My 4-year-old has this extremely annoying habit of making a normal statement, e.g., “I’m tired,” when it’s getting close to bedtime. Then I start talking about going to bed a little early, since it’s almost that time anyway, and suddenly “I’m tired” was “just a joke.”

This evening, I forgot that Sammy had played the “I’m full” card and offered the boys a bowl of Chex mix that they’d been snacking on earlier and not finished. My husband reminded me that Sammy was full, so I told him that actually, he couldn’t have any. “Oh, but saying I’m full was just a joke!” he said. I have told him on many occasions that he can’t use “just a joke” as an excuse to get out of something. His words have meaning, and he needs to understand that he must think before he uses them and consider their consequences. He pushed the issue, so I played him the way he usually plays me: “Sammy, when I offered you Chex mix, that was [pause for dramatic effect] just a joke!”

“Oh, BURN!” my husband yelled from the next room. I have not been more impressed by my own wordplay in quite some time. And, sadly, it was a simple turn of phrase with a 4-year-old – an illogical 4-year-old who is the Kirk to my Spock – but a 4-year-old nonetheless.

Sammy had another trick up his sleeve, though. My husband and I laughed hysterically at my takedown – until Sammy played his Undesirable New Vocabulary card. “You guys,” he said smugly, “are both jerks.” Then he reveled in our shock at the insult he obviously learned at school (because obviously we never say that about anyone, ever, in our house). (Well, almost never.) (Okay, we’re working on it.)

Yes, it’s all fun and games until a 4-year-old calls you a jerk.

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