When I was a kid, afternoon television consisted of soap operas, lame game shows and an occasional variety act. We stayed outside a lot.
But I do remember one show that came on early in the afternoon, usually about the time we’d finish our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and before heading back to the creek, the ball field or the pine woods.
An entertainer named Art Linkletter hosted an early afternoon variety show called “Art Linkletter’s House party.” For the most part, it was a pretty dull hour of entertainment designed for homemakers (mothers). But he always included one segment, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” that always had the potential to roll out of control and leave Mr. Linkletter surprised and his audience laughing.
The show, as I recall, was live, so whatever the kids said went out over the airways, and they said whatever popped into their heads.
I was reminded of that show last week while reading to the first grade class that allows me that privilege once a week. I read a book they had been requesting for weeks but had been difficult to find in the local library since a lot of kids seem to enjoy it. Grumpy Cat tells the story of a cat who is grumpy because he has no friends and he has no friends because he is grumpy. It’s a perplexing paradox that troubles mankind.
In the book Grumpy Cat rescues a small kitten that has been following him around, pestering him, as kittens are apt to do. After the rescue they become friends and so Grumpy Cat is no longer grumpy. It’s a good story. But one page describes Grumpy Cat licking the kitten’s fur, as cats are wont to do to calm their nerves, I guess.
When I read this part a little boy in the front row raised his hand to ask a question or make a comment, either of which I always stop and acknowledge. Bad move this time.
“That’s how they mate,” he said.
I thought perhaps he had started to say “that’s how they make friends” and just didn’t get to the last part.
Nope. He repeated it, enunciated perfectly: “That’s how they mate.”
I’m sure there were many comments I could have offered at that point to defuse the situation, bring the class’ attention back to the troubles of Grumpy Cat and acknowledge this child’s perception.
I could have said. “How interesting,” or “perhaps that’s the way cats make friends,” or maybe, “the kitten was probably scared so Grumpy Cat was trying to soothe him” (or her. Not certain of the kitten’s gender and would not have wanted to tiptoe through that mine field at this point anyway.)
Several kids had funny looks on their faces, as if they were about to break out into squeals of laughter but still not certain if that would be appropriate. And I suspect, hope, that quite a few did not get the reference. But I don’t know what first graders know these days.
I looked at the teacher, whose facial expression, including a sly grin, which, it seemed to me, indicated no bailout would be forthcoming and that I was basically on my own.
Lots of things I could have said.
I think I came up with this wise pronouncement: Ohhhh kaaaay. And I quickly turned the page to get back to the tale of Grumpy Cat.
Their teacher later told me “you never know what they’ll come up with.” Indeed you don’t. But that’s what makes first graders such a wonderful audience.