Every  night, my three-year-old and I read together. The bedtime book rotation changes pretty frequently, but lately he’s really been into poems. We’ve been reading from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends almost every night for a few weeks now. He loves all the silly poems, but one of his favorites is called “Warning.” It’s a short little ditty that goes like this:

Inside everybody’s nose

There lives a sharp-toothed snail.

So if you stick your finger in,

He may bite off your nail.

Stick it farther up inside,

And he may bite your ring off.

Stick it all the way, and he

May bite the whole darn thing off.

We had read the poem for several nights, and he never made a comment other than, “Read another one!” Finally, last week he looked at me with a very serious face and said, “A snail lives in my nose?”

I answered with a very confident, “Um, well…”

“And he will bite me if I pick my boogers?”

“Uh…yes. Yes, he will.”

I know. I know. I lied to my kid. And it wasn’t even a Cailiou-related lie of self-preservation. This was a moderately scary lie about a creature that is going to bite his finger off. Not exactly a nice thing to say to a easily frightened three-year-old. So why did I do it?

I did it because my kid picks his nose. A lot. All the damn time, actually. He constantly has his little pointer embedded in his nostril, and it grosses me out. He’ll be mining for gold and then he’ll decide to pick up his food and take bite, or he’ll pick up a toy and hand it to his brother, or, worst of all, he’ll try to touch me. Blech. Keep your boogers to yourself, kid.

The lie hasn’t really decreased the frequency with which he picks his nose, but I can see him stop and think about what he’s doing from time to time. I call that progress. He asks if the snail is still there every now and then, and asks me what the snail eats (it eats boogers). Maybe one day soon he will decide it’s not worth risking the loss of his finger. Maybe the fear of the snail will curb his disgusting habit. Maybe one day we will all laugh about the funny snail poem that kept my son from smearing snot all over the house.

“Mommy, what animal lives in my ears? A snake?”

Or maybe I’ve started something that I won’t be able to talk myself out of.