Ann Cannon: Learning about yourself as a parent — from your parrot

By Ann Cannon

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: May 28, 2014 11:02AM
Updated: May 28, 2014 11:27AM
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Ann Cannon

Today I’m going to tell you a little story about our talking African Grey Parrot, Tuxedo.

But first I want to share an important parenting tip. You’re welcome! The tip is this: If you live with boys — especially if you live with a critical mass of boys — you might want to invest in some good aroma-therapy products. You know. Reed diffusers. Aerosol sprays. Scented candles. Those little wax cubes you melt. Baskets of dried eucalyptus so that your house smells like a bed and breakfast establishment in Vermont or possibly a craft store.

Not that I love the way either Hobby Lobby or Michaels smells. But they do smell A LOT better than junior high gyms, which is pretty much what your house smells like when there’s a permanent pile of boy basketball shoes by your front door.

Hygiene, in general, can be an issue in a houseful of elementary school-aged males, as I discovered when our boys were young. Those kids hated baths and showers. They hated clean socks and clean underwear. But most of all, they really, really hated brushing their teeth.

I especially didn’t get the “not brushing their teeth” part. The first thing I do when I roll out of bed each morning is to brush my teeth because it makes me feel so minty! Not mediciney! That’s why I couldn’t understand why my boys wouldn’t want to feel the same excellent way.

But no. They didn’t, because brushing your teeth when you’re a 10-year-old guy is super lame. Why waste time brushing your teeth when you could be riding your bike or playing Nintendo or making stuff out of Legos or buying Slurpees at the Sev or not practicing the violin?

I’ll be honest. The whole brushing thing became a huge issue for me. I would lie in wait, and right before the kids walked out the door I would pounce.

“Did you brush your teeth?” I’d ask like the Grand Tooth Brush Inquisitor.

“Yes,” they’d say, covering their mouths with their hands.

And then I would shout LIAR just like Mrs. Miracle Max in Princess Bride, after which they ran away from the crazy lady. Without brushing their teeth.

Now here comes the story about the parrot, Tuxedo. So this bird is a real talker. Whenever the phone rings, he always says, “Hello! How are you!” Then he pauses as though he’s listening to the person on the other end, responds with a fake social laugh — the kind you give when you’re just being polite — and follows up with an “Oh! That’s good!” And he does all of this in my voice. In fact, I am the only person in our family whom he imitates.

Anyway, one day I noticed that whenever our kids walked through the kitchen, Tuxedo would squawk “BRUSH YOUR TEETH” at them. He’d never say, “Tell me about your day in school” or “Let’s read a book together” or “Wanna watch a baseball game?” or “I love you.” No. It was always BRUSH YOUR TEETH. Day and night. Night and Day. BRUSH YOUR TEETH.

When I realized what was happening, two things immediately occurred to me.

1. My kids didn’t obey the parrot any better than they obeyed me.

2. Maybe the parrot and I should broaden our conversational repertoire with the kids. We could tell them, for instance, to brush their teeth AND change their underwear. Win!

Since that experience, I’ve used Tuxedo as a barometer of sorts. What things am I saying at home? How often am I saying them? And how important is what I’m saying in the long run anyway?

When you live with other people, these aren’t bad things to consider . . .