A few weeks ago in the coffee shop, an angry four-year-old replied to her father by shouting “You don’t understand the consequences!” I don’t know what he said to prompt this, but it slayed. Everyone laughed, even the father.
It got me thinking about some of the insane things kids said to me when I was an after-school teacher. This was great fun, learning they were always more sophisticated—and weirder—than you expected.
I often found myself fighting back laughter while trying to be serious or stop an argument.
Some fondly-remembered favorites:
A fourth-grade girl’s attempt to convince me that Gladiator was an acceptable holiday movie to watch in class: “It’s got a lot of red in it. That’s a Christmas color, right?” (She had the DVD in her bookbag, ready to go. We didn’t watch it.)
A first-grade girl’s response to me calling the class in from recess: “What the hell, dude?”
A first-grade girl’s exclamation to me when I found her with a pair of scissors and a mound of her friend’s hair on the floor: “Whatever!” She had just cut all the girl’s bangs off, right up to the hairline. This one is only funny in retrospect. At the time, it terrified me because I had to face the parents later that afternoon. But the mother was cool with it. “Third time it’s happened,” she said.
The weirdest one came after a boy complained to me that another boy had thrown a stick at him on the playground. Both were in fourth grade. I approached the accused and began my inquiry.
Me: “Did you throw a stick at him?”
Boy: (in a robotic voice while staring into space) “I used my hand to give the stick thrust.”
Me: “Why did you do that?”
Boy: “The inertia of the stick carried it through the air.”
Me: “Yes, we both understand the physics of what happened. But why did you do it?”
Boy: “The momentum of the stick decreased with wind resistance.”
Me: “You need to take this seriously.”
Boy: “Gravity caused the trajectory to form an arc.”
Me: “Come on…”
Boy: “The stick is now at rest.”
This was a weirdly brilliant strategy. I eventually gave up and sent him to the office, where I imagine the whole process started over again.
All these—and the girl threatening her father with “consequences”—kill me. But they also get me thinking about expectations, and how wonderful it can be when people defy them.
Kids have it easy. Expectations are low. So when they bust out with something sophisticated and off kilter, it slays. Adults have to work a little bit harder. I was a pretty weird kid, and I miss the ability to shock and awe with nothing more than a line.
Maybe that’s part of why I’m a writer. I’m still trying to say something unexpected—or moving, or wild—and cause a reaction. But the goals are bigger. I don’t just want to score a laugh or raised eyebrows. I want to make something that digs into your brain and settles there for a while. Like spider eggs.
It’s my only avenue until we have implanted memories. Then I can pay a hacker to force my stories into people’s brains against their will.
I know you must have stories like these, especially my teacher friends. Tell me the best one! Or if you were the one to bust expectations with a turn of phrase, I’d love to know what you said.