Pointing the Finger (Who Me? Not Me.)
November 14, 2019 § 3 Comments
My son is convinced that he cannot find his tin of Hypercolor Twilight Thinking Putty because his sister snatched it for herself. As it turns out, this same flavor of putty is in a drawer in her room. And yet, she claims she bought this putty with her own money at a gift shop over a year ago. He says she bought a different flavor. Neither can understand why I don’t reserve a part of my brain for keeping track of their fidget purchases. (Never mind that they both have numerous tins in numerous flavors, and is Hypercolor Twilight really that much more satisfying than Emerald Sky?!)
It has been weeks—weeks!—and still the accusations fly from the mouth of my eldest. The interrogations. The investigations (which aren’t really investigations so much as relentless demanding that we agree with him). Here’s the thing: from where I’m standing (hands over my ears), it is entirely probable that this tiny tin of putty was left lying around the house (GASP!) and some adult picked it up and put it in my daughter’s room and no one was the wiser for months. You know what Mr. Finger Pointer doesn’t want to acknowledge in all this? The possibility that if he had taken better care of his putty, it would still be in his room.
Assuming personal responsibility—be it for our carelessness or mistakes or misunderstandings—is one of the toughest things our kids have to learn. Heck, many of us adults still struggle with this. (My hand’s certainly in the air.) Why turn towards our own regret, remorse, embarrassment, or shame when we can don the more tantalizing cloak of anger and go all Grizzly on someone else? Fortunately, in their new picture book, Who Wet My Pants? (Ages 4-8), Bob Shea and Zachariah Ohoro have given us a clever, quirky, and hysterically funny way to broach the subject of personal accountability with our kids. (This is not a potty book.)
A bear in a scouting uniform arrives with donuts for his eclectic troop of fellow anthropomorphized animals, adorned in khaki and kerchiefs. (Don’t miss the endpapers with close-ups of the animals’ badges, like “fungi forager,” “deep latrine digger,” and “future podcaster.”) As the bear, named Reuben, stands proudly atop a tree stump to present his offerings—“chocolate frosted for Jared and Julia, pink for Oskar, rainbow sprinkles for Linzie, gross maple-bacon for Tim and Teddy…”—he is oblivious to what the animals’ nervous expressions already betray. The bear has a wet spot on his pants, right between his legs.
When the raccoon’s gentle “ahem” alerts the bear to his predicament, the blame is immediate and insistent: “WHO WET MY PANTS?”
Of course, there’s little more entertaining than watching someone self-destruct (when it’s not us, of course), and Reuben flies through a range of responses, each increasing in intensity and none of them delivered kindly. “Somebody better come clean about my wet pants.” “Oh, sure, it’s all chipper, cheery Chattytown when I bring donuts, but when someone wets my pants, everybody clams up.” “Fine. NO ONE gets donuts until I get answers!”
Reuben begins to interrogate each member of Troop 73 individually. When he goes after Tim the lion, the turtle pipes up: “Tim didn’t wet your pants, Reuben. It was probably just an accident.” But that only brings Reuben’s wrath down upon the turtle: “You seem to know an awful lot about who-wet-what-when vis-à-vis my pants.” And so it goes, with Reuben’s accusations becoming more outlandish to this friends and more hysterical to us onlookers. (“You know something, Bigfoot? I’m not even sure I believe in you. If I did, I’d have one thing to say. DID YOU WET MY PANTS?”)
Part of the beauty here isn’t just that young readers will recognize the impossibility that anyone but the bear had anything to do with his accidentally peeing his pants. As much as we understand Reuben’s temper tantrum is misdirected, we also recognize that his troop members are showing him incredible patience and compassion (albeit looking slightly traumatized). Any child who has been wrongly accused knows the temptation to fight back. Instead, the animals continue to reassure their friend that “it could happen to anyone.” Even if Reuben can’t hear that…yet.
When Reuben doesn’t get a confessions out of his friends, he thinks back on the earlier activities in his day. He chugged some freshly-squeezed lemonade at a friend’s lemonade stand; he hiked to a waterfall; he fell asleep with his hand in his tropical fish tank (“BINGO!” my daughter yelled when she and her friend read this aloud to one another in the car, laughing hysterically); and he picked up the donuts. Nope, nah, nada. Reuben doesn’t find any of that suspicious. Of course, the gag here is a favorite with young readers: they’re picking up on everything the protagonist is missing, including what’s right under his nose.
So, does Reuben eventually come to terms with his unfortunate pants’ wetting and apologize to his friends for all the finger pointing? Some parents won’t like the answer, but kids will appreciate the realistic—and equal parts funny—outcome. If his friends aren’t to blame, Reuben concludes, then the pants themselves must be. “THESE PANTS ARE BROKEN!” he declares, as his troop smiles in silent amusement in the background. “Ugh! Thanks for nothing, leaky broken pants! Making me blame all my super great friends.” A backhanded apology, surely, but a baby step in the right direction? Sometimes, we have to take what we can get.
Who Wet My Pants? may not offer all the answers, but it’s an undeniably entertaining way to open the sticky subject of personal accountability with our children. It’s no accident that I left it on my son’s bed the other day.
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Tagged: Bob Shea, camping in children's books, children's books with bears, making mistakes as a theme in children's books, potty talk, responsibility and accuountability as theme in children's books, speech bubbles, Zachariah Ohora