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There we were, trapped in the car for the four-hour drive home from Albuquerque. Our four-year-old daughter was strapped into her car seat bemoaning the long ride ahead of us. Moments after leaving she was already yelling, “Let me out!”
Sometime during hour two, in between the escalation of what I like to refer to as the “traveling mutiny” the conversation shifted to nicknames. We’d been having many discussions revolving around the difference between nice nicknames and name-calling. For example, I often called her “Bumblebee” which is a nice nickname, but she called me “Block Head” which is not nice and more like name calling (thanks a lot, Charlie Brown). In her quest to come up with nicer nicknames she decided to call me “Flower,” to which I agreed.
When it came time to give her dad an appropriate nickname she got a little stuck. Since we had mutually decided that “Poopy Head” was not at all acceptable she was forced to contemplate an alternative.
After much consideration, probably at least three whole minutes, which to be fair is probably the equivalent of nine years to a preschool child, she settled on the theme of birds.
“How about if we call Dad ‘Blue Jay’?” she asked.
I told her that would be nice, but then I caught her shaking her head. It was obvious she didn’t think Blue Jay was quite right. After a short pause she exclaimed, “I know! How about Side-Pecker?”
“Side-pecker? Is that a long lost cousin to the woodpecker?” I asked carefully, trying my best not to snicker. It was one of the hardest things I have ever asked with a straight face and I have asked some very difficult questions over the course of my 39 years. I am not a teenage boy despite what some people might think. Despite the fact that I wanted to squeal, “Your daughter just called you a peckerhead!” in my husband’s face like we were sparring on the playground and despite the fact that all I could think about was a guy I had dated in college who considered getting cosmetic surgery on his wanker because it bent to the left. That, my friends, was an actual side-pecker that belonged to a real peckerhead.
“Yes!” she shouted, jolting me out of my college haze, “I’ll call daddy ‘Side-Pecker’!”
Then it dawned on me: those numerous conversations we’d had as a family about the woodpecker that had recently taken a keen interest in our house’s siding. Of course! Woodpecker + siding + preschooler = “Side-Pecker”!
As I turned to look at Jim, my husband and father to our spawn, I noticed that tears were running down his cheeks and his face was squished up from the sheer effort of trying to stifle his laughter. I knew his mind was also running wild with euphemisms for genitalia. As soon as we made eye contact it was all over. We both burst out laughing. Our daughter laughed too and glowed with pride. Somehow she just knew that she had chosen the best nickname ever known to man.
The cardinal is a royal bird, the blue jay is a tough bird, but nothing beats a side-pecker. She’d hit the nickname jackpot. I vowed to never call Jim by his given name ever again.
Later that night as we went to bed, Jim said he loved me. As I rolled over, I smiled with sincerity and then I whispered, “I love you too, Side-Pecker.”