My 4-year-old came home saying the P-word. He's an amazing listener. He overheard parents talking about Donald Trump at preschool. He wanted to know what it means.
Parenting is basically the culmination of split-second answers to crazy questions. Kitty or anatomical part? Kitty or anatomical part? I went for anatomy — with a small side teaching of misogyny in America and the demeaning implication of using such terminology. My son nodded. Then he lit up: "Can I know some other bad words about private parts?"
I should have chosen kitty.
Our conversation morphed into a Q&A about where babies come from, how exactly they are made, when he can have a baby and whether mamas like picking their noses as much as kids do. My son then excused himself from the conversation, sat on the corner of the couch and stared out the window, pondering life's many wonders. He can be quite existential. Then he burped, laughed and began crashing cars into the couch. World wonderment came to a close for the afternoon. And I breathed for the first time in roughly two hours. Remember when David Blaine held his breath underwater as some gimmick to show how magical he is? Yeah, that's not magic; that's parenting. Or being a whale. Those suckers can hold their breath forever.
My son is just a little boy, but he will grow to be a man, and I want him to be a great one. Seeing as he is so good at listening, it is my obligation to make sure he hears right from wrong. When it comes to social standards, expectations and graces, everything is learned. You don't instinctually know not to put bubble gum in your dog's hair. It has to be taught, to be learned.
"When you want something and can't figure out how to get it done, what do you do?" I ask my son.
"Persevere. Try, try again."
"That kid doesn't want you touching her. What should you do?"
"Give her space. Respect her body."
He grumbles, but he listens. He listens to everything. Everything is sinking in — the instructional talk about the P-word, the time I told him Batman is cooler than Superman, the time I told him that if you eat too many cookies, your hair turns blue just like Cookie Monster's. The time I told him that I don't eat meat because I don't like to eat animals, he looked down at his chicken nuggets and tearfully asked, "My chicken nuggets are made of chicken?"
Then, just as I do every time, I struggled. Do I tell him his nuggets are made of dead chickens or from the lesser-known chicken plant?
Dead chickens? Plants? Dead chickens? Plants?
I chose dead chickens.
"But I love chickens," he sobbed. I made him macaroni and cheese instead. He saw me put in the milk and butter. "Where does milk come from?" he asked.
I wasn't going to risk it.
How is there hope for any of us? If parenting is the culmination of a million split-second answers, choices and statements, how can any of us expect to grow our children into well-rounded, not traumatized, women and men? You never know when one of these life-altering questions is going to pop up. I mean, seriously, kid? You didn't know that the thing you are eating called chicken is made from chicken? How can one prepare for such an aha moment?
For a few months, I worked in technical support for a screenwriting software company. When folks would call in with questions, I could quickly scroll through a database to expeditiously discover the appropriate answer and solution. The customer would hang up the phone thinking I was a genius.
I need that in my parenting — an accessible database of appropriate lessons on vocabulary and social behavior and quick answers for all those hard-hitting kid questions. There's gotta be an app for that!
If I want to raise my son to become a great man, it has to start with his primary educator: me. I have to get better with my lessons, but I guess I should be glad that he listens so well.
Last night, my son was poking his baby sister. "Your sister doesn't want you touching her. What should you do?"
My son lit up. "I know! Persevere! Try, try again!"
So close, kid, yet so wrong. Maybe he isn't the best listener.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Like Katiedid Langrock on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/katiedidhumor. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.