Everything I don’t Know About Boys and All the New French Words I’ve Learned

To hear a full grown woman with a medical degree ask another full grown woman how many “pee-pees” and “ka-kas” she has a day is off-putting. I asked a Francophone and translator friend of mine about this and she said it’s a common French idiom, at least in Quebec. I don’t care how common it is. It’s infantilizing and it makes me uncomfortable.

While on the subject, my friend and I discussed another word, one I have just recently learned: zi-zi, meaning penis. It is similar in tone to the way a child might say wee-wee, but more widely used. I first heard it in a conversation between two of Joanie’s caregivers at daycare, Lise and Esfir.

(I’ve translated their conversation because my French grammar is hopeless.)

Lise: Why is Lawrence wet?

Esfir: He is not. Is he?

Lise: He is. Touch his leg.

Esfir: (With her thumb and index finger around Lawrence fat baby thigh) Eh? It makes no sense I just changes him.

Lise: (Taking Lawrence to the change table. Bursting with laughter after removing the diaper) Esfir, Esfir, comes see. You put his zi-zi to the side and he peed out the leg hole.

Two things strike me about this exchange. One: adults can call a penis zi-zi in conversation with each other and apparently it’s not weird. Two: parents of boys have to worry about the direction of the zi-zi. It has occurred to me that while I have learned so much about parenting, and I understand that gender is fluid, and I believe that most of what is true for baby girls is true for baby boys, there are things about boys that will never apply to girls. I am so glad that I never have to worry about zi-zi direction. That is unless I have another child and it’s a boy. Then I’ll be fluent in zi-zi and speak comfortably about pee-pee direction with all the other full grown adults.

Note: I asked my friend if there was a female equivalent to zi-zi and there isn’t. Any word she came up with was either vulgar or Georgio O’Keefe.

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I hate the fat man on the chair

“Help,” I meekly called from the bottom of the stairs up to our apartment. I was caught in the doorframe between the two parts of the stroller.

Eric looked down at me from above and over the sound of Joanie’s shrieks and Frank’s bark he yelled down, “can’t.”

We could have fought. I initially felt a pang of ire but it quickly subsided as I wiggled my way through the frame and up the stairs to meet Eric’s laughter. When I was pregnant I may have been fat but I could still fit through door fames. Situations like this one that elicit bouts of anger were sparse. There was simply less to get argue about. Now it seems like every day there’s a new opportunity for rage. But we don’t fight, not really any way. We bicker about wearing socks in bed but there’s little emotion behind those spats. It’s probably a combination of our mutual aversion to raised voices, our active senses of humour, and a whole bunch of adoration that keep us so calm in our dealings with each other. We high-five a lot.

However, anger has to go somewhere. It’s like the first law of thermodynamics (forgive my layman’s explanation) which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only change forms. Instead of a familial argument, my ire changes form and becomes rage directed at another man with whom I have no real contact: the fat man on the chair. I hate the fat man on the chair.

For the past few weeks there has been construction in the street behind my apartment building. I don’t drive and I’m usually awake at seven when the bulldozing begins, so I’m not bothered by the work itself. What works me into a flushed, exaggerated, perhaps disproportionate rage is the fat man on the chair. His only job is to guide trucks and pedestrians through the intersection, and he’s terrible at it. Yesterday I made it all the way to a giant hole and back again before he called, “le trottoir est barré!”

In Montreal corruption is assumed, especially when it comes to construction. It’s normal to see twelve supervisors standing around a hole while one worker digs. Quebec is a welfare state, and I’m all for paying high taxes for the sake of public programs but the mismanagement of funds is so catastrophic that citizens rarely see where taxes are spent. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our high school drop out rate is astronomical and we are still dealing with asbestos in public institutions. The fat man is emblematic of that corruption, or to put it mildly, that poor budgeting. His job is so utterly pointless that he has brought himself a chair from home. I walk by him at least four times a day and he never moves from that spot. He is constantly sitting, sometimes eating, usually smoking and always soaking up public money. I hate his stupid snide grin and his fat calves stuffed into work boots, a likely indicator of gout. I hate him. I hate him. Oh damn it, I hate him.

Now I know that the fat man on the chair is not the cause of all of Quebec’s problems, but he, as a symbol, has stumbled into the path of my expelled anger. Aristotle wrote about how anger is a good thing when directed at the right object and used to fuel political action. I could use it to write fervent letters to the city, or speak passionately at counsel meetings, but my rage is not being used for such lofty ideals. It is instead directed at a man who I have never met and with whom I have only exchanged a few curt words.

Aristotle would be very disappointed with me, but I hope he would understand. Between family, writing, groceries and work I don’t have the time to be as politically active as I would like, and at least no one is feeling the effects of my vented ire. The fat man on the chair has no idea who I am. He doesn’t notice my seething glare, and by directing my rage at him the people I love most escape it.

Everybody wins.