Fine Toothed Comb

Yesterday The Mercenary was hoping to earn some extra money, so I mentioned that I’d pay fifty cents if he’d clean out the van.  It wasn’t much later that he informed me that the job was complete.  I asked the standard question:  “Will I think it’s clean when I look at it?”

“Oh, yes!” he told me.

I know you know what I’m going to say next.  I opened the van, and sure enough the job was not done to standard.  I pointed out a couple of things that needed his attention, and then told him that he should go over the van with a fine toothed comb.

He was very confused.  I tried explaining that a fine toothed comb has lots of teeth close together, as opposed to a wide toothed comb.

The confused look remained on his face.

For my next attempt, I explained that a fine toothed comb would comb more hairs on his head, and do a more detailed job in combing all his hairs instead of just clumps of hair.

He stood there, brow still furrowed.

Finally, I tried telling him that “When people get lice, the eggs in the hair are really tiny, and you need a special comb with small teeth to get them out.   In order to do the job right, you have to pay close attention to detail.   So just like you’re really careful in cleaning the lice out of the hair, you have to be really careful to go over all the spots in the van when you’re cleaning.”

The brow softened a little.  Then he asked me, “Okay but why do I need to use a comb?”

Earnest Parenting: helping keep the humor in family life.

Image courtesy of pm107uk via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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21 Responses to “Fine Toothed Comb”

  1. PandaBean says:

    Children can take things so literally sometimes! It’s really cute.

    God Bless!

  2. Stu Mark says:

    This essay was nominated by our readers over at for “Hot Stuff Of The Week” – Congrats, and good luck in the voting!

  3. Aren’t kids wonderful?

    They make you realize we do say some strange things sometimes.

    But the BIG question is did he do a great job ‘at the end of the day’?


  4. There are so many fun things that come out of our children’s head. I spend a lot of time laughing at things my daughter says.. It’s the best part of parenting for sure. The fun and laughter!

  5. You got to love those kids. You just never know what is coming next.
    Here is a good one for you. My daughter is trying to potty train her 2 year old guy. She put the underwear on him like daddies. He goes up to her and says; “Mommy I used the potty.” All proud of himself. She looks down and the underwear are all wet. He says: “Come look mommy.” She walks over to his little potty and sure enough he went potty. Only problem was he forgot to pull the underwear down, since mommy didn’t tell him to do that also.

    Having just girls tell me is the a boy thing or not? Amy I figure you of all people would have the answer to that question with all your boys.


    • Amy LeForge says:

      LOL Debbie, I don’t know for sure because I have zero girl experience. My boys have tended to be VERY literal creatures. This makes for laughs as well as Tear Your Hair Out moments, that’s for sure. I’ve learned to be extremely deliberate with them, speak in short phrases with pauses in between, and check often to see if they’re a) paying attention to me in the first place; and b) understood what I want them to. It’s a difficult job, that’s for sure.

  6. Joel says:

    Brilliant! I could use him to try t help explain things to some of my clients. I occasionally get lost in the tech world and literally don’t know other words to use to try to explain something. I’m sure he would help me think things through even more.

  7. Affiliate Management Maven says:

    I agree with Joel – this is another stellar post!

    My go to words when I cannot find one is “you know”!


    • Amy LeForge says:

      Krizia, thanks! It’s certainly true that having these boys has challenged my thought and speech patterns to the maximum. I’m often reduced to incoherence, trying to communicate.

      Or if they ask me a question that could have multiple answers I usually answer with “it depends”. Without enough context or background information I frequently cannot tell them. One of my ‘favorite’ kind of questions to answer is “Mom, why is that man wearing a green shirt today?’ Well how the heck would I know?? Lol. I guess it’s a sign that they think I’m somewhat knowledgable. Too bad that belief will fade quickly in adolescence.

  8. David Rogers says:

    I was watching CSI Miami last night and someone was told to go over a crime scene “with a fine tooth comb” – which reminded me I hadn’t left a comment yet! Our language has so many odd expressions its a wonder we communicate at all some times.

    • Amy LeForge says:

      David, so true! Since the boys tend to be so literal, we’ve run into idiomatic difficulties more than once around here. Now that they’re reading more and have more experience just living in the world, it’s getting easier to avoid tripping over phrases. I don’t mind though, the laughs are worth it.

  9. Benjamin says:


    This reminds me of my own challenges with marketing.

    I have had several coaches/trainers/friends say I need to be more specific in my marketing efforts… without giving much more detail than that (which later made me laugh… it was a vague description of being specific)

    I’m impressed that you took the time to get detailed in your description of how to pay more attention to detail… 🙂 …I think you helped my brow un-furrow a bit as well.

    keep smiling,


  10. Tyrone says:

    Hi Amy,

    Great short reminder! 🙂

    This would also be like how we should elaborate things when we’re dealing with customer support inquiries. You have to be like talking to a 9-year old to be able to prevent them from getting puzzled at the end of the day and trying to repeat asking questions.

    I agree with Ben, it’s attention to detail as well.


  11. Hi Amy,

    LOL! My son often doesn’t get the metaphors we grew up with either. I usually end up having to explain that it is a metaphor for x, y, or z and what it means. I’m not sure how they missed all these growing up (my son is 15 now)! I know I used them, but maybe not often enough to make them stick.

    It is a good lesson, though. When I’m teaching someone, I don’t use metaphors to explain things unless they are very clear that I know the student will understand, like pies or pizzas to do percents. Kids understand pizza metaphors very well. They also understand video game metaphors, and some are pretty good at comic books and Manga. They also understand iPod and iTunes metaphors. I’ve had to completely retool my language to get through to some of my kids.

    But I most avoid metaphors unless I’m just not getting through with direct explanations.

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