boy, we don’t yell ‘penis’ in public. Got that? ‘Penis’ is for home.” I’m not doing myself any favors here.
“Penis!” he yells again.
“No,” I say.
“Dad has a big penis! I have a small penis!”
I wish I were dead. I look around for my daughter as I pick up my son. She is already gone; a smart move. I grab my backpack and wonder what life on the lam will be like. Everything started out so great today until it didn’t. I’m going to have to explain myself at checkpoints. And I’m not sure how I’ll tell my wife that I can’t go back to the library.
“Why?” she’ll ask.
Penis. That’s why. Because of penis.
Shannon Carpenter is a humorist that lives in Kansas City with his wife and three kids, one of whom liked to flash strangers. Follow him on twitter @hossmanathome.