While reading Tedd Arnold's children's book Parts for last week's OUAW session, I came to the page where the main character complains that something wet and gray fell out of his nose, a substance he comes to believe is part of his brain.
"I don't think it's part of his brain," I said, turning to my audience of one five-year old boy. "I think it's a booger." Now I said that because, while the book never actually spells out what the gray substance is, I'm not the kind of guy who passes up the chance to say "booger" to a five-year old. It's a guaranteed laugh line, or so I thought.
"A what?" the five-year-old asked.
"A booger," I said, grinning. Realization did not dawn on this kid's face, though.
"What's that?" he said.
Aw hell, I thought. This kid doesn't know what a booger is! And if he doesn't know what a booger is at age five, this can only mean that his mom, who was sitting right there beside him, has kept him sheltered from the knowledge or has taught him some euphamism for boogers that she finds preferable. Now I'd just gone and warped his fragile little mind with secret knowledge—ironically, the very kind of parentally hidden secret knowledge that the main character of Parts is railing against in the first place!
"Uhh," I said, afraid of what words to choose next. While I don't think booger is the sort of word that should be kept from children, (nor from the airwaves; thank you, Dr. Johnny Fever), I didn't want to crap all over this mom's choice to do so. I felt like I'd just accidentally ruined the ending of The Sixth Sense or the Usual Suspects. The kid sensed my trepidation and glanced up at his mom for help.
"You know," she said, "like when you blow your nose?"
"Oh!" he said with a smile and a laugh. Well, at least he found the concept of boogers funny.
So I proceeded with the story until the page where the main character finds a loose tooth.
"Have you had any loose teeth, yet?" I asked the kid.
"Well, that's on the way for you soon," I said. Then, I thought of an illustrative example from my own childhood that would make for a fun mid-story aside. "Just be sure not to trust your teachers," I began. "Cause when I was in the first grade I had a loose tooth and my teacher told me to come up so she could feel how loose it was. She told me she wasn't going to pull it, she just wanted to feel it. But then she pulled it anyway." Only then did the meaning behind my words start to sink into my skull. Oh, hell! I had just told this kid not to trust his teachers, implying heavily that they were out to get him! In front of his booger-paranoid mom, no less!
"Um... It didn't hurt, though," I lamely tried as a save. I didn't make eye contact with his mom for a while after that, for fear of a dirty look. She didn't yell at me and haul her child away, either, and eventually I was able to reign in my subversive mouth and just read the stories with no added commentary.
I'd been planning on breaking out >Walter the Farting Dog in OUAW, but now I'm pretty sure it would result in some kind of mental distress for that family.