I loved reading to my children. These opportunities truly represented quality time. I have so many fond memories of the three of us huddled around a book or laughing with poems by Shel Silverstein.
But let me digress . . . . . .
I remember when our children went off to school for the first time. Like all parents, I wanted their experiences to be perfect. I wanted their time to be bully-free and their teachers to be as caring and as talented as Mary Poppins; however, I knew that there would be new experiences over which I had little, if any, control. I had to trust that all would work out for the better.
Now, back to my story . . . . . .
On this particular evening, I was lying on the bed and my children were seated either side of me and looking at the book over my shoulders. It was a children’s story/picture book that was age appropriate for my son (kindergarten) and daughter (grade 2). As I recall, I was about half way through the story and, just as I turned a page, my daughter said, “That’s swearing.” I was at a loss to figure out what caused her to say that. I turned the page back and re-read the words – still nothing. At this point she said, with a little more expression “Liam, that’s swearing.” I looked over my right shoulder and discovered that she, in fact, wasn’t looking at the book, she was looking at her brother. I then looked over my left shoulder and was somewhat shocked to see my son had his right hand extended and was
giving his sister the middle finger. I put the book down.
“Liam, do you know what that means?”
“No, Dad, but I think it is bad.”
“Well, you are right, it is bad. Where did you learn to do that?”
“On the bus.” He explained how some of the older kids had been doing it. He wasn’t sure what it meant but figured it was something you did to someone with whom you were not happy.
I was thinking to myself, how can I explain this in terms that he would understand without using the F word?
“Son, when you show someone the middle finger in that manner, it is like saying you think they are stupid, dirty and wearing a dirty diaper on their head, ALL AT ONCE. It really isn’t a nice thing to do.”
At this point he looked down at his middle finger. I could tell he was trying to figure out how one extended digit could mean all of that. I said, “Let’s put the book away for a while and play a game. To play this game you two need to sit on the opposite end of the bed.” They moved to one end of the bed and I sat at the other.
“Now, I am not going to say a word out loud, but I am going to move my body in a way that you can figure out what I mean. This is called using body language. It is a way of telling people what you are thinking without opening your mouth. Let’s start.”
I waved my hand and they said that it meant either hello or good-bye. I wagged my index finger and they knew it meant don’t do that. I held my index finger to my lips and they said be quiet. When I shrugged my shoulders they knew it meant I don’t know.
“OK, good job. That’s called body language. We do it all the time; particularly, when we want to tell somebody something without making a sound. So, society had agreed that when you do this”, I extended my middle finger, “it means that you think someone is stupid, dirty and wearing a dirty diaper.” I looked at my son, “Please tell me you are not going to do that to other people. It could make them angry and cause them to do something you might regret. It is not a nice thing to do.” He assured me he would not do it. We returned to the book.
Several weeks later we were enjoying our evening meal together. The kids were opposite each other and my wife was across from me. At one point there was a lull in the conversation so I looked at my daughter and noticed that she was staring across at her brother. Her expression wasn’t a happy one. I looked at Liam. He had his left hand extended toward his sister. His palm was facing inwards and all five fingers were extended (sort of a reverse wave). With his right index finger he pulled his left pinky into his palm. He them pulled his thumb into his palm, the whole time not taking his eyes off his sister. He them pulled his left ring finger into his palm. At this point he was displaying a reverse peace symbol towards his sister. I looked at her and she continued to stare back at him, probably content that he was about to get in trouble.
I didn’t say a word. He had told me that he wouldn’t give anyone the finger and he knew that I was watching. I wondered what was going through his head. At this point he placed his right index finger on top of his left index finger and held it there. Without taking his eyes off of his sister he said, “Don’t worry Dad, I am not going to pull this finger down.”
But the message to his sister was clear. He was using non-verbal communication to his advantage. He delivered a message to his sister without crossing the line.
Well done, son.
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