Putting it together

The words on the sidewalk were upside down and sideways and scrawled with white chalk, already days old and eroding under the many feet at friends and family weekend, but still, at a glance, the words made us both laugh. The students at my beloved alma mater, bursting with a passion that sometimes surfaces as totally irrelevant, had written "Fuck Columbus" in honor of the recent holiday. I'm not one to lie to kids (Fig 1: Ongoing struggle over what to say about S. Claus, resulting in inept mumbling whenever she asks) but when our 3-year-old asked me to tell her what the words said, I said, "Welcome students!"

It was one, maybe two beats, as we walked away, on to the next thing - and then her sweet baby voice, still saying 'R' sounds as 'W,' piped up:  "But dere's no 'B' in 'wacome' or 'students,' Mama." Dang, we got ourselves a smart one. She must have looked at all the letters in Fuck Columbus sideways for maybe 4 or 5 full seconds. She continued explaining the reasoning behind her confusion, citing the F as another wild card in my explanation, until I realized the jig was up and cut her off - "You got me. The words said something rude and I didn't want to tell you what they say, so I made something up. Sorry, cutie - I still can't tell you!"

When she was 2, I read her a poem about Santa Claus, demurely shrugging when she asked if he was "weal or pwetend" and then hiding my face in my hands when she demanded to know the mechanics behind the flying reindeer in the sky. She pwetends all the time ("Did you know dere's a cheetah behind dat fence?"), but she still loves to read "Jet Plane: How It Works." What can I say?

"I can wead some words, Mama," she says now. "I'm leawning."