This summer, Ezra said to my dear friend from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in almost six years, “Why are you so fat? Do you eat too much junk food?” I wanted to be vaporized by aliens. My friend, who is not “so fat” at all, laughed it off gamely, joking with the little shyster. But I was utterly mortified.
Preschoolers! They have the language skills to chat up a storm yet have absolutely no inhibitions. They will poke you in an elevator and whisper loudly, “Mommy, that lady has a mustache!” They will lift up your skirt in public and tell the guy next to you that you are wearing pretty underwear. They will confide in your pastor after church that—giggle, giggle—Mommy sometimes pees when she sneezes!
You’ve no doubt heard these kinds of blurts from your offspring because, well, 99 percent of kids this age simply have no couth. Preschoolers are bound to point out anything that’s new or striking to them. This means Great-Aunt Beulah, with her five o’clock shadow, is in trouble—and so are you.
Amy was in some hot water when a certain little pitcher with big ears blabbed a private conversation, out of context, about her mother-in-law. (I bet you’re shuddering, and you haven’t even heard the story yet!)
My daughter informed my in-laws that “Mommy did not want to ever go to their house again.” She had overheard a discussion my husband and I had when we returned home from a weekend away after traveling with my newborn and three-year-old. My mother-in-law had invited us over for dinner and we hadn’t been home all weekend, and I did not want to pack up the kids for yet another night out of the house. Needless to say, her blurt did not go over well.
Pint-sized pundits each one, preschoolers call it like they see it, which is why Jen T.’s Gabbi told someone, “You stink! You need a mint!” and Christy’s daughter pointed to a paraplegic in a grocery store, broadcasting the words, “Look, Mommy, that man has no legs. Why?”
Truly, the blurters among us have no social filters, and this fact renders them cluelessly rude even though their remarks aren’t meant to hurt or malign anyone. Most people do understand that our little blabbermouths are innocent, but when they speak out of turn, it can be embarrassing, right?
My son Jonah was perhaps the king of blurts when he was three, four, and five. He was very verbal and said the first thing that popped into his little towhead. The Easter that he was four, I came downstairs wearing a new spiffy springtime ensemble he had never seen before. “Mommy looks pretty!” he said to my husband, Doyle. “Why does she?”
Once Jonah watched a seventy-something Dutch locksmith change the locks on our front door. I’m not sure if he spotted a plumber’s backside situation or if he was just jazzed about getting some new Spider-Man skivvies, but after watching the man finagle with the lock for a while, he just came out with it: “Are you wearing underwear?” Later I heard from a mutual friend that our locksmith had never in all his years of performing his services heard such a question!
Of course, this situation was a far sight better than one mom’s plight with her yakky preschooler. The only boy in a family of four sisters, little Paul was very proud of and fascinated by his male member, a rarity in that household. Naturally, he wanted to know who else in his universe had such a wonder attached to their bodies. So for a few weeks, he asked people wherever he went, “Do you have a penis?” Oy!
Often, kids will question something they aren’t used to seeing, like Great-Aunt Beulah’s furry chin. When it comes to pointing out differences in skin color, comments can get quite politically incorrect.
“Mommy, she’s not black!” Jonah exclaimed upon seeing the receptionist at the doctor’s office. “Um, no, she’s not,” I said. I knew what Jonah was thinking: Dr. Addy, his pediatrician, is African, and Jonah was anticipating a smiling woman with black skin.
I managed to distract him from this train of thought with some toys and breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t continued his line of questioning. (I could picture him commenting on the skin color of every person sitting in the waiting room.)
Of course, life with a preschooler is rarely that simple. A little while later, when Dr. Addy was examining Jonah at close range, the Mouth spoke again: “She’s got black ears, Mom!” Oh my. With someone less congenial—and less accustomed to the out-loud blurts of small children—the situation could have become awkward. Thankfully, Dr. Addy chuckled and didn’t miss a beat with the old tongue depressor routine. “Yes, you noticed, did you,” she said, smiling at Jonah.
Sometimes, the target of such innocent but potentially upsetting remarks is less understanding. Or perhaps they have a handicap, in which case they may not welcome attention drawn to them. We had two encounters with dwarfs when Jonah was small, one positive and one negative. The second guy did not appreciate one bit my little boy’s calling out, “Look how tiny that man is!” Gulp.
We don’t know precisely when the Mouth will strike, but when it does, we can do a few things to help finesse the child’s social skills:
In the moment, casually answer your child’s blurt. “Yes, God made people of all sizes, didn’t he?” (Or, to comment on Great-Auntie’s beard: “Oh, you’re such a silly boy.” The word “silly” can bail you out of numerous situations. Do apologize to the offended party, lightly, if you feel it’s appropriate at the moment. “I’m sorry about that! He’s just at that age where he says the craziest things!”) Later, tell Blabby you know he didn’t mean to hurt the dwarf’s feelings, but when we stare or ask loud questions it might make the person feel bad (or in Aunt Beulah’s case, inspire her to check into electrolysis).
Don’t gasp and sputter and force your child to apologize. This will only draw more attention to the unsavory situation. And the Mouth will be totally confused.
If your child infrequently has the opportunity to see people of other races, buy some picture books and talk about how beautiful different colors of skin are. She may excitedly point out the next person of a different color she sees, in which case you could again apply a light touch—“Yes, I see that!”—and later follow up with another speech about pointing.
A note about “Fun Things.” Since preschoolers are so funny (sometimes not at the moment but later), and because occasionally all we can do is laugh, I’m ending each chapter of this book with “Fun Things.” It’s a hodgepodge of preschool blurts, humorous lists, and other amusing bits and pieces to wrap things up with a smile.
When we brought our now five-month-old home, Grace asked, “What’s wrong with his pee-pee butt, Mom?” (That’s what she’s been naming her parts—a pee-pee butt and a poopy butt.) We tried to explain that boys have a penis. For a while we thought she got it until one day when friends were over and I was changing Gabe’s diaper after his circumcision. Grace said, “Yeah, Gabe’s got a boo-boo on his peanut because he’s a boy.” I about lost it then!—Christy
On Father’s Day, Elana had a tummy ache, and when her father ran her to the bathroom, they didn’t quite make it and she threw up all over his shirt. “Mommy,” she said, “I threw Daddy up!”—Kim