Originally posted on Moms Magazine —
This morning as I was running around to get my 7-year-old son and myself ready to get out the door in order to not miss the camp bus (which was 20 minutes late!), he comes to me with the most serious look on his face and tells me to please turn off the blow dryer because he needs to ask me a question. Even though I only had half my head dry I complied because this looked to be important. With a scrunched brow he thoughtfully says to me, “Mommy, is showing your middle finger to someone mean you don’t like the president?” You can imagine how hard it was to keep a straight face – but I did.
I tried to summon up all my parenting knowledge that I’ve been gaining through the years from reading article after article on how to deal with situations just like this one, and like an eraser to a chalkboard, my mind went blank. I asked him why he thought that and he said he heard it at camp. Of course, summer camp, the place to make friends, have fun and learn a lifetime of bad habits from other kids!
This was not the first time I’d been confronted with the “word” associated with the middle finger. When my son was about 5 years old he was using the bathroom at LaGuardia Airport and when we were finishing up he noticed that “word” written on the inside of the stall and he says, in his loudest voice, “what does !@#$ mean?” I tried to ignore him (and the laughter I heard outside) and just said it was a bad word and if he used it I would wash his mouth out with every type of soap you could find in the soap aisle at Target. Clearly I wasn’t prepared for this moment.
I’m not innocent when it comes to bad language and some may even say I have a sailor mouth at times. Growing up I always thought G-d’s last name was dammit because my father threw the phrase around so easily. My husband is not innocent either and we try really hard to refrain from bad language when around our son, but “stuff” happens and old habits are hard to break.
As parents we always look for resources to help us teach our children right from wrong and the importance of concepts like getting along with our friends, sharing, not using bad language, saying please and thank you, telling the truth, having manners, and so on. Early on I found that some of the best books to help me teach my son about these things were the Berenstain Bears. Yes, the family of Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister Bear who live in a tree house, down a sunny dirt road, deep in Bear Country, are my go-to teachers.
Some of our favorites include: “The Truth,” “Forget Their Manners,” “The Green-Eyed Monster,” “Too Much Junk Food,” “Get The Gimmies,” and “The In Crowd.” Each book has an underlying lesson and is written in a way that is totally relatable to children, and as a bonus (at least for me), they help parents to reinforce the lessons.
So this morning, after the question of the middle finger came up, I tried to do my best Berenstain Bears imitation and explained to him that often times adults and children do and say inappropriate things, and that gesture was one of them. Because he is so smart he asked if the gesture had anything to do with that word from the bathroom at LaGuardia Airport. I can’t win. I also told him that using that gesture was unkind and had nothing to do with disliking the president, no matter your politics!
As we were making our way out the door I noticed he still had a puzzled look on his face and asked him if he had more questions. He said, “I guess Mama and Papa Bear don’t have to worry about talking to Brother and Sister about the middle finger because they don’t have one!” I’m so not ready for this innocence to go away.