…then you are quite familiar with “the look.

It’s no longer the oblivious, “Gee, climbing on top of the couch is such fun!” expression. At least that one carried pure ignorance to the actual danger or unlawfulness of the behavior.

No, this “look” is a new level of testing, of pushing boundaries of which he is well aware. It’s a pause, a sideways glance, and a slightly disturbing glint in his eye, indicating he is 100% aware that his impending behavior is not permitted. It’s a turning up of the corner of his lip, like a bad liar working what he thinks is a sly con.

Luckily, though, toddlers are not great con artists, so a parent can easily anticipate what’s about to transpire. And sometimes what’s unfolding is not forbidden behavior but instead inappropriate language. Oh, the joy a toddler feels in testing potty talk!

The newest one in my son’s repertoire: stinkerface.

I am not sure where he found it. But he scooped it up, tucked it in his back pocket, and has tried it on me a number of times, always preceded by “the look” on his guilty little face.

I recognize there exists a healthy level of testing boundaries as toddlers grow. And for every “stinkerface” I hear, he speaks countless other new and exciting words that make me swell with pride.

So when I came across the book The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin, I fell immediately in love with every page. Michael, a young boy with a penchant for language, spends his days collecting words. He loads them in his wagon, stacks them in his room, carries them with him on his travels, discovers them on signs, at the playground, anywhere he goes. What an incredible image–a boy insatiably gathering ever more words and treasuring each one for its unique sound and meaning!

One day he finds an inappropriate word, inquires about its meaning, starts recognizing its prevalence in his life, shows it to his friends, and ultimately gets himself in trouble for trying it out. Luckily, his teacher directs him to a more appropriate acquisition of language in the library, where he discovers amazing new words, all of which he trudges home with in his overflowing wagon.

So when you catch sight of “the look” on your toddler’s face or hear “poopy” for the umpteenth time, think of Michael, the library, and his wagon full of an enthralling new vocabulary.

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