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Mr. Yucky

By Margaret Foley

Do you want to hear my joke about Yucky Bush?” my almost six-year-old daughter asks as we sit in a café drinking hot chocolate with extra whipped cream. It’s raining outside. To pass the time, I’ve taken some magazines from the café’s extensive selection. She has Mad Magazine and is examining, with great interest, a photo essay, starring George W. Bush.

My daughter has an interest in politics that I’ve also noticed in other children. On a recent weekend, I drove her and two friends to a birthday party. A John Kerry lawn sign sparked a conversation among them about the upcoming election.

“Do you remember when we talked about John Kerry at the snack table?”

“I have a button with his head on it.”

“There’s a car that parks in front of our house. It’s got a Bush sticker on it, but it’s not ours.”

Of course, my daughter and her friends are influenced by the adults in their lives. At age five or six, who isn’t? But, it’s also true that they are old enough to be aware of the world around them.

They ask questions— about war, about sick children, about celebrities, about being poor— which deserve answers. Should you just let them puzzle over the information? Give a simple answer? A more detailed explanation? My personal experience is that no matter what you do, children often fashion their own narratives about the news.

My daughter’s first serious question came around age three. She was eating breakfast and pretending to read the newspaper.

“Who’s that?” she asked, putting her spoon on a photo of a man standing at a podium.

“That’s Yucky Bush,” I answered.

And so he has been in our family ever since.

At a candlelight vigil for soldiers killed in Iraq, someone drives by and yells “Go Bush!”

She turns to me and my husband, almost catching my hair in her candle. “Why would anybody say that about Yucky Bush? I mean, that’s just crazy.”

I take it as a point of pride that she calls him Yucky Bush. “My daughter calls him Yucky Bush,” I tell people. Although, unlike when she was three, she now knows that’s not his real first name.

Sometimes she’ll tell me that she’d like to discuss the Bush administration. She’ll provide her own list of its mistakes, based on what she’s been told or heard, as filtered through the mind of a kindergartner.

“I don’t think he chooses very good friends.”

“He’s always doing the wrong thing. He should try harder.”

“Yucky Bush needs to learn to share. He’s already been president. He should let someone else have a turn.”

I follow the news. I like to know what’s going on, and I like to talk about it. When I was younger, I had career fantasies about being a foreign correspondent. I would be the type of journalist whose knowledge of obscure languages would give me access to amazing stories. I would win all the prizes there were— more than once. I might even negotiate a hostage release or two.

While I chose a different career path, I still read the papers each day— The New York Times and my local papers. I scan several news and political sites. During the couple hours a day that my local NPR station plays classical music, I switch to find something news-related.

However, I don’t think my daughter needs constant exposure to the news, so I try to set limits. I can, for example, turn down the radio. Television is a little trickier, so I try to watch the news when she’s not around. For one thing, I’m not ready to discuss the uses of Viagra and Levitra or the intricacies of the Scott Peterson case. For another, I don’t think she needs to see that many explosions, injured people, and dead bodies.

Of course, sometimes she sees it anyway. Recently, I was lying in bed, a heating pad pressed against a sore muscle, watching The Newshour. My daughter, who was helping her father make dinner, ran upstairs to ask me what I wanted to drink. She glanced at the television, which was showing footage of the school siege in Beslan. When she went to bed that night, she said it made her sad to see the dead boy on TV.

This is how she gets the news. In snippets. An answer to her own question. Some words on the radio. An image from television. An overheard conversation. She has come up with her own stories to make all the bits and pieces make sense.

“Mom, do you want to hear my joke about Yucky Bush?” she asks again, pulling my magazine away from my face.

“I’d love to hear it.”

She clears her throat and begins.

“Once upon a time, Yucky Bush came to a house and knocked on the door. A little girl answered. ‘I came to get your father. He needs to be a soldier,’ said Yucky Bush. ‘You can’t take my father! I don’t want him to get shooted!’ the little girl said. Then, she kicked him in the leg, and Yucky Bush ran away.”

I laugh. So do the people at the next table.

“Do you want to see how she kicked him?” My daughter stands up and demonstrates what would be a hard kick to the shin.

A kick I need to replicate November 2.

mmo : October 2004

Margaret Foley is a writer and historian living in Portland, Oregon.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.

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