For me, one of the most difficult tasks of early parenthood was learning not to swear. I missed saying ‘fuck this‘ and ‘fuck that‘ and the always satisfying, ‘fuck you‘.
I missed spitting out the word ‘shit‘ anytime something didn’t work. Like, Immediately.
When my children were pre-verbal and mushy and portable.When they smelled good and wore what I chose. When they burped and felt all better, I did not swear. I had become calm and my edge had softened. The former swearing, tough-talking girl had been transformed into a peaceful mother. The pictures of me with those infants show a hazy hormonal halo.
Just about the time my infants were no-longer, and toddlers reached for words, reached for hot ovens and dropped tiny plastic toys down the toilette, I replaced coos with swears. For a few years I swore under my breath. There is nothing satisfying about a whispered oh, shit. There is no thwack of the tongue against front teeth.
I tried ‘oh sugar’ and ‘darn’ but they did nothing. They were like Nicorette gum instead of an unfiltered butt. I decided on a revolutionary parenting tact. I was going to dysmystify cursing. Along with dymystification, my children would learn where and when it was okay to go rogue with words.
My reasoning behind the plan was based on facts. I had grown up listening to swears tumble from my father’s mouth. I had an older sister who swore all the time about everything. Her favorite? Oh, my fucking god! And despite my sullied vocabulary I had gone on to win consecutive good citizenship awards in junior high and high school. They were useful. My mother used the little engraved bowls as ashtrays. So, I had evidence swearing did not destroy. And in fact, might make good citizens.
So I invented a car game. My kids were allowed to say every single swear, which we expanded to include insults, that they knew. They were allowed to shout them, sing them, string together in chants. They built profanity addled sentences with shit and ass and goddamn. The padded the former with dumb-dumb, stupid-head and poop and benign potty talk. Careening around in our green mini-van with tinted windows, we sometimes swore and insulted the air for twenty minutes straight.
After we were exhausted, we would discuss the words. We would discuss how they were just words, but that words could hurt. And words could make people feel bad. Sadie liked the serious conversations. She would nod and furrow her little brow. She’d poke Gabe when he looked bored or about to nod off in his booster seat. She wanted him to talk too. But he was not one for the analytic part of our game.
Our game died a natural death. Nobody announced that we were done playing. We just were done. Like a toy that didn’t get picked up again.
By middle school, Gabe’s friends called each other bitch and douche bag. I no longer wanted to hear my children chant every swear they knew. Not anymore. They’d eclipsed my sensibilities. My taste in swearing ends with gender specific swears. Bitch has always made me uncomfortable for that reason. And suddenly, bitch crossed genders, back and forth and that threw me off too. Not just the fact that my child was saying the word.
But our earlier game had set us up. We had a language for dissecting words. When douche bag replaced idiot, I insisted that anyone who used the term in our house know what a douche bag was. That included friends of my children. The hose, the bag, the vaginal shower? I also asked about the private practice of some women, being turned into an insult. Mostly I got blank stares. But I was satisfied that they knew what the word meant, literally.
After a few of my douche bag definition tutorials, there was a decline in the term around me. Then, when children in my house used slut by way of dismissing girls who they had shared lunches with in pre-school, we talked again.
What does the word slut, do to our perception of a girl? And when I asked what the equivalent word for boys was, Gabe told me “man-whore.” Sadie nodded. she said she knew a few. Gabe posited, because man-whore was a term, sexual equality was intact. He did acknowledge that a man-whore isn’t ostracised equally. Sadie thought they were. I don’t have a clue. But I do know that equal insults aren’t the goal anyway.
Once my children thought I was a cursing crusador. But they’ve gone and left me alone in the mini-van. Now they think I’m a prude.
But, they also know how to consider the impact of every new insulting derogatory slur they contract. Whether they choose to ponder such, I can’t control. I also can’t police their mouths. I have never functioned well with my own mouth policed. In the end, I’d still rather hear the words they are choosing than be a place where they are polite and can’t use all their words. The entire tawdry, tasteless and disrepectful lot of ‘em.