by Mike Todd

“Does this mean something bad?” my five-year-old son Evan asked me, holding up his middle finger, staring at it as if he’d never considered how much power that one finger could have.

He had no idea what he was doing, but you could tell he was wondering if his finger was like a magic wand from Harry Potter, and all he had to do was point it at something to make that thing turn angry.

“Parentus exasperaticus!” he’d say, and with a flick of his finger, the magic would happen.

Before that moment, I’d understood that kids didn’t start flicking off their parents until you refused to let them go to a concert that everyone else is allowed to go to, but my kid didn’t even make it out of kindergarten before flipping me the bird.

“It does, but your form is off. It’s important to make right angles with your other fingers, and face your palm in, like this,” I said.

No, actually I hesitated, feeling like this was one of those crossroads moments, where the wrong answer could set him on a path toward being a congressman.

“Who showed you that?” I asked him, attempting to use the Socratic Method, which is when you answer questions with questions to try to keep the other person from learning anything. Socrates invented it when his kids asked him where babies come from.

“Isabella at school. She said it means something really, really bad,” Evan said.

To those who say that our children are not learning enough in school, let me tell you: they’re learning plenty.

Childhood innocence can be tough to preserve, even when you take all the right precautions. A couple of days prior, my old college roommate Josh called while my family was in the car.

“You’re on the Bluetooth speaking to my entire family right now. Hi, there,” I said.

“Ha! Thanks for the warning, man. You caught me just in time,” he said through the car speakers. Usually, my friends don’t make it past the salutations without using words that would make you lose your FCC license.

Then, two seconds later, reflexes kicked in and Josh dropped the F-bomb. Rather than chastising him, I just interrupted and kept talking. When your kids hear a swear word they don’t know yet, the best thing to do is to become an auctioneer, putting as many words between them and the transgression as possible.

“Let’s start the bidding at $2.50. I’m at $2.50. Who’s going to give me three? Three dollars there. Can I get five? Five? Three dollars going once, going twice, SOLD to the obfuscating parent who will continue talking rapidly until everyone forgets what was said 10 seconds ago.”

For Evan’s impromptu class on contemporary sign language, I wanted to be honest.

“What do you think it means?” I asked, seeing how long I could participate in this conversation without imparting any actual information.

“Logan said it means you’re going against God. Does it mean that you’re going against God?” Evan asked.

“Hmmm,” I said, never having considered the theological implications of giving someone the finger.

“I’m not sure about that, but it is an extremely rude way to tell someone that you don’t like them, or that you don’t like what they’re doing. That’s all. We don’t do it because it hurts people’s feelings, and it’s mean. Okay?” I said.

“Okay, I won’t do it,” he said, and then he started talking about other things. The topic hasn’t come up again since. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I’m not expecting to see that gesture from Evan again anytime soon, at least not until I forbid him from going to a concert.

You can salute Mike Todd with your choice of fingers at