The Boy and The Bird
Many less-than-wonderful things find their way home from our children’s schools each day: We have the onslaught of cold and flu germs, homework and notes from the teachers, and nasty habits passed on from “other” children.
And don’t kid yourselves, Fellow Parents. No matter how well mannered you have taught you children to be, no matter how careful you are not to swear in front of them, something will sneak through.
I have two sons, no daughters. I have heard all manner of “butt” and “wiener” jokes,” endured every decibel of snoring and accepted into my home snakes, lizards, toads and most varieties of bugs found in the Northeast. We won’t even talk about the condition of the “kids’ bathroom” on a typical weekday morning. Let’s just say I don’t sweat the small stuff.
My youngest son is the one I most expected to give me a run for my money. He is curious, confident, and very eager to fit in with his older brother’s friends and imitate their behavior. Nonetheless, I was more than a little surprised when, after a busy day at school, he revealed one of the less-impressive skills he has thus far picked up from his associations with “the older boys.”
I was in the kitchen. My son, age 6, asked me repeatedly if he could have some candy, which is not on my list of approved after-school snacks. Instead of the usual pouting accompanied by some foot stomping and a retreat, he glared at me, furrowed his brow, narrowed his eyes and … gave me the bird.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed in shock—mostly at how expert his delivery was. I grabbed him, looked directly in his eyes and told him that he could not do that, and explained—in age-appropriate terms—why not.
Truth be told, I haven’t exactly kept a G-rated household every day since my children were born. I do my best to temper my tendency for colorful language while driving, but the occasional insult to another driver still slips through. But rude gestures are not my style, nor that of my former-altar boy husband.
When tempers cooled, I asked my son how he learned about “the finger” and what he thought it meant. It turned out that a few days earlier an older boy on the school bus had explained the non-parent-approved use of the middle finger. My older son, age 10, got the lesson as well, but he didn’t care and saw no reason to tell me about the incident. How my younger son knew how precisely to deliver his nasty salute was another matter. I suppose some things just come naturally.
After explaining that the gesture is basically a fill-in for a “really bad swear word,” I let my son know that if I heard of him using it again, there would be a punishment. Since it was clear that the older boy (thankfully) had not supplied all the details, the meaning was not really clear to my little one. He just knew it was “something bad.” However, the fact that he felt the need to use it with me was inappropriate in itself, so he did get a minor punishment so he could think about how better to express strong emotions.
I usually downplay inappropriate behavior by other children who play with or are in school with my sons. It’s never fun to tell another parent that her child has been “naughty,” so I focus on teaching my kids how to react to those behaviors, instead. My children are certainly no angels, and situations like these, in which no real harm is done, are teachable moments. Making too much of a big deal about them could, I’ve learned, make negative behavior even more appealing.
On the other hand, the school bus is a rolling petri dish of bad habits and aggression. So it’s tough not to wonder: Could my son be passing his newfound skills on to someone else?
None of us wants our own children labeled as one of “the bad kids”—whatever that means. But I also know that, in a diverse world, my sons will encounter all kinds of personalities who have been shaped by varying degrees of parental influence. So, I can only be confident in knowing that my sons are acquiring the tools they need to do the right thing—most of the time.
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.