Out of the Mouths of Babes

A week ago we were at the park with Granny & Grandpa and Turtle decided to bring 73 Hot Wheels (yes, he counted) in a bucket to play with. At one point, I am sitting on a bench nursing Fox and he is behind me racing Hot Wheels in the grass. I can vaguely hear the familiar sound effects and exclamations and constant narration that goes along with major Hot Wheels races, but I'm kind of happily tuning it out and focusing on the birds chirping and the nice breeze. But then the back of my brain realizes that I'm hearing the same phrase repeated over and over out of his mouth and I can't help but tune back in. And what do I hear?

"You're so fucken fast! This car is fucken fast! Fucken fast!"

!!! (sound of me clamping lips shut trying not to laugh out loud) !!!

It was pretty "fucken" hilarious, actually. I was far from horrified and quite amused, especially at the pronunciation, which was very much fuck-EN, as opposed to fuck-ING. It was obvious that Turtle had no idea what he was saying at all and had just picked up the phrase phonetically. I did take a moment to admire his proper use of the adverbial form of the word. And a second moment to decide which one of us parents I should blame this on.

Oh sure, when I told Backtire about it later, he took the easy way out and blamed it on "kids at school", but I'm thinking that the context (racing) and the exact phrase "fucken fast" kind of give it away. I mean, who has all the car magazines at our house? Who checks race scores online all the time? Who introduced Turtle to a racing videogame? Who talks about cars and motorcycles and racing incessantly with his friends? Whose blog moniker, an old nickname, refers to doing wheelies? I rest my case.

Next step- do I pretend I didn't hear it and say nothing? Do I jump up and yell at him for using foul language? Something in between? I couldn't do the yell thing because A. that would make me the biggest "fucken" hypocrite in the world and B. because the bigger of a deal I make of it, the more power I give the word which will only lead to him trying to say it more intentionally in order to push buttons and test limits. And C. I'm just not really a yeller. Not my parenting (or teaching) style.

I seriously contemplated just letting it go. It was the first time I've heard him use the F-word and he wasn't saying it TO anyone, just sort of to himself as he played, and he definitely wasn't using it in a rude way, more of in an enthusiastically descriptive way. And, by the way, thank god the grandparents were out of earshot for this whole thing! (Although they may read the blog. Oh well.)

But then I realized, well, what if he's racing cars at school and says "fucken fast". Then he's gonna get an earful from the preschool teacher and I might have to hear about it, too. So, I called him over and said "Uh, that word you are saying is a bad word."

"What word?"

"That word you've been saying." I didn't even want to say it, because then I'd be too tempted to correct the pronunciation and get into the proper use of the word, its origin, meaning, etc. "You shouldn't say that word. It's rude and mean and it's worse than saying poop." Okay, definitely feeling lame at this point, but not sure how far to go with this. Trying to get across the graveness without giving a whole education on other bad words.

"Is it worse than shit?"

Okay. Clearly the boy already knows something about curse words and their relative ranking.

"Yes, it's worse than shit. It's one of the worst words. And if you say it in front of Granny & Grandpa they are going to think you are really mean and rude and if you say it at school, you are going to-"

-I was about to say you'll have to go to the principal's office, but then realized that it's preschool and there is no principal and I really don't know what the worst consequence is?-

"-you'll have to go to Donna's office." She's the director of the preschool. Not sure if she fulfills the same disciplinary role as a principal? Probably not? He's looking at me confused, like, okay...whatever...why does it matter that I'd have to go to Donna's office? "Well, anyway, you could get in a lot of trouble if you say it at school, so why don't you say something better like 'This car is super duper fast! It's amazingly fast!'? Try that!"

He kind of blows me off and goes back to playing cars. I am left not sure whether I've made an impact or not. And, honestly, I don't care that much. It was half-hearted discipline on my part, mostly just to cover my own ass. I don't really feel like having to talk to Donna when she calls to tell me he's been using foul language. And, of course, I want my son to be respectful and not to use foul language inappropriately and all of that good stuff, but I just can't get all hot and bothered about "bad" words. I've just never gotten it, even when I was a kid. They are just words. And they are great, descriptive, useful words.

And part of being a successful grown up is about learning how to behave in different contexts, not mindlessly following black and white rules. And part of being a successful parent (or teacher) is not laying down rules that can't or won't be consistently followed or enforced. If I had told my high school students no cussing ever or else, then how should I have responded to the girl who was helping me by taking down posters from the bulletin board while her classmates finished a quiz, creating a little pile of thumbtacks next to her as she worked, when she slipped, caught herself with her hands, and thereby drove a thumbtack into her palm prompting her to shout "fuck!" as the pain signal reached her brain? By sending her to the proverbial principal's office? I think not.

By the way, there was a recent scientific study that demonstrated that people who crushed their thumb with a hammer or something equally painful experienced less pain if they were allowed to just curse it out than those who had to say "oh gee golly" or "sugar!" So yelling "fuck!" across a quiet classroom, in this case, was medically beneficial.

When I hear students using foul language inappropriately in the classroom setting, I just remind them that we can all talk however we want with our friends on a Friday night, including me, but that we all have to maintain an air of professionalism in the school setting, which is practice for the future work setting. (At least until you cross the fuck barrier with certain colleagues. After that, I've always found the work setting to be more fun and relaxing.)

So, we'll take each case of cursing as it comes and help Turtle learn when it's okay and when it's not to use certain words. And I'm confident he'll pick it up really...fucken fast.

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