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.”
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.
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
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.
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
“I don’t think
he chooses very good friends.”
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
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
“Mom, do you want
to hear my joke about Yucky Bush?” she asks again, pulling
my magazine away from my face.
to hear it.”
She clears her throat
“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
mmo : October 2004