Volume, Air Displacement, Torque
"Dad, I can burp the first half of the ABC's." The Jawa has made this boast before, but has never delivered.
"Oh, really? Let's hear it."
What follows is a gutteral reading of A-L. I went to college; I've heard someone burp the alphabet. What I'm hearing now sounds like Cookie Monster reciting the alphabet, but not at all like a burp.
"That was a fake burp."
"I know. But I'm working on it."
For the remainder of the 10-minute drive to school, I see him reflected in the rearview mirror, gulping down litres of air, hoping to have them come back out with volume, displacement and torque. But it is not to be. Instead, he forces the air back out in tiny, barely audible yips.
"Keep working on it."
The eight-year-old sense of humor is at times a joy, but mostly it is something to be endured. It is a test of patience. Burping is the least of it. I truly believe that God could have come up with a more efficient way to release gases. No way can anything that makes a noise like that not be intended to be funny. Plus, it comes from your mouth, which is a major line of delineation, at least for me, which is an important distinction completely lost on an eight-year-old.
Finally, six minutes into the drive, the Jawa remembers that he alone has been blessed with a reflex action that turns coughs into burps. This leaves us with four minutes of "Cough! Brraaap! Cough! Baaaalurrp!"
"What if you burped, hiccuped and coughed at the same time?" he asks.
"What if you burped, hiccuped, passed gas, coughed and sneezed at the same time?" This has him stumped. I have taken what he thought was the most outrageous bodily function imaginable and raised the stakes.
"Hmm...I don't know. What would happen?"
"Your body would collapse into a cube."
I know this as soon as the words leave my mouth that this is a mistake. I see his expression change from bemused confidence to naked terror. He is imagining himself as a small cube in the backseat. "That wouldn't happen," he says, tentatively. Already, he is working out a way to avoid ever having all these actions happen simultaneously.
"Of course not!" I say this heartily, backpeddling fiercely, making it obvious that I have made a joke. Eight-year-olds are very literal, something I already knew, having learned it during a long-ago, never-used Masters program in Teaching.
"Cough! Burrrrp! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
For the past two weeks, he has been so focused on burping that he's lost all sense of manners and decorum. He burps at the dinner table, while visiting my workplace, in class, whenever and wherever he can manage. I guess he figures that, since he can't yet do it on command, he's going to make the best of every chance he gets.
Though he is too young to wonder if an unwitnessed tree falling in the forest makes a sound, he understands that a good burp ripped off in private is worthless unless you can recreate it for your friends. This is why he must share last night's 6.0 on the Richter scale with Josh K. and his dad as we leave school today. "Last night, I was walking down to see my dad, and a burp just flew out of my mouth!"
"It just about knocked me over," I add, because I've always got my Jawa's back.
And I know that he is not the only belching afficionado in the group. Josh K's response was to refer to a recent unwitnesed earth-shaking burp of his own. And the Jawa's own cousin, Noodles' brother, sometimes answers to "Count Burpula."
Tonight, at dinner, he looks directly at me from across the table, opens his mouth, and with all of his might forces out a tiny "burp!" Briefly, he forgets that he is about to get in trouble, so he continues to look at me with a satisfied smile, waiting for my uproarious response.
Instead, the scoldings come hard and fast at him from two directions. He is shocked enough to claim that he "didn't mean to do it." As if. For the thousandth time in the past six months I explain to him that it's important to "know your audience," and that what his friends find funny may not always resonate with adults. Sometimes, when I'm failing as a parent and near the outer edges of my sanity, I'll add, "Remember: annoying is not the same as funny," but I'm emotionally stable enough tonight to leave that out.
The funny thing is that no matter how much scolding this child gets, how many reminders of how obnoxious his behavior has been -- and trust me, an hour of Uno with the Jawa can fill anyone's obnoxiousness coffers to overflowing -- at bedtime, he still wants me to lay there next to him for a few minutes so we can go over the day's events.