Earlier today, my ridiculously lovely nine year old child came home in tears. She had, because she thought she was old enough, attempted to walk the dog by herself. Not very far, mind you, or for very long. The child is shaped like a slight bunch of reeds, loosely braided and bound with thin ribbons. She is as substantial as smoke.
I should have known it would not end well.
She came home crying. Leo, her brother, was aghast.
“It wasn’t Harper’s fault,” she said stoutly, unhooking her dog’s leash and kissing her on the head.
“What happened,” I asked.
She sniffed. “Harper tried to chase a squirrel. Then she pulled me into the bike path and this teenager had to swerve and then…” Her little eyes welled with tears. “He called me a B-word.”
Leo was horrified. He balled his fists, getting ready for a fight. But with each moment that passed, he had questions. And his questions grew until they wrote themselves onto his face.
“What’s a B-word?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it, honey,” I said. “Sometimes people make mistakes when they feel scared.”
“But what is it? Does B stand for something?”
Cordelia drew herself up. “The B-word is a word that is impolite to say. So we just say the B-word so we don’t have to say it.”
Leo nodded. “Okay,” he said. “But what is it?” He thought for a moment. “Is it baloney?”
“No,” Cordelia said.
“Is it bogus?”
“MOM! MAKE HIM STOP.”
“Your brother’s just curious,” I said, trying really really really hard not to laugh. “He just doesn’t know.”
“Did he call you a baby?”
“NO!” And she stomped away.
Leo looked at me. “Is the letter B a mean letter?”
“No,” I said, “but maybe you should think of some nice words that start with B and use them around her sister. Maybe you should just say a bunch of nice things today.”
Later on, I found a little index card that he had put on his sister’s pillow so she would find it.
“BEEOOTIFOL,” it said.