At what point is it okay to tell your kids that they’re dumb? Like when should you tell them that they’re dumb? And I know, I know. There’s never a good time, right? Like I know, you’ll always have an excuse for why you don’t tell them they’re dumb. Maybe you’re too busy, maybe you’ve got things to do. That could happen, right?
[crouching down, looking out into light]
That’s a possibility, you’ve got a lot of things to do, you can’t tell them they’re dumb all of the time, right?
Or maybe they’re about to get smart. Maybe they’re, right, maybe they’re like almost not going to be dumb anymore, yes, I get that. Maybe it’s close to their birthday or Christmas. You don’t want to spoil it by being like, “Hey, you’re dumb!” I get that ma’am, I do and I do but what I’m asking here is, and I’ll go ahead and say it again, and I’ll hunch over a bit here, like this here, and what I’m asking is when?
Is it okay?
[Looks up, slight smile.]
To tell your kids they’re dumb? Because I don’t know, I’m asking. I have four kids. This is a problem that becomes more pressing every day for me. And I guess I can explain a little bit. Wow. No, wow, and I’m laughing here a bit, because I’m taken aback. Ma’am? Do you see the look, my look here? My left hand is holding the microphone and my right hand? You see how it’s literally up at my forehead? I’m shocked that you’re shocked by this, I really am. After all of this. Anyway, no I can explain, I can. I have four kids and they’re not all dumb. Like they’re not all dumb and by that I mean a couple of things. I mean not all four of them are dumb, they aren’t. And all four of them aren’t all dumb, right?
Does that, hear me out, you know how they say people are half-Jewish? You’ve heard that, right? I’m half Jewish, right, I’m a quarter Jewish, and that means some members of my family were Jewish. Do you understand this, what I’m saying? You look like you do, okay, I never really understood that. I always thought Judaism was a religion, like this is something that people practiced and that was a religion and granted a lot of these people came from the same area, right? Culturally, they probably shared a lot of the same characteristics, you know, like a lot of my family, were Jews from Russia and Poland, on my dad’s side, like that’s where they were from. So would you say they were Polish and Russian or would you say they were Jewish? I guess you could say both. Anyway, that’s tricky, right? Do you see, do you RUN DMC?
If I could wink, ma’am, I would, and I suppose you could debate that, but my kids are half dumb. My kids may be a quarter Jewish, depending on how, you know, you slice that Jewish apple, or skin that Jewish cat. My kids may be a quarter Jewish, but they definitely are half dumb. At least three of them are. And by that I mean their mother, she’s dumb. And by dumb I don’t mean she can’t speak, I mean she’s not intelligent, their mom’s not. That’s not, no, hold on. [Waving arms.] This sounds mean, I know. This sounds mean, but let me ask you something? What if she is dumb? Like what if this isn’t an act or a joke or a bit? What if somebody really is dumb and then somebody says that that person is dumb? Is that mean? I don’t think it is. Is it slanderous? I don’t know if it’s slanderous, but it’s true. Like I don’t know if saying the mother of three of my four boys is dumb is slanderous or not, but it is true. She is dumb. And this, no hold on, this is good, this is interesting.
If someone isn’t smart, is it okay to say they’re not smart? Is that not even a thing we can say anymore, that somebody isn’t smart? Is everybody smart? My ex-wife who is dumb thought that everybody is smart. I don’t know if she thinks that or not anymore. I would imagine she still does. She thought everybody was smart and here’s what I mean. One time when we were still married, she was watching Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey, ma’am. Oprah Winfrey? I don’t know if I need to clarify that or not, probably not, anyway Oprah Winfrey, ma’am, my ex-wife used to watch her. There’s a story in my last book about my ex-wife who was then my then-wife watching Oprah. I forget the name of that story, but it’s probably the same as this one. Anyway, she was watching Oprah and there was a thing about young women. A segment, an episode on young women. On Oprah. And they were talking to these young women and there was a daily affirmation that these young women were going to do, right, and these young women were going to do it every day. Daily, if you will, and I’ll be honest, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Anyway they were going to do this affirmation every day and go through this and say things about themselves, right? They were going to feel good, daily. Affirmations, right, you know, and I feel like I’ve explained this enough. You get this, right? And I’m looking? Out? Anyway, they would say things like, “I am smart.”
They’d say, “I am smart.”
They’d say, “I am beautiful.”
They’d say, “I am worthy.”
I am intelligent, I am dynamic, I am unique.
I am, and they would all say this together, how dynamic and unique they were. And how individual they were, together, together, they would say this out loud. And I said, “What’s this?” to my wife. “What is this, what’re we looking at,” and she said, “It’s Oprah and they’re talking about daily affirmations for women,” and I said, “Well, that’s something. What’s that all about?” And she explained it to me like I explained it to you. And I said, “That’s great.” And I looked at my then-wife then, my ex-wife now, and I said, “What if they’re not smart.” And she looked at me. And to clarify, ma’am, to specify? This is before my then and ex-wife started walking around with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. I don’t know how too much before that was, but it was at some point before she started doing that with her tongue. Sticking it out of her mouth I mean. It was at some point before that. Like that hadn’t happened yet. It has happened now though, like she does do that now. She hangs her tongue out of her mouth like a, like a dumb person would do. But this wasn’t then, so, ma’am, if you have your calendar out? You’re wondering when this story happened? It was sometime before that, before that.
Anyway, so she looked at me. And she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “All of these women are saying they’re smart, but what if they aren’t?” And she says they are. I said, “Well, how do you know they are?” I said, “They may be. They may be smart.” And she says, “They’re each smart in their own way.” And I say, “What way is that? I’m not saying they’re not smart,” and I’m talking to you and her now, both, but I know there are not-smart women out there, young women probably, are they supposed to say I am smart, too? What if they’re not beautiful, either? I mean, it’s okay either way, but are you supposed to say you’re smart if you’re not?
Isn’t that dumb?
And I’m asking, is that mean? There are twenty-five women on a stage saying, “I am smart.” They are telling other young women all across the land to say the same thing. This is going to be their daily affirmation. All I am saying is, “What if they aren’t?” I am saying, “What if they said I am a turtle?” If they went up on stage and said, “I am a turtle,” you wouldn’t say they’re a turtle in their own way, would you? Would you say that? Can I be a turtle in my own way? Does that make sense? Ma’am? If a young woman got on stage tonight and said, “I am a turtle,” wouldn’t the appropriate response be, “Hey, you don’t appear to be?” A turtle? I think if you said that people would be very upset with you. I think they would. They’d go, oh, you’re so mean! They’re kind of like turtles!
No, they’re not anything like turtles. They don’t have shells, right? Shouldn’t they have shells if they’re turtles? And I said this to my then-wife, I said, “Shouldn’t they have shells if they’re turtles.” And she said, “That one lady is eating lettuce,” and I said, “No, I see that. I see that one lady eating lettuce, but that doesn’t mean she’s a turtle.” I said that and my wife looked at me with a look that said I’m going to eventually start walking around with my tongue hanging out of my mouth. You know that look, ma’am? The one that’s like, “I’m not doing it now but…?” That look? Yeah, that’s the one she gave me. I got that one right there. And then she said, “They’re kind of turtles.” And I said, “Is this really happening or am I making this up?” And she said, “No, what do you mean?” And I said, “I thought I already explained this.” And I said, “What do you mean, turtles? Turtles all the way down?” And she looked at me like that and she said they’re turtles. I said, “I don’t think I understand.” I said, “Maybe this is me, but I don’t understand. Because I’m looking at all these young ladies and none of them are turtles.”
And she says, “No, they’re turtles.”
All of this happened in front of a television in a house where I used to live.
And I said, “How can they be turtles? I am trying to understand this. I am missing something I think.”
“Well, they’re turtles in their own way. “
I’m like, is this a metaphor or a something-or-other? I mean is this, what is this? And she is looking at me again with that look. Again this is before the tongue sticking out of her mouth and a little note about that. One day her tongue started hanging out of her mouth. And I thought, when I saw that, I thought this is a strange thing. I thought maybe something’s wrong. And the reason I thought maybe something was wrong wasn’t because I’m a jerk or that I’m looking for reasons to you know, whatever, but because I think if I was walking around with my tongue sticking out of my mouth, for some reason, you know? Like if for some reason my tongue was sticking out of my mouth, like it looked like it was too thick for my mouth and I was just standing there, not knowing what to do? If I came out here, ma’am, all of a sudden and I tharthted thalking like thisth with my too-thick-tongue hanging out of my same-size mouth, what would the first thing be that you would think? It would probably have something to do with that, wouldn’t it? You’d say why? And what? And rightfully so, because it would be a strange thing to see. And I think we can all agree that were that to happen, then at some point, someone’s going to say something, it’s going to come up in conversation. And that’s something, if I can just grab this for a second, and what were we talking about again?
Ben Slotky's work has appeared in The Santa Monica Review, Numero Cinq, Golden Handcuffs Review, McSweeney's, Hobart, Juked, and many other publications. His first novel, Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy was first published by Chiasmus in 2010 and was re-released by Widow & Orphan in 2017. "They're Kind of Turtles" is from his recently completed second novel, An Evening of Romantic Lovemaking, a fictional autobiography told in the form of a stand-up comedy routine. He is currently writing a new novel, A Wave, A Wash. He lives in Bloomington, IL with his wife and six sons.