If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. - Oscar Wilde
What is it about kids that either makes us laugh, or want to crawl under a rock while turning 30 shades of red? Their refreshing honesty? The eye for details most adults choose to ignore? Innocent gaffes? Kids will often say what we grown-ups are thinking, but are too polite to say out loud.
Politeness is sometimes a form of lying. Try to explain that to a kid. Though highly observant, children don’t yet know how to bite their tongues or look away. How many times have you said to your child it’s not polite to stare, to point, to laugh at this or that?
How do we as parents teach our kids to be honest - but not that honest?
I was trying to teach my toddler basic politeness - say please, thank you, excuse me, along with the booger conversation - why a finger up the nose might feel good but is something we just don’t do. (However, I just read the number one pastime while driving alone is nose-picking.) “I love my boogers,” Alessio said. He was dead serious, utterly sincere. I had been trying to teach him to be comfortable with his body - to love himself - all of himself, though boogers weren’t included in my mental list of body lovables. He farted. “Alessio, what do you say?” I prompted. He thought a long moment, then said, “Bless you!”
Kids are visual, but not likely to grant effusive compliments. Instead, you can bet they’ll tell you just what they are thinking - from your wardrobe to your hair style.
My friend Juana works with kindergarteners. One of them asked her, “Ms. Juana, why do only men have gray hair and not women?” She didn’t skip a beat. “Because women stay young forever.”
Another friend, Lindsay, told me how overjoyed she was that her 2-year-old son noticed she was basically dressed for yoga all day every day. (She’s a writer and works from home.) “Do you have a meeting?” he said, when she finally had time to shower and put on normal clothes, beyond the standard mommy outfit of yoga pants and t-shirt.
When my sister, Marisa, was 3 ½, she cozied up to a countess at a party and asked her if she was wearing a wig. The countess laughed. “Yes,” she said, holding a finger to her lips. “But don’t tell anyone.” “Can I try it on?” Marisa asked. The bored countess was delighted by my sister and her uncomfortable questions, which were more interesting than most of the party banter.
By the time she was 6, Marisa had learned a bit more finesse. At another gathering, she asked one of the guests how old she was. “It’s impolite to ask a woman her age,” someone said. “No it’s okay,” the woman in question replied. “I am 54.” My sister made an attempt at a compliment. “Oh, you look much older than that!”
Though we are sometimes embarrassed by our kids’ behavior, their freshness and curiosity are strengths you don’t want to dampen.
Marisa never quite lost her brutal honesty or keen observation. These were natural skills she was born with, and my parents always encouraged her original voice. In fact, as an adult she got paid for it. As an image consultant for some of the country’s wealthiest women, it was her job to tell people what looked good - and what didn’t.
Her colleague, Lorna, summed it up. “Marisa, I want to thank you. You are the only one who tells me the truth, even if the truth is that I have a booger in my nose.” Now that’s friendship!
What are some funny things your kids have said?