The Toothless Tonto Trick


I don’t blog very often about Cavemothering (my personal philosophy of doing everything with as little effort and as much fun as possible). I suppose it’s because parenting tips tend to smack of Cheshire Cat smugness to me, whereas my own mothering skills are more akin to running through a busy restaurant carrying six soup tureens, while the hungry clients throw small sharp objects at me and someone is perpetually waxing the floor ahead.

However, I’d like to share something that happened recently that seems to be forming part of my fight-avoidance repertoire. At moments like these I get a glimpse of that playful, smooth home-running skills that I aspire to, and which nobody can really teach.

Living with children in Spain, you get fairly accustomed to the periodic outbursts of “¡Tonto!” and “¡Estúpido!”, insults that are all the more boring for essentially meaning the same thing. Can’t kids come up with something for inventive, for crying out loud? My dad always used to object to us using swear words on the basis that it showed how poor our vocabulary was.

Anyway, one morning not too long ago, Caveboy and Cavebabe began their usual tit-for-tat over the breakfast table. Carrying a backlog of annoyance over their daily spats, I suddenly turned to them and, in an angry, mean voice, said to one, “¡Tú eres un dinosaurio!” and to the other “¡Tú eres un cepillo de dientes!” (“You are a dinosaur” and “You are a toothbrush”.)

This had the instant effect of making us all crack up, and sparked off what is turning into a bit of a house game: the toothless insult. The basic premise is to call your co-arguer, in as spiteful a tone as possible, a completely harmless object that carries absolutely zero degree of preferentiality; it is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just an object that you might see lying around.

When you receive one of these toothless insults, what makes it even more funny it to act really outraged. “What?! You’re calling me a HAIRBRUSH??” The effect of this little trick is that everybody gets out their anger without causing anyone any harm, and as an added benefit, trying to yell “You are a frying pan!” at the top of your voice is pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh and shatter the tension.

I tried this yesterday at a friend’s barbecue , when it looked like a fight was about to break out between some of the older kids. I was surprised to find that kids of all ages seem to get the hang of this game straight away, coming out with some very inventive and hilarious ‘toothless tontos’, and forgetting their grievances immediately.

Try out some of the following when tempers are starting to fray:

“You are a/an…”


Computer table

Plate covered in crumbs

Paper bag

Car headlight




Dining table

Piece of string


Leg bone


Jar of tahini



Tomato pip


Once you get the hang of this game, you might even find yourself extending it to other people who grate your nerves. Just don’t sue me when your boss fires you for calling him a Peanut. A court case involving people who scream “Shoelace!” and “Outboard motor!” at one another might be just a little too weird.

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