My 4-year-old has better manners than any adult I know, and Lord knows neither my husband nor I taught him them.
It’s those dang teachers, teaching him to be a respectable young man.
Mike and I are often called out by our child for things we say that are, apparently, unacceptable. Recently at the dinner table, my husband was venting about a change in process at work, which garnered him quite a few corrections from the little guy.
“…And now we have this new requirement that we have to send an email with each reconciliation, which is so stupid–”
“Dad, you shouldn’t say stupid,” Mikey cuts him off.
Mike recovers, letting the child know, “You’re right, buddy.” We raise our eyes at each other across the table in a “we forgot we’re being monitored” exchange, and he changes his wording.
Mike then continues. “Oh, and I wanted to kill my coworker because–”
“Dad, you shouldn’t say kill.”
Again, my husband stops in his tracks. “You know what, you’re right, again. I shouldn’t say that. That’s a very bad thing to say.”
He decides to put a cap on that story because he knows that with his frustrations, there’s only worse to come out of his mouth, so I start to share anecdotes from my day, instead.
“I got a call from someone today who said their bill got lost in the mail, and I don’t know what the heck that’s all about, because–”
“Mom, you shouldn’t say ‘What the heck.’”
Now it’s my husband’s turn to raise his eyebrows at me, in a “how does it feel?” gesture.
“Mikey, what’s wrong with saying ‘What the heck?’” I ask him.
“Miss Colleen says it’s not polite. We should say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ instead.”
I take a sip of water and swallow. “Well, if your teachers don’t’ want you to say it, then I guess we shouldn’t say it.”
What I don’t voice is that, “Hey, what’s going on here?” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as a certain “what the…” phrase accompanied by a few choice four-letter words.
Mike clears his throat and when I look up, he asks, “So, what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks are we allowed to say around this kid?”
I shrug and wave my fork in the air before taking a bite of chicken and replying, “H-E-C-K if I know.”
“What?!” I squeak, knowing full well I didn’t actually say an unacceptable word, and fairly certain he can’t spell, yet. “What did I say?”
“When you have food in your mouth you shouldn’t talk.”
Mike and I lock eyes. I’m pretty sure my face gives off ALL the things I’m not supposed to say, while his face let’s me know he’s enjoying my fumble.
I swallow, wipe my mouth with a napkin, then lean on my arms – before quickly pulling them back, afraid I’m going to be accosted for having my elbows on the table. “Right again, big guy,” is all I can eek out.
Then Mike and I are both silent — and kind of scared to say anything for the rest of the meal.
Finally, Mike clears his throat again and when I look up, he says, quietly, “For a kid who watches a show about a Spongeman who lives in a pineapple under the sea, he’s quite the model citizen.”
“You’re telling me,” I practically whisper back.
A short time later, Mikey declares, “I’m all done.” Then he gets up and brings his plate over to the kitchen counter by the sink, and Mike and I each let out breaths we didn’t even realize we were holding in.
“That,” Mike says, pointing to the plate by the sink, “he learned from us.”
I give him a wink and say, “Sure did!” around a mouthful of broccoli.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Press/Times and mother of a 4-year-old. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.