For the past month or so, our girls have had a bit of an obsession with swear words. They’re not using them in everyday conversation (not that I’m aware of, anyway), but it’s clear that they have recently been introduced to a whole bunch of “bad” words (at school? with friends? I honestly don’t know…) and they’re finding this knowledge fascinating.
We haven’t had an issue with curse words (aside from a small misunderstanding a couple of years ago) since the girls were little – but, hoo boy, that was a good time…
It was 2008 and Annie was approximately 18 months old when, as I was changing her diaper, I heard her mutter something that sounded like, “fuggin’.” There was a definite g-sound in the middle of that word – not a k-sound – so it was a bit ambiguous; perhaps I’d misunderstood. Knowing that if I made a big deal out of any word, and especially if I freaked out over it, it would instantly become more attractive to her, I decided to approach things delicately.
Um, sweetie, what did you just say?
Hm. Wow. Where did you hear that word?
“Daddy say, ‘fuggin’ diaper.'”
I attempted to reason with her and explain that that wasn’t a nice word, but given that she was so little, it wasn’t easy to “reason” with her. The first time she said fuggin’ while we were out and about, it caught me so off-guard, I responded quickly and animatedly — which, as everyone knows, is the surest way to guarantee that your toddler will continue his or her inappropriate behavior. After all, what’s more fun than getting a rise out of your parents? NOTHING, really.
“Reasoning” with her hadn’t worked, nor had becoming upset, nor had reprimanding her; if anything, they made things worse. So I decided that the best course of action would be to ignore her entirely when she said that word so that it would lose its appeal all together and she’d just forget about it. My plan worked… but it would take a good four months.
In the meantime, Annie tested out fuggin’ everywhere she could. She said it while we were running errands. She said it while picking Ella up from preschool. When cashiers at the grocery store would smile at my adorable cherub all buckled into the seat on the shopping cart and ask her name, she would smile right back and say, “My name is Annie. FUGGIN’!!” When a single utterance wouldn’t do, she took to repeating the word over and over – at top volume, of course. One time, we blasted into the children’s section of the library with her running ahead, yelling FUGGIN’! FUGGIN’! FUGGIN’! at the top of her lungs.
And all the while, I looked like an absolute lunatic because I was (seemingly) doing nothing to prevent or remedy the situation. Yup, that’s my kid – the one screaming obscenities. Doesn’t bother me a bit. Isn’t she darling?
Parenting is a blast, y’all.
After months of receiving absolutely zero attention for her potty-mouthed antics, Annie gave up. Fuggin’ left her vocabulary as quickly as it entered; I didn’t hear her or Ella utter another swear (or almost-swear) word for years.
The allure of these illicit words is clearly growing, however, for both of our girls. Just this past weekend, our neighbor (who is a year older than Ella) rather gleefully informed us that Ella and Annie know all the swear words. “Yeah!” her little brother chimed in, eyes wide. “They know the d-word and the h-word and the f-word and the s-word and the c-word and the h-word and…” This would have been charming in and of itself, but it was made even more so because the conversation was had in front of our four and six year-old neighbors – and their parents.
Nick and I quickly ended the conversation, telling the girls we’d discuss this later, but part of me wanted to clarify things a bit. How were you using these words? Were they actually a part of your conversation, or were you just naming them – like calling out Jolly Rancher flavors? Were you quizzing one another? Did you say them to our young neighbors?? And wait a minute – how did our other neighbors know for sure that you knew what the swear words were… unless they knew them all, too???
(Also – what do you think the c-word is? ‘Cause I didn’t learn the “real” c-word till I was, like, twenty.)
Eventually, we had a talk with our girls and explained that we absolutely understood the allure of saying these words. “But mom,” they said, “they’re just so funny!” There’s something thrilling about it; I get it. (I distinctly remember being in second grade and learning all of the words to “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” from the musical “Cats” [I’m sure that this level of geekdom surprises no one] where one of the lines is, “Have you been an alumnus of heaven and hell?” I had a friend at the time whose mom [or grandma; that part of my memory is fuzzy] absolutely despised swear words and remember thinking it would be an absolute hoot to be over at my friend’s house and sing that line from “Jellicle Cats” right in front of her mom – so that then I could respond innocently, “But Mrs. So and So — it’s just a line from a song in ‘Cats’!” and watch her eyes bug out when she realized I wasn’t swearing but practicing art. MAN, did I know how to push boundaries!)
So, I understand about curse words; I really do. I know that my girls will test them out, that they’ll say them with friends, that they’ll whisper them in corners. I also know that they’re both such straight arrows, sharing swear words with friends is pretty daring; it’s not like we caught them stealing or smoking underneath the bleachers.
Still, we explained, there’s a time and a place for those words — and saying them in front of our four and six year-old neighbor is not okay. They agreed and said they wouldn’t.
So far, so good… although I know that surely we’ll cross this road again.
Shit, man. Kids say the darndest fuggin’ things.