I don’t know how I learned to swear so much in the course of general conversation as well as during moments of intense frustration. I think probably the old-fashioned way – from my dad. I never really noticed that I had a problem until my children (from when they could barely even speak, mind you) started mimicking everything I said. Recently my computer was acting up and in a fit of rage I cried “Goddamnit!” while beating my fists onto the desk several times.
And then as I sat there calming down, I heard J say, “What happened to Mama?”
And the Little One answered, “She’s just fixing her computer.”
At least I don’t scare them, right? In much the same way that I used to go about my business while my dad would pound on and swear at those old televisions that gained and lost reception for no apparent reason in the seventies.
It’s one of my shortcomings that I can’t even blame on my mother, as I’ve barely heard her utter an ugly word. And if she hears me, she says, “Ugh – look how you talk in front of your mother.”
I had to explain to my husband (who is at least as bad as I am in this area) that he is not to swear in front of my mother and step-father, because they really don’t appreciate that kind of talk. Furthermore, do not ever use the F word in front of them. Never. Ever. Because they do not use the F word. And my husband thought that was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard, but he agreed until he came home one day after being out with my stepfather and said, “I want you to know that today StepDad said the F word.”
“He did not,” I said, “He doesn’t talk like that.”
“He did! He knows the word – apparently he just doesn’t use it in front of you.”
Okay. So long as we’re all keeping up appearances I guess. Obviously I don’t think swearing is a big deal, but it’s really embarrassing when the kids do it in public. When J was only about two we were at the grocery store and suddenly he decided to say, “For Christ Sake!” over and over.
And I kept trying to correct him in the same way I try to remind them to use good manners in general. Like if I give them something and they don’t say anything, instead of “what do you say,” etcetera, I just say, “Thank you Mama.” And then they repeat. But it didn’t work with this, so finally after saying, “Oh for heavens sake! Oh for goodness sake!” only to have him shout louder, “N0 for Christ sake!” I had to give up and just say, “okay just shh.”
An embarrassing moment for my husband when J was two – he was carrying him in the backpack at the airport and standing at a urinal in a packed bathroom, when J (who was evidently too warm) shouted, “It’s a fucking oven in here!”
And my mortified husband came out to say, “That one is your's!” Because we always try to make sure we know whose fault each transgression is. That’s important.
One day I took J to visit a preschool we were considering when he was three, and when I asked him how he liked it he said, “Well that girl just wrote on my goddamn arm with that goddamn thing that looks like a goddamn pen!” (It was a marker – did he need to get out more?)
Sometimes I think they’d be better off without us, but actually, even if we weren’t such bad parents, my kids don’t really stand a chance. When I told my sister in law that story she laughed and laughed and then said, “I love my goddamn nephew!"
We do try to explain that those are not nice words and why we don’t say them. So one day I overheard J and the Little One:
J: What the hell is that thing?
Little One: J we don’t say hell, because some people don’t like that.
J: Well – we can say hell when no one’s listening.
Little One: Okay – what the hell is that thing?
And when I told my husband he shrugged and said, “Well, they’re pretty much right, I don’t know what we could add to that assessment.”
Recently J came to the bottom of the stairs and said, “Mama, do you know what pisses me off?”
And he'd completely caught me off guard so I said, “Uh, um, uh – no, what?”
“I forgot to bring Gorilla home from school today – and that pisses me off!”
“Yeah,” I said, “that is annoying. Pisses me off is really not a nice thing to say though. Maybe you can say ‘ticks me off’ or ‘is annoying’ or ‘makes me mad’ – that would be better, ok?”
Sometimes, however, they teach me now. They say, “That’s not a nice word that we say Mama.” And I have to hang my head in shame and apologize.
They make up words too and one of the things they call each other is “tokanoke.” I have no idea where it came from. But J told me that he was calling someone “tokanoke” at school and she’d told him not to call her that, and she’d said it was a bad word. “Is it a bad word Mama?” he asked.
“Well, no,” I told him, “but if someone doesn’t want to be called something then we should just respect their words and stop it.”
“B calls me tokanoke at school, and I don’t like it either.”
“You don’t, why not?”
“Well,” he said, “Tokanoke is a powerful word!”