By the time I finished my education and was ready to begin teaching kindergarten, I was a married woman with two children, ages 8 and 12. When the principal asked what my long-term plans were, I told him that this was it and the only reason I’d leave teaching would be if I got pregnant, which didn’t seem likely. As it turned out, after five years of teaching, my daughter Jeannette came along, and I left the profession. During the five years, though, I was an audience to some delightful moments with these sweet, imaginative youngsters. I kept a notebook on my desk in which to write the clever things that came out of the kids’ mouths (my knowledge of shorthand came in handy). I’m sure there were many clever things said that didn’t make it into my book. These are the ones I recorded.
The first incident didn’t involve the children. It happened during my very first orientation week. As I sat in an auditorium listening to welcoming talks, I was cutting out nametags for my kindergarten children. The gentleman in front of me kept turning around and looking at what I was doing. I started cursing under my breath, wishing he’d mind his own business. I was hearing everything that was being said and if I wanted to use the time to get my nametags cut out, that was nobody’s business. If he didn’t approve, too bad! Then the gentleman turned around once more and said “Could I cut out some?”
On my first day as a kindergarten teacher, I was introduced to the vivid imagination of Michael. He was manipulating a key game and said to me, “Mrs. McKinney, I’ve locked you inside this box.” I protested, saying, “Michael, I need to watch the children. Please let me out.” He responded, “The only way you can get out is if I turn you into a mouse.” I agreed to this, so, as he waved his hands back and forth in front of my face, he said, in a voice filled with mystery: “You are a mouse.” As I continued on my way, I felt a presence behind me. I turned to see Michael stealthily creeping toward me, saying “Meow!”
On the first day of school, Theresa told me that she’d thought she might cry but she didn’t cry and really liked school. Albert volunteered, in a voice loaded with enthusiasm, “I think school is really ordinary!” As they left that day, Kevin took his mother’s hand and said, “Good-bye, Mrs. McKinney. I may see you around school again sometime.”
We were discussing the word “couple.” Matthew volunteered, “Sometimes my Daddy asks Mommy for a couple coffee.”
I asked who knew what a fire drill was. Randy said, “I know. It’s what you cook steaks on.”
As soon as she arrived at school, Debbie nudged me and said, “Mrs. McKinney, I have a loose tooth.” Later, a punch on my side, followed by, “Mrs. McKinney, wanna feel my loose tooth?” This went on all day. Then, during a science lesson, we rubbed two rocks together, and the children were telling what they thought we’d see through the magnifying glass. Grant raised his hand. I called on him and he said “I think we’ll see sand.” Michael offered, “I think we’ll see dirt.” Debbie raised her hand. I called on her. “Mrs. McKinney, wanna see my loose tooth?” The following day – punch, punch. I apprehensively looked down to see Debbie pointing to a blank space. “Mrs. McKinney, look – I lost my tooth.”
Less of a chatterbox, one day Mark stated simply, “I got a bendable tooth.”
Gilbert, newly arrived from Cuba, was learning English. Each morning I would call the roll by saying “good morning” to each child, followed by the child’s name. Each child would reply, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” Not knowing the language, Gilbert would remain silent when I said “good morning” to him. I explained that this meant the same as “buenos diaz.” One morning, Gilbert replied, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” The children were thrilled. Each morning after that, when I said “good morning, Gilbert,” he’d reply “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” Then one day during Activity Period, Michael walked over to him and said, “Good morning, Gilbert.” Gilbert looked Michael straight in the eye and said, “Good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” We explained the proper response to Gilbert, and for the rest of the week, our lessons were interrupted by Gilbert’s voice singing out “Good morning, Michael,” “Good morning, Sally,” “Good morning, Tina.” By year’s end, Gilbert was able to interpret for his parents.
Early in February, I asked if anyone knew whose birthday was next week. No one knew, so I gave them a hint. I said, “Honest . . .” “To God” was Shelley’s suggestion.
We were exchanging valentines when Randy came to me and said “I don’t deserve valentines.” I responded, “Of course you deserve them, Randy.” After he persisted, he was finally successful in conveying his message. What he meant was that he didn’t observe Valentines Day. His religion forbade it. On the other hand, he would often arrive at class holding some small gift for me – a ceramic planter with a plant, a handkerchief, or a cut flower, for example. This was in keeping with his religion, which wasn’t against the giving of gifts – it was opposed to observing special days.
Easter was coming so the children were going to make bunnies by pasting various shapes onto a large piece of construction paper. Before turning them loose on the project, while they watched, I created a bunny on an easel. After a step-by-step demonstration, my project was complete. As I looked it over, I said, “I guess I’ll call my bunny done.” Winston responded with “That’s a funny name for a bunny.”
I made small green paper shamrocks that I pinned onto the children on St. Patrick’s Day so that, as I explained to them, they wouldn’t get pinched for not wearing green. By the same token, I decided it was my job to educate these children about April Fool’s Day. I used as an example “There’s a spider on your shoulder!” “Oh, my, where?” “April Fool!” There were approximately thirty children in my class so I’d estimate that at least thirty times I was excitedly alerted about a spider on my shoulder. Actually, the number thirty is probably low because I neglected to account for the serial alerters who weren’t satisfied with only one spider but told me again and again about the ding-blasted spider that I had created.
During a discussion about Thanksgiving, I asked if anyone knew why Pilgrims left their country and came to America. Michael said, “To eat turkey.” Later I reminded the children to think of something besides turkey on Thanksgiving. Suzy said, “Yeah, pumpkin pie!”
Paul showed me a disk of clay that had a design on it. He said, “I want to keep this. It’s an emblem.” Noticing that he had incorporated the initials “ER” into the design, I asked, “What does ER stand for?” He answered, “How should I know? I can’t read.”
While we were standing outside, Mark had quite an animated conversation with me, telling about their vacation trip. When he talked about Smokey the Bear and how awful forest fires are, I inquired as to whether either of his parents smoked, thinking that if they did, I could ask him how he could help them to be careful. He responded: “My dad doesn’t smoke cigars; my dad doesn’t smoke cigarettes; my mom doesn’t smoke cigars; my mom doesn’t smoke cigarettes; and Holly – she’s only three – she doesn’t smoke either; and I don’t smoke, too.”
During a parent-teacher conference, I was told that Bobby came home from school one day, very excited because he had a story to tell his parents. He said, “Mrs. McKinney was really disappointed today. She had to put a kid in a chair ‘cuz he was bad.” His mother responded, “Oh, that’s a shame. Who was the kid?” At this point, Bobby’s shoulders drooped and he stared at the floor as he muttered “me.”
All the children were sitting, ready for the start of a new school day, when I asked, “Did you all get lots of sleep last night so that you won’t be tired today?” Pauline responded, “I didn’t need to – know why? ‘Cause I’m always full of fun and excitement. I don’t ever get tired – only sometimes my feet get hot.”
The children loved to make up songs, and because I never limited sharing, if a child had nothing to share but wanted to get up in front of the class, he or she might just create a song on the spot. Carla sang, ”Along came Cinderella, and she fell over a barrel and she fell in the water and a shark ate her and she was scared and her mommy missed her.” And then there was Randy. He was the king of made-up songs. I could almost see the wheels grinding in his head as he’d look around the room and incorporate whatever he saw into the lyrics. I shared this with my family, so now any time we hear a song that rambles and hasn’t much of a tune, we call it a “Randy song.”
During a duck-and-cover alert, after they’d been under the tables for a while, Mark asked, “Where’s Mrs. McKinney?” Pauline said, “I know! She’s over there, hiding inside of her dress.”
Robert proudly announced that he was learning to spell, saying “Y-e-s, yes; Hell no, no.”
While discussing a movie we’d seen about the harbor, I asked if anyone could tell me what “gangway” meant. Walter said, “Come on, people, let’s go do something.”
I told the children to sit down. Pauline asked, “What are we going to do?” I responded, “We’re going to take a walk as soon as everyone sits down.” Quite earnestly, Pauline asked, “How can we take a walk with everyone sitting down?”
I was reading a book to the class. There was a picture of a tiger tearing the seat out of a man’s pants. Claire said, “Turn the page and see if he’s wearing red polka-dot underwear. They always are!”
Alan shared the following: “Well, I’m the real batman from now on – well, not all the time, but when batman is sick, I take over.” I asked “When did all this happen?” “Last night they came to my house and told me.”
I pitted boys against girls in a game of “Johnny Jump-Up,” using the tally method of score-keeping. The girls had four strokes; the boys, none. The girls got another point, so I put a diagonal line across the first four strokes. Bruce heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Good, she crossed them all out!”
When I asked David to go next door to borrow a paper punch, he queried “Paper punch – what’s that? Maybe you drink paper.”
From turning the teacher into a mouse to being able to drink paper, while teaching kindergarten I learned that kids really do say the darndest things. I also found a lot of insightful, clever, and funny things said by children outside of my kindergarten classroom.
Jeannette was born after I taught kindergarten, so I’d learned to write down the cute things she said. Recently, I took all the scraps of paper on which I’d written these notes, making a list of Jeannette’s cute utterances.
When she had just learned to talk, instead of “heavy,” Jeannette would say “heddy.” When asked to do something that she thought was too difficult for her, she’d say “too heddy.” To this day, the family refers to extremely difficult tasks as “too heddy.”
When she was four, I recorded several cute or clever things said by Jeannette, including the following:
“When my father goes to work, I have to get in bed with you because two people need to be in your bed because we love each other.”
“Do you stand by my bed at night and watch me grow?”
“My dress is too long. You should stem it.”
With arms outstretched, Jeannette said, “I love you this much. You love me more because you have longer arms.”
When Jeannette was five, she said:
“Your eyes don’t look like you can see through them. They just look like a decoration on your face.”
“When I’m holding a pickle and I’m going to try it, sometimes my mouth gets sort of worried.”
While we folded clothes, Jeannette said, “Remember when I was little and I thought I was folding them but I just crumbled them? You said, ‘Honey, see how I’m folding’. You kept and kept and kept showing me how but I kept crumbling them. That’s the way it goes. Little kids can’t understand.”
In talking about her grandfather she never knew, Jeannette asked if she was in my tummy then: “I was melting away just like nothing – just like if we didn’t have any furniture or anything to sit on or anything.”
At age six, Jeannette said, “When ladies get married to men, they snootch all the time.”
While watching television, Jeannette said, “How do they get those horses to walk in such a straight line? They must be girls to learn so easily.”
Any time we needed to use a restroom while traveling, I’d admonish my kids not to touch anything other than necessary, explaining that this was a public restroom. Consequently, when Jeannette’s first-grade teacher asked if anyone knew the meaning of the word “public,” Jeannette said it meant “dirty.”
When she was six, Jeannette said: “I got a whole bunch of sow bugs. Is it okay if I keep them?” I responded with a question: “What are you going to do with them?” “Oh, teach them tricks. I already taught one a trick.” When I asked what, she said, “To stand on his behind legs.”
The first time Jeannette experienced kelp while swimming in the lake, she became frightened. I explained that it was seaweed and was harmless. After that, when she spotted kelp, she’d say, ”Pee-wee won’t hurt me – huh, Mommy?”
Many years before Jeannette was born, our son Lynn came up with his own expressions. At the age of two, he had words for his three favorite things: oil wells, powder, and Safeway stores. When he saw an oil well, he’d say over and over and very fast: “See wow-wow, see wow-wow!” I don’t know why he had a fascination with powder. I believe he watched his grandmother apply it to her face, and asked her what it was called. He’d say rapidly “See pow-doo, see pow-doo!” He recognized Safeway stores by the yellow and black tile fronts they had at that time. When we passed one, he’d say “See Way-way, see Way-way!” over and over until the store was out of sight. When we took a cross-country trip, we were reminded again and again that there were Safeway stores in many states.
As is true with most little boys, Lynn got really excited when he saw a fire engine, which he called an “enger-funjer.”
When he was a little older, as we were driving, Lynn would point and say, “Mommy, who made that tree?” I’d respond, “You know who made the tree,” whereupon he’d say, “God made the tree.” Or “Mommy, who made the sun?” “You know who made the sun.” “God made the sun.” Then one day when we passed an excavation project with a mound of dirt, Lynn asked, “Mommy, who made that big pile of dirt – God or the tractor man?”
Lynn coined a word that I found to be quite appropriate. I really believe it should be added to the dictionary. That word is “lasterday.”
When I was studying to become a teacher, Lynn asked what grade I planned to teach. When I told him I wasn’t sure, he said, “Whatever you do – don’t teach fifth grade. Fifth graders are monsters!” I said, “Lynn, you were a fifth grader last year,” and his response was “Yeah, and remember what a monster I was.”
When Lynn was in middle school, he was the victim of a trouble-maker who told him that Robbie wanted to fight him, while telling Robbie that Lynn wanted to fight him. Lynn later told me that he’d had no intention of fighting, but when Robbie grabbed him by the collar of his beloved Pendleton jacket, Lynn saw red and a battle ensued. Lynn punched Robbie in the mouth and seriously cut up his knuckles, requiring a trip to the emergency room. When he was moaning in pain, I asked if he’d learned his lesson. He said he had. “And what is that lesson?” “When you punch someone, don’t punch him in the teeth.”
We were in the car with Lynn and his friend Steve in the back seat. Suddenly, Lynn said, “Steve, know what?” When Steve asked “What?” Lynn said “Watermelon.” A little later Lynn said “Steve, know what?” Steve replied “What?” and Lynn said “Watermelon.” Again, a little later, “Steve, know what?” Steve said, “Yeah, I know what – watermelon.” Lynn said “No, cantaloupe.”
When she was quite small, our daughter Michelle was good at creating her own expressions. Once while riding in the car in the rain, she said, “The tick-tocks make the windows clean, don’t they, Daddy?” She left the crust when she ate a sandwich, stating that she didn’t like “sandwich skin,” and when she was thirsty, she said her mouth was melting.
When Michelle’s big brother Lynn caught a grasshopper and asked for a container in which to put it, I gave him a coffee can. Each time she looked at the can, Michelle excitedly said, “Gaspopper.” One day at a market there was a display of cans of coffee, and Michelle could hardly contain herself because she was so excited to see so many gaspoppers. That wasn’t the only time she had people staring at her in public. She spoke in complete sentences at an early age, and people would turn and stare, thinking, “Did that come out of that tiny person?”
At the age of four, Michelle said to me, “Do you know why the streets are clean in the middle? Because the cars make wind that blows the dirt off the middle of the street. That’s why the street cleaner just goes along the edge.
When Michelle was in first grade, she came home from school and said, “Help me write ‘My father is a butcher,’ and I’ll read it for you.” I said, “No, I’ll help you write ‘My father is a coach’.” Michelle said, “You don’t understand. I want to show you how I can read. I know my father is a coach.”
Another time Michelle said “Karen, Debbie, and I are the best workers in the class.” I asked her if her teacher had said that. She responded, “No, the teacher said Karen and Debbie are the best workers – but I’m a good worker, too.”
When Michelle was learning to water-ski, we asked her if she was ready for a lesson. She replied, “No, there are too many white cats.”
When she was around seven, during a trip to Mexico, Michelle was fascinated with the language, and before long she said to us, “I can speak Spanish – ‘Goleta-golota’.” From then on, Michelle regularly displayed her knowledge of Spanish by repeating her own original phrase: “Goleta-golota.” She never shared its meaning with us.
Before she was a year old, my granddaughter Laura lived across the yard from a baby also named Laura, who was the same age. Whenever my granddaughter saw neighbor Laura, she would excitedly say, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba.” One day, while in a grocery store, Laura started pointing and saying, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba! and there was neighbor Laura pointing and yelling, “Ba-ba, Ba-ba!” Laura’s parents looked at neighbor Laura’s mother and she looked at them, and they all were thinking: “Wow! She calls Laura Ba-ba, too!” From then on, both baby Lauras were “Ba-ba” when they were together.
When she got a little older, Laura had her own words for her favorite foods: yogurt was “yorgut”; spaghetti was “gabobbi”; and zuchinni was “kamimi.”
Grandson Matt’s language began with one word, “dah-deesh,” that he used for just about everything, which reminded me of his father, who also had a one-word vocabulary at that age, which I interpreted as “tah-deesh,” but may have actually been the same pronunciation. Fathers often pass traits on to their sons, but I find it unique that Lynn passed on this unusual first word.
As he got a little older, Matt had some sophisticated expressions. One began with “Well, actally, …” and then there was, “In a manner in fact,….”
Once when Matt was sitting in his high chair in his grandmother’s kitchen, watching the rain outside, his mother mentioned that his voice was kind of high. Right then, he said in a deep baritone, “Look at da rain.”
When granddaughter Sara was around two or three years old, if someone teased her or said something she didn’t like, she’d point her finger at the offending person while saying, in a menacing voice, “Don’t!”
My granddaughter Kassie showed dogs with her grandmother. When she was two years old, the judge asked to see the dog’s bite. In her most authoritarian voice, she stated, “My dog doesn’t bite.”
Kassie was good at math. When she was about five years old, one day when we were going to an event and she asked what time we were leaving, I said “It’s 4:30 now and we’re leaving in 45 minutes. What time will that be?” She responded: “I need a piece of paper to write it down because then I could always get the answer almost probably.”
After hearing her mother call me by my name, Lois, my granddaughter Laura immediately started calling me “Grandma Belois.” She was the only one to calm that, though. To most of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, I’m “Maw-Gaw,” which is the name given to me by granddaughter Kassie when she was beginning to talk. I considered that unique until my niece Terry brought her grandchildren to visit. They had also dubbed their grandmother “Maw-Gaw.”
Another name for a grandmother occurred while my grandson Matt was visiting his mother with his son. “Who’s that, Joey?” Matt asked. Knowing that there was another woman he called “Grandma,” after thinking about it, little Joey said “Buggum,” and it stuck!
To great-granddaughter Hailey, a lawn mower was a “mow-lawn” and a finger was a “thinger,” which seems appropriate when using a finger to point at some thing.
My two great-grandchildren, cousins Hailey and Joey, were sitting close together on the couch, deep in conversation. Everyone else in the room stopped to listen, and heard Joey say, “It was vewy funny, but vewy inappwopwiate!”
On his fourth birthday, Jaden, totally engrossed in practicing hitting the ball off his new tee, was heard to say, in a deep “Dad’s” voice, “Ya hafta bend your knees.”
When great-granddaughter Sara was small, if she didn’t care for something, her method of communication was to say the word “like” while vigorously shaking her head back and forth as if to say “no.”
Again, relying on one word to convey her message, being an independent little tyke, Sara would say “self” when people offered assistance that she didn’t want – her way of saying “I’ll do it myself.”
My great-grandson Daxon came up with a very perceptive observation when he pointed out that it is the reckless drivers who have the most wrecks.
My great-granddaughter Maelle was doing an experiment in which she made certain things float. Her mother said,” Wow, it’s magic!” Maelle said, “It’s not magic – it’s science.” She has said this many times since, when we marvel at things that seem special. In fact, “It’s not magic – it’s science” has become a part of our family’s lexicon.
While putting up Christmas decorations, when she was five, after taking ornaments from two layers of a five-layer box, when my great-granddaughter Natalie saw another layer, she said, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take forever! I need a drink.”
When Natalie asked her mother to get down cornstarch and food coloring, saying she was doing an experiment to make slime, her mother reminded her: “You need an adult.” In her “well, duh” voice, Natalie said, “You are the adult.”
Natalie spilled some water while watching a movie. When asked to pick it up, she responded, “I’m picking it up with my mind.”
During Art Linkletter’s heyday, we were watching him interview a little girl. Art said to her, “Let’s pretend you’re Cinderella’s wicked step-sister. Wicked step-sister, why are you so wicked?” The little girl wrinkled her brow, thought for a minute, and then said in a gruff voice, “Because I wike to!” That really stuck with my family. When a family member is asked why he or she did something, the answer is very likely to be “because I wike to!”
I’m sure I’ve heard many more adorable and thought-provoking expressions from the mouths of children, but can’t think of them now. I’ll consider this a work in progress and will add more when I remember them or hear new ones. If you asked me why I record all of these fascinating stories, my answer would be “Because I wike to!” And Art, you were right – kids do say the darndest things!