Yellow Light for Shooting the Bird


My 5-year-old son received his first "yellow light" last month for ... giving the finger! I was shocked.

Bubba's kindergarten class operates on a stoplight system for monitoring behavior. A green light is good. A yellow light is a warning. A red light is major infraction that includes a note home from the teacher.

Students color their behavior onto a calendar that comes home every day. The goal is to have a solid green calendar at the end of the month. Pull this off, and the well-behaved student receives a prize from the teacher. I was planning to supplement this with a prize of my own. It figures that on the 29th, Bubba stained his nearly all-green calendar with a spot of yellow. He was clearly anticipating a good month. He even outlined the final two days in forest green, expecting a prize.

But how was this possible? I didn't even think my boy knew what the middle finger meant. It's not like I throw up the finger around the house. Even in traffic, I may mutter off-color remarks, but I don't accompany my insidious mumbles with vulgar hand signals.

Bubba walked in the door and immediately confessed.

"I got a yellow light today, Dad," he said, looking dejected.

"What? What happened?" I asked.

"This," he said, holding his middle finger up against his chest. His finger was pointed outward, as though he was pointing to the zipper on his coat.

I looked at him confused. A neighbor dropping him off from school showed me what he did in the proper fashion. She smiled and properly gave me the finger with the nail pointed out and up; her fingers firmly pressed into her palm.

My eyes bulged.

"What? Why did you do that?" I asked.

"We were talking at our table, and this (he again showed me his backwards middle finger) means a bad word," he said. He then began clutching my legs and buried his face between my knees, undeniably embarrassed.

Some further questioning revealed that the topic was brought up (surprisingly by a girl) in Bubba's work group. From what I could tell, he got pinched while demonstrating what he had learned.

I didn't think it was appropriate to blow up about the situation. Obviously, the end-of-the month prizes were off the table. That seemed to upset him, particularly when I told him I was willing to buy him a Lego set had he remained on green.

This also seemed to motivate him to stay on green next month in an attempt to reclaim his lost prize.

Had his actions earned him a red light, the punishment would have been severe. Say the topic of the day was migrating birds. If Bubba flipped off his teacher and said, "Here's a bird for you, lady," I would have brought my wrath down upon the boy.

But that didn't happen. Bubba's miscue seemed like an honest mistake - perhaps even a rite of passage for a kindergartener.

I'm holding out hope that this is a green month. But with 31 days and lots of holiday parties, it's going to be tough. His best odds are probably in February.

Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded in his reporter's notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He writes for The Father Life and can be reached at


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