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The Gift of Sarcasm

How To Teach Your Child Appropriate Behavior

You've read the parenting books. You try hard to instill values in your children – to pass on a moral code that will stick with them their entire life. You preach the seven virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope and charity. You want your children to be pillars of the community. But, if you're like my wife and me, you may teach your kids some things you regret – sarcasm, for instance.

My wife, Lynn, and I are allergic to dogs, which gives us a convenient excuse when we refuse our kids' pleas for a puppy. When my son was 2 years old and my daughter was 4, friends told us that giving the kids a dog would help teach them responsibility. But, by not getting our kids a puppy, we've helped them learn something far more valuable – the fine art of sarcasm. (Early childhood experts might argue that a 2-year-old is too young to use sarcasm. To such comments, Paul responds, "You are so naive.")

The Fly Rules

I first detected my kids' budding sense of sarcasm one day last summer. I was about to swat a fly with a rolled-up magazine, when the two shrieked in unison, "Don't kill Dave!" They had adopted a fly in lieu of a puppy.

I have only known one other person who had a pet fly. Ray (the person, not the fly) was a sixth grade classmate of mine. He had the unique ability to snatch flies out of mid-air with his bare hands. Ray would then pull a hair from his head, tie a small noose in it and lasso one of the fly's legs. The tethered fly would buzz around in circles as Ray held its leash. I suspect that Ray's parents were also allergic to dogs.

Catch and Release

My only option was to catch Dave alive and release him outside. On my 27th attempt, Dave was mine. I could feel him crawling inside my clenched fist. I triumphantly announced that I had caught Dave and was about to set him free.

"That's not Dave," Maria politely informed me. "You caught Mike."

Mike?! (I tossed Mike out the door.) "Do you have any other pet flies besides Dave and Mike?" I inquired. "There's Mean Joe," Maria answered. She didn't tell me why Joe was mean. I can only assume that Joe had a traumatic experience with a maggot that forever tainted his personality. Eventually, Mean Joe joined Mike outside. I never did catch Dave.

A few months later, I asked Paul if he had seen Dave lately. "Dave went outside," Paul said, setting me up.

"Why did he go outside?" I asked.

"He didn't like you," Paul stated, matter-of-factly. Not a bad retort for a 2-year-old. But, Paul wasn't finished.

"Dave thought our house was oooie," he added. "Oooie" is a word Paul uses to describe dirty diapers and pieces of banana that he's dropped like land mines on the kitchen floor.

I'm proud that Maria and Paul have acquired such a useful skill. I can only imagine what they'll learn when I tell them that I'm not taking them to Disney World.

This Would Be a Good Place to Open a Department Store

Most parents don't want sarcastic kids. But, in case your home is a little too quiet and you'd like to spice up the conversation, I can tell you the secret to getting them. The technique is useful for passing on any negative trait to your children and can be accomplished without the aid of common household pests. You lead by example.

When you're in a hurry to make a purchase at your local department store and the clerks are too busy talking among themselves to help you, turn to your child and say in a loud voice, "This would be a good place to open a department store." (Don't worry about offending the clerks. I have yet to meet a clerk who understands sarcasm. Besides, your child's education is your highest priority.)

As your child watches you use sarcasm, his or her knowledge will grow. And then one day, your child's brain cells that control sarcasm will come to life and you'll experience the following event.

You'll have to attend yet another late-night meeting, keeping you from eating dinner with the family. You'll gather the kids around the table to explain the importance of tonight's meeting and why you must order pizza for the third straight night. Then, your oldest child will turn to you and say, "This would be a great place to open a kitchen."

What should your reaction be? I highly recommend pretending you are a department store clerk who doesn't understand sarcasm. As for me, I intend to spend more time trying to model the seven virtues.

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