"Do you want to know something bad, Mommy?" my five-year-old daughter asks in one of her familiar yet chilling non sequiturs.
I pause in emptying her backpack and look up at her, my mind jumping tracks from the did-she-eat-her-lunch suspense to uh-oh-what-fresh-hell suspense.
"Really? What's that?" I ask conversationally, belying my panic.
As I wait for her to finish basking in my undivided attention, I think: Why does she always drop bombs on me when we're just through the door and I'm sweaty and tired and have to make dinner in five minutes?
Probably---and by "probably" I mean "definitely"---this has something to do with the basking-in-attention thing. All kids crave attention, but my daughter has extra reason. Her mother is so frazzled on weeknights that it's bath time till the woman notices what new bruises and black-and-blues her child has acquired that day.
So I understand her timing. It's just a wee bit frustrating.
I brace myself as she finally answers.
"I know what this means." She holds up her middle finger, then waits for my reaction.
"And what does it mean?" I ask, still nonchalant.
She sways from side to side, holding her finger. I can tell she's just itching to flip me the bird again, in the interests of science.
"Something very bad."
"You're right," I tell her. "It means something rude and vulgar and we don't do it."
Meanwhile, I'm thinking, Daddy and Mommy give each other the finger all the time super casually just to mess with each other. But it's probably not appropriate to tell a five-year-old how Daddy often puts his hand in his pocket like he's looking for something and then, acting very surprised, pulls out his middle finger, holds it up to me, and says, "I think this is for you." Never gets old!
"Did someone at camp show you that?" I continue.
She nods, then tells me all about how so-and-so did it to somebody-or-other so then so-and-so got in trouble and was in timeout for the rest of the day until his mother came and how the counselors told everyone not to do it because it was bad.
"Well, sure sounds like he learned his lesson, right?"
She nodded and then she went to play. It seemed like the counselors had done a good job, but naturally my daughter had absorbed the DRAMA and wanted to discuss it. Overall, though, I kind of felt I'd dodged a bullet.
Before she was born, I had this idealized view of the "teachable moment." They would always occur in some lemon-yellow kitchen where the sun eternally shined, and my child would be reading a book with me or we'd be engaged in some art or craft, which in real life I have no patience for, when she'd stop for a moment, look up at me--her all-wise and all-knowing mother---and say, "Dearest mother, why do bad things happen to good people?" And I'd have a speech ready in my hip pocket, one that was carefully nuanced, full of wisdom and lyricism and ending with a recommended list for further reading, and afterwards I'd say it was time for bed, even though the sun was still beaming aggressively into our kitchen, and she would immediately comply and go to sleep with a smile on her face, which is of course the most far-fetched part of this whole scenario.
It turned out, however, that that was not the end of the Middle-Finger Incident. As soon as Daddy came home, she asked him the same thing, and also got the same sober attention as he explained that that was a bad thing to do and she shouldn't do it. What an effect this question was having!
And then the next day we were eating dinner with friends when, into a moment of silence, she turned to our friends and said, "Do you want to know something bad?"
I rolled my eyes, but I have to say I was also impressed. Maybe I need her to start writing for the Internet, because she's a natural at click bait.